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Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities can succeed when solid coping skills and strategies are developed.

Learning disabilities (LDs) affect one or more of the ways that a person takes in, stores, remembers, or uses information. Between 5 and 10 percent of Canadians have LDs.

LDs are a life-long condition – they do not go away – but can be coped with successfully when solid coping skills and strategies are developed. For example, using areas of strength to compensate and accommodations such as technology.

LDs and their effects are different from child to child, so a child’s pattern of learning abilities needs to be understood in order to find good, effective strategies for compensation.

LDs result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. These include, but are not limited to: language processing; phonological processing; visual spatial processing; processing speed; memory and attention; and executive functions (e.g. planning and decision-making). Learning disabilities are specific, not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities.

Learning disabilities range in severity and invariably interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following important skills:

  • oral language (e.g., listening, speaking, understanding)
  • reading (e.g., decoding, comprehension)
  • written language (e.g., spelling, written expression)
  • mathematics (e.g., computation, problem solving)

LDs may also cause difficulties with organizational skills, social perception and social interaction.

LDs are due to genetic, other congenital and/or acquired neurobiological factors. They are not caused by factors such as cultural or language differences, inadequate or inappropriate instruction, socio-economic status or lack of motivation. Any one of these and other factors may, however, compound the impact of learning disabilities. Frequently learning disabilities co-exist with other conditions, including attentional, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions.

For success, persons with learning disabilities require specialized interventions in home, school, community and workplace settings, appropriate to their individual strengths and needs, including:

  • specific skill instruction;
  • the development of compensatory strategies;
  • the development of self-advocacy skills;
  • appropriate accommodations.

Types of Learning Disabilities

LDs take so many forms, and vary in intensity so much, that it is not simple to list them all, but there are some broad categories which they all fall into:

LDs that affect Academics: Difficulties with spelling, reading, listening, focussing, remembering and writing can have an impact on all areas of school subjects.

LDs that affect Organization and Focus: A series of executive functions allow us to do things like plan, predict, organize and focus. LDs that interfere with these things can interfere with how we manage our lives and physical space. ADHD, which does affect executive functions, is coming to be seen as an LD because of this.

LDs that affect Social Life: We learn how to be socially successful, even though we don’t notice that we’re learning. So LDs that make it difficult to interpret facial expressions, body language, or tones of voice can have a real impact on a person’s social life.

LDs that affect Physical Interaction With the World: Again, without knowing, we are constantly receiving information about our surroundings and about our bodies: our balance, coordination and movement are all based on this information. So an LD that interferes with how we understand that information can cause a person to be uncoordinated or “clumsy.”

The following is a checklist of characteristics that may point to a learning disability. Most people will, from time to time, see one or more of these warning signs in their children. This is normal. If, however, you see several of these characteristics over a long period of time, consider the possibility of a learning disability.

What Are Some Common Signs of Learning Disabilities?


  • speaks later than most children
  • pronunciation problems
  • slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find right word
  • difficulty rhyming words
  • trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of week, color shapes
  • transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, X, /, =)
  • extremely restless and easily distracted
  • slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  • trouble interacting with peers
  • impulsive, difficulty planning
  • difficulty following directions or routines trouble learning about time
  • fine motor skills slow to develop

Grades K-4

  • slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • confuses basic words (run, eat, want)
  • makes consistent reading and spelling errors, incl. letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left) and substitutions (house/home)
  • transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+,-,x,/,=)
  • slow to remember factrs
  • slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization,
  • impulsive, difficulty planning
  • unstable pencil grip
  • trouble learning about time
  • poor co-ordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents

Grades 5 – 8

  • reverses letter sequences, (i.e. soiled/solid, felt/left)
  • slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words and other spelling strategies
  • avoids reading aloud
  • trouble with word problems
  • difficulty with handwriting
  • awkward, fist-like or tight pencil grip
  • avoids writing compositions
  • slow or poor recall of facts
  • difficulty making friends
  • misreads information
  • trouble understanding body language & facial expressions

High school students and adults

  • continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells same word differently in a single piece of writing
  • avoids reading and writing tasks
  • trouble summarizing
  • trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • weak memory skills
  • difficulty adjusting to new settings
  • works slowly
  • poor grasp of abstract concepts
  • either pays too little or too much attention to details
  • misreads information

* information taken from : Co-ordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities booklet,

Links or Useful Resources for LEARNING DISABILITIES:
Children’s Mental Health Ontario - or 1-888-234-7054
Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario -
Learning Disabilities Association of Canada –
Learning Disabilities Association of K-W – 519-743-9091 or e-mail:
Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities -