Learning disorders: Know the signs, how to help

Learning disorders can make it hard for a child to read, write or do simple math. Understand the signs and what you can do. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many children who have learning disorders, also known as learning disabilities, struggle for a long time before being diagnosed. This can affect a child's self-esteem and motivation. Understand how to identify signs that might signal learning disorders and what you can do to help your child cope.

What are some common types of learning disorders?

A learning disorder is a disorder that affects a person's ability to acquire and use academic skills, such as reading and calculating. Learning disorders aren't the same as mental or physical disabilities, and don't reflect a child's intelligence. Instead, learning disorders affect a child's ability to complete a task or use certain skills, particularly in school.

The most common learning disorders include:

  • Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading, spelling and recalling known words.
  • Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder related to math concepts. Signs include difficulty solving even simple math problems or sequencing information or events.
  • Nonverbal learning disability. This learning disorder is characterized by difficulty with nonverbal cues, such as coordination and body language.

Some children might have more than one learning disorder.

What causes learning disorders?

Factors that might influence the development of learning disorders include:

  • Genetics. Some learning disorders, such as reading and math disorders, are hereditary.
  • Medical conditions. Poor growth in the uterus (severe intrauterine growth restriction), exposure to alcohol or drugs before being born, and low birth weight are risk factors that have been linked with learning disorders. Head injuries might also play a role in the development of learning disorders.
  • Environmental exposure. Exposure to high levels of lead has been linked to an increased risk of learning disorders.
Feb. 22, 2013 See more In-depth