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What Are the Different Kinds of Learning Disorders?

How they’re recognized and diagnosed

Writer: Hannah Sheldon-Dean

en Español

Being diagnosed with a learning disorder doesn’t mean that a child isn’t intelligent. Getting an accurate diagnosis can make a huge difference for kids who are struggling with learning, and with the right instruction, they can thrive in school and beyond.

Learning disorders are often noticed for the first time when a child is in preschool or elementary school and has trouble building skills that come more easily to their peers. The signs of a learning disorder vary depending on what the child is struggling with.

Several common learning disorders, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, fall under the umbrella of a diagnosis called “specific learning disorder.”

Here’s a look at different kinds of learning disorders that kids may be diagnosed with, along with their most common symptoms.


Children with dyslexia have an unusually difficult time learning to read. They often struggle with reading new words, sounding out words, recognizing words they’ve already learned, spelling, and writing. To become strong readers, kids with dyslexia need a particular kind of instruction known as systematic phonics-based instruction.

Signs of dyslexia include:

  • Struggling to rhyme
  • Difficulty matching sounds with letters
  • Trouble putting sounds in the right order
  • Talking later than other children
  • Trouble remembering words
  • Having a hard time following directions
  • Leaving out little words when reading (like the, and, in) or reading them twice
  • Difficulty sounding out words they don’t know

When kids are diagnosed with dyslexia, their diagnosis is technically called specific learning disorder, with the specification that they struggle with reading.

For more, read our Complete Guide to Dyslexia.


Kids with dyscalculia have an unusually hard time with math. They struggle to understand, learn, and perform math and number-based operations.

Signs of dyscalculia include:

  • Difficulty recognizing numbers
  • Learning to count later than other children
  • Trouble doing math problems
  • Frequently making small mistakes in math, like being off by one
  • Confusing basic symbols such as “+” and “-“
  • Struggling to remember directions
  • Trouble using numbers outside of school, like remembering a phone number, telling time, or counting out change

When kids are diagnosed with dyscalculia, their diagnosis is technically called specific learning disorder, with the specification that they struggle with math.

For more, read our article on understanding dyscalculia.


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that makes it difficult for children to write. There are two sides to dysgraphia: motor weaknesses that affect the physical process of writing, and cognitive challenges with written expression. Some kids struggle with just one aspect of writing or the other, and some struggle with both.

Signs of dysgraphia include:

  • Difficulty writing letters, including trouble with forming the letters, spacing them correctly, and making them the same size
  • Trouble holding a pencil
  • Writing fatigue, which can mean finding writing tiring or painful
  • Difficulty with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure
  • Trouble with organization and structure in writing — kids with dysgraphia often have great ideas but struggle to express them in writing

Dysgraphia itself is not an official diagnosis. Children who struggle with the motor skills involved in writing (like forming letters) are often diagnosed with dyspraxia. Those who struggle with the cognitive skills involved in writing (like organizing ideas) are often diagnosed with specific learning disorder, with the specification that they struggle with writing.

For more, read our article on understanding dysgraphia.

Non-verbal learning disorder

Non-verbal learning disorder is a learning disability that causes kids to have trouble recognizing and understanding patterns in body language, visual-spatial information, and other kinds of non-verbal communication. The disorder is sometimes called NVLD or NLD. Kids with NVLD are often good with words but struggle in social situations.

Signs of non-verbal learning disorder include:

  • Trouble reading non-verbal social cues, such as facial expressions and body language
  • Difficulty understanding sarcasm
  • Trouble recognizing other people’s emotions
  • Difficulty understanding visual and spatial information
  • Seeming clumsy and uncoordinated
  • Struggling with higher-level math concepts
  • Talking a lot more than other kids
  • Trouble breaking down a project into smaller steps
  • Poor organizational skills

Non-verbal learning disorder is not a formal diagnosis, and not all experts recognize it as a disorder. Its symptoms can sometimes look like those of other disorders, like ADHD or autism. It also varies a lot from kid to kid, so the first step to getting help for a child with NVLD is figuring out exactly what kinds of learning they struggle with. 

For more, read our article on understanding non-verbal learning disorder.

Auditory processing disorder

Auditory processing disorder is a condition in which kids have trouble managing information that they hear. There is nothing wrong with their hearing, but their brains have a hard time making sense of what they hear. They miss a lot of what is said to them and around them, especially in loud or distracting environments.

Signs of auditory processing disorder include:

  • Difficulty following spoken directions
  • Asking for information to be repeated
  • Trouble telling the difference between words that sound similar (like “bat” and “pat”)
  • Lack of focus, especially in noisy surroundings
  • Trouble remembering things like nursery rhymes or song lyrics
  • Mixing up the order of sounds in words or numbers in a sequence (like hearing “48” instead of “84”)
  • Struggling to follow conversations

Auditory processing disorder is not a formal diagnosis, and not all experts recognize it as a disorder. Its symptoms overlap with other diagnoses such as ADHD and learning and language disorders, and many kids with auditory processing disorder also have one of these other disorders.

For more, read our article on understanding auditory processing disorder.


Dyspraxia is a condition that causes children to appear clumsy and uncoordinated compared to other kids their age. There is nothing wrong with their muscles, but their brains have a hard time telling their bodies what to do. Dyspraxia is also known as developmental coordination disorder. Some kids with dyspraxia have trouble with fine motor skills, like using scissors or eating with a spoon. Others struggle with gross motor skills, like catching a ball or riding a bike. Some have issues with both kinds of motor skills.

Signs of dyspraxia include:

  • In young children, being slow to develop motor skills like crawling, walking, and using utensils
  • Trouble with fine motor skills like holding a pencil, using a zipper, or fastening buttons
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Trouble with physical activities like running and jumping
  • Frequently stumbling or tripping
  • Avoiding activities like drawing, writing by hand, or playing sports

As a diagnosis, dyspraxia (or developmental coordination disorder) is technically considered a motor disorder rather than a learning disorder.

For more, read our article on understanding dyspraxia.

This article was last reviewed or updated on November 30, 2023.