Mild Learning Disorders

The labels “learning disability” and “learning disorder” are catchall terminology for a wide range of difficulties in learning. A learning disability has nothing to do with a person’s IQ or desire to study. Most people with learning disorders are of average or higher intelligence. But their ability to take in and make sense of information is limited because their brains are wired differently.

A person with a learning disorder has trouble processing new information, making it difficult to pick up and apply new knowledge. These individuals, whether they are children or adults, experience the world in a fundamentally different way.

Although most people get diagnosed with learning disorders while still in school, others don’t get diagnosed until they are in college or the workforce. Some may never have an assessment and continue wondering why they struggle in school, their careers, or in personal relationships. Persistent difficulties in reading, writing, or mathematics are hallmarks of these conditions. Approximately 1.7%, or 4.6 million people, in the United States identify as having a learning disorder.

Types of Learning Disorders

Reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking difficulties are the most frequently seen forms of learning disorders.


Dyslexia – Word recognition accuracy and fluency are particularly affected in those with dyslexia. People with dyslexia have difficulty with reading, writing, and communicating because of difficulties with word recognition, decoding, and spelling. Very weak reading skills can hinder reading comprehension. Some people with dyslexia have trouble hearing, distinguishing, and manipulating the phonemes, syllables, onsets, and rhymes that form words. Those who struggle with dyslexia may also have difficulties with orthographic processing, which hinders their ability to link letters and letter combinations accurately and fluently with sounds. Experts believe dyslexia accounts for as much as 80% of the variance in learning disorder diagnoses. It affects 20% of the population and is one of the most prevalent forms of learning disability.


Dyscalculia – Mathematical calculation difficulties are included in the spectrum of learning disorders known as dyscalculia. In addition to having trouble adding and subtracting, people with this learning disorder also struggle to grasp the concept of numbers and basic arithmetic. The inability to count without counting aids, to use nonverbal processes to accomplish simple numerical operations, and to estimate relative magnitudes of sets are all symptoms of dyscalculia, which relates to deficits in fundamental number representation and processing. They likely have difficulties with quantitative reasoning because they lack basic math skills to solve more complex mathematical problems.


Dysgraphia – Those who struggle with dysgraphia have difficulty putting their ideas onto paper or a sketch. Although dysgraphia is characterized by poor handwriting, it is not the sole symptom. These individuals have difficulty putting their ideas down on paper due to spelling, grammar, vocabulary, critical thinking, or memory difficulties. Those who struggle with dysgraphia may have issues with letter spacing, poor motor planning and spatial awareness, and the inability to think and write simultaneously.

Auditory processing disorder (APD)

Auditory processing disorder (APD) – Patients with APD struggle to understand and interpret speech and other sounds. People with APD may have trouble distinguishing between a teacher’s speech and background noise or understanding the order in which sounds occur. In APD, there is a breakdown in how the brain processes auditory information.

Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit – Those who struggle with this condition have trouble with fine motor tasks like writing, drawing, and cutting. They also have trouble keeping their place while reading and using writing utensils. They may also have problems distinguishing between similar-looking letters, get lost easily, or show unusual eye movement when reading.

Signs and Symptoms

Learning disabilities encompass various characteristics that can negatively impact a person’s potential and progress.

The most common symptoms exhibited include:

  • Limited attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulties adhering to instructions
  • Unable to distinguish between letters, numbers, or sounds
  • Inadequate reading or writing skills
  • Issues with hand-eye coordination
  • Sequencing difficulties
  • Disorganization and other sensory problems

Individuals with a learning disability may also exhibit the following traits:

  • Inconsistent performance
  • Delayed speech
  • Inappropriate responses
  • Distracted, restless, and impulsive
  • Says one thing but means something else
  • Difficult to discipline
  • Doesn’t respond well to change
  • Difficulties with listening and remembering
  • Difficulty telling time and distinguishing between right and left
  • Difficulties hearing out words, reversing letters, and arranging letters incorrectly
  • Difficulties comprehending words or concepts

Risk Factors

The following factors may influence the development of learning disorders:

  • Genetics – A family history of learning disorders increases your risk of having one.
  • Prenatal and neonatal risks – Poor uterine growth (severe intrauterine growth restriction), prenatal alcohol or drug use, early birth, and very low birth weight have all been associated with learning disorders.
  • Psychological trauma – Early childhood psychological trauma or abuse may alter brain development and raise the chance of learning disorders.
  • Physical trauma – Head traumas or infections of the neurological system could play a role in developing learning disorders.
  • Environmental exposure – Toxic exposure, such as lead, has been related to an increased risk of learning disorders.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Learning disorders have far-reaching and lifelong effects. In adulthood, we encounter the same challenges in our homes, social situations, and workplaces that once made us struggle in school. Completing paperwork and reports at work, paying bills on time, and helping children with schoolwork may all be challenging. Despite the emotional toll, a diagnosis is often the first step toward getting the long-term care and assistance that will be needed.

A clinical evaluation of the patient’s developmental, medical, educational, and family history, along with test scores, teacher observations, and the patient’s reaction to academic interventions, is required to arrive at a diagnosis of a specific learning disorder (Specific Learning Disorder fact sheet, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, certified psychological counselors, and school psychologists are all qualified to evaluate and diagnose individuals suspected of having learning disorders.

Even though learning disorder has no known “cure,” it can be effectively managed. People with learning disorders can become proficient learners and may be able to capitalize on the strengths frequently associated with their learning differences. Turning Point Centers can assist you if you have been diagnosed with a mild learning disorder.

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