Common Learning Disorders

While there are a large number of learning disorders, in this article we list the most common - and their impact.
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Common learning disorders – key points of interest

  • Learning disorders – almost universally neurological (brain based) in origin; caused by parts of the brain functioning differently to those of the general population
  • Often a learning disorder coexists with another learning disorder (comorbidity). 
  • Learning disorders:
    • are not caused by low intelligence
    • cannot be adequately measured using standard IQ tests
    • do not respect culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status
    • are complex, multifactorial in origin and genetics plays a significant role; people with a history of learning disorders in the family are at increased risk

Specific Learning Disorder

Is classified further as Specific Learning Disorder in Reading ( Dyslexia), Specific Learning Disorder in Writng(Dysgraphia) and Specific Learning Disorder in Mathematics (Dyscalculia)


  • A language based learning disorder characterised by slow or inaccurate processing of speech sounds – a phonological processing disorder
  • Affects accurate and fluent reading, writing & spelling
  • Affects maths proficiency in some students
  • Dyslexia is not a disorder of visual processing and generally responds poorly to vision therapy
  • There is no quick ‘cure’ for dyslexia – it is a life-long disorder managed through evidence-based remedial strategies  
  • Students who cannot read, write or do maths effectively are at significant emotional, psychological and economic harm
  • Early and effective intervention is essential and remarkable gains can be made


  • Dyscalculia is characterised by marked difficulties forming basic number concepts
  • Dyscalculia is less common than dyslexia
  • An accurate diagnosis of dyscalculia is hard to achieve due to inconsistent definitions and due to the overlay of other learning disabilities


  • A learning disorder affecting the ability to produce legible, well-formed and fluent handwriting (and difficulties typing)
  • Students with severe dysgraphia require explicit hands-on instruction
  • Severe dysgraphia is often best overcome through the use of speech to text software
  • Orton-Gillingham and other multisensory learning approaches address many handwriting problems


  • Dyspraxia (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder) is an inability to perform tasks requiring fine motor skills.
  • Dyspraxia is wider in scope than dysgraphia and includes impaired skills in balance, motor sequencing/planning, writing and tying shoelaces
  • A speech and language therapist can diagnose and treat and work with a remedial teacher as required 

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

  • An Auditory Processing disorder is marked by difficulties distinguishing sounds and efficiently storing auditory information in the brain for retrieval
  • APD overlaps with dyslexia and is not generally considered  to be a separate disability

Visual Processing Disorder

  • Visual Processing Disorders stem from neurological deficits in the right hemisphere of the brain
  • People with VPD have difficulty reading maps, aligning text, focusing on fine text, or writing in a straight line
  • Effective diagnosis is complicated by similar conditions not VPD in origin  


  • ADHD is not a single learning disorder but a collective term describing a range of disorders marked by:
    • Inattention –  difficulty concentrating, forgets instructions, moving from one task to another without completing the task
    • Impulsivity – talks over the top of others, has a ‘short fuse, accident prone and for children ‘getting into trouble at school’
    • Overactivity – constant restlessness and fidgeting. Never sits still. Constantly on the go. Hard to get to sleep. Multitasking all the time
  • Stimulant medication is often used. The support of a skilled paediatrician or psychiatrist is essential

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

  • The standard medical classification system (DSM5) for ASD published by the American Psychiatric Association defines autism spectrum disorders in these terms: 
    • People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age
    • In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items
    • Symptoms of people with ASD fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms  and others having much more severe symptoms. Autism affects learning in a number of ways

Treatment varies according to intellectual level and age but specific social skills training is helpful. 

About the author
Picture of Antonia Canaris

Antonia Canaris

Founder of Neurosensory, Antonia Canaris is an experienced educator and a leading expert in multisensory learning.

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