Learning Disabilities

Identifying a Possible Learning Disability

Signs of a reading disability:

  • Difficulty identifying individual sounds in words, cannot correctly sound out words when reading.
  • Learner requires many repetitions to learn a new word and may not recognize a newly learned word when it appears later in the text.
  • Learner uses context to guess at unfamiliar words, eg. reads an incorrect word that makes sense in the text, rather than using phonetic cues to decode the written word, such as “dog” rather than “puppy”.
  • Oral reading is very laborious and slow, with many repetitions and pauses.
  • Learner puts so much energy into decoding words that comprehension is poor; does not understand what was just read, but understands the same material if another person reads it.

Signs of a writing disability: 

  • Limited ability to communicate in writing; learner struggles to write short notes or letters.
  • Learner asks for help completing forms.
  • Spelling problems interfere with meaning; learner leaves out letters or syllables in words.
  • Handwriting is difficult to read; learner misuses capitals and lowercase letters or has poor spacing between words, letters or lines.
  • Learner uses an awkward grip on the pencil.
  • Difficulty editing written work; student does not see errors.

Signs of a numerical disability:

  • Difficulty remembering basic math facts; always uses a calculator, learner uses fingers or has to write down simple problems.
  • Learner confuses numbers and symbols; learner makes errors resulting from using incorrect numbers (6 instead of 9), or using wrong math symbol (+ instead of X).
  • Difficulty with multi-step math operations; learner leaves out steps or does steps in the wrong order in math problems.


Teaching Techniques

With appropriate accommodations and teaching strategies a person with learning disabilities can learn to take advantage of their strengths and minimize weaknesses, and thus increase the potential success. Being familiar with a learner’s preferred learning style and incorporating many different modalities into lesson plans provides a greater likelihood of progress.

Suggested auditory techniques:

  • Reduce visual distractions – make sure printed material is well spaced.
  • Have the learner read out loud, or whisper when reading and sounding out words.
  • Provide recorded versions of written material.
  • Have the learner verbally recall information when reading by asking who-, what-, when-, and why- questions out loud.
  • Teach phonics, sound blending and syllabication.
  • Teach word families, using cutout letters or other manipulatives.

Suggested visual techniques:

  • Minimize noise distractions.
  • Continually discuss, summarize and review information.
  • Pair words with pictures or objects when teaching new vocabulary.
  • Have the learner create his or her own mental visual image of new words.
  • Provide demonstrations or gestures along with verbal instructions.
  • Use visual configuration and structure clues for word identification.

Suggested tactile or kinesthetic techniques:

  • Allow learners to move around during lessons.
  • Use various types of writing tools, for example pencils, pens, soft-tip markers, and large markers.
  • Use objects to manipulate.
  • Use objects to teach abstract concepts.
  • Use the computer whenever possible.
  • Have learners underline or use highlighters on key words.