The Nature of and Descriptors of Learning Disabilities

One of the hallmark features of learning disabilities (LD) is inconsistent performance. Research studies with children, adolescents and adults with LD frequently point to sometimes erratic and often confusing profiles of individuals who seem to be able to do some things quite well while struggling dramatically to perform other tasks. This mismatch between ability, expectations and outcomes can cause terrific disappointment and upset, resulting in a cascade of emotions and behaviors that can interfere with everyday functioning in school, at home and in the community.

  • Some individuals with LD can remember the most obscure visual details and recall long and involved lyrics to songs but have trouble retrieving specific vocabulary words for conversation, comprehending spoken or written narrative, or writing grammatically correct narrative.
  • Young children with LD might be able to draw well but struggle with handwriting.
  • Some might demonstrate extraordinary ability running and jumping but struggle with bouncing a ball or mastering the swing of a tennis racquet with precision.
  • For some, reading is slow and labored but doing math seems almost natural (or vice versa).
  • Very often, individuals with LD understand a topic well enough to answer questions and engage in discussion when information is first presented, but do miserably on an exam or in a discussion on the same topic later that week.



Dyslexia is a lifelong challenge. This language-based processing disorder can hinder reading, writing, spelling and sometimes even speaking. Dyslexia is not a sign of poor intelligence or laziness or the result of impaired hearing or vision. Children and adults with dyslexia have a neurological disorder that causes their brains to process and interpret information differently.


Dyscalculia refers to a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math. There is no single type of math disability. Dyscalculia can vary from person to person, and it affects people differently at different stages of life. Work-around strategies and accommodations help lessen the obstacles that dyscalculia presents. And just like in the area of reading, math LD is not a prescription for failure.


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting, and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia might have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page


Dyspraxia is a disorder that affects motor skill development. People with dyspraxia have trouble planning and completing fine motor tasks. This can vary from simple motor tasks such as waving goodbye to more complex tasks like brushing teeth. It is not a learning disability (LD) but often coexists with other LDs and conditions that impact learning.

National Center for Learning Disabilities (2013).Types of LD.