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Student with Learning Disabilities

Types of Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities (LD) are neurologically-based processing concerns.  These processing issues can interfere with basic skills such as reading, writing, or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, and abstract reasoning.

The types of LD are identified by the specific processing concern.  They might related to getting information into the brain (input), making sense of this information (organization), storing and later retrieving this information (memory), or getting this information back out (output).  Thus, the specific types of processing challenges that result in LD might be in one or more of these four areas. 

1. Input

Information is primarily brought into the brain through the eyes (visual perception) and ears (auditory perception).  An individual might have difficulty in one or both areas.

Auditory Perception – also called Receptive Language

The individual might have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in sound (called phonemes) or might have difficulty distinguishing individual phonemes as quickly as normal.  Either problem can result in difficulty processing and understanding what is said.  Individuals might have difficulty with what is called auditory figure-ground.  They have difficulty identifying what sounds to listen to and where there is more than one sound.

Visual Perception

One might have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in shapes (called graphemes).  They might rotate or reverse letters or numbers; thus misreading the symbol.  Some might have a figure-ground problem, confusing what figures to focus on from the page covered with many words and lines.  They might skip words, skip lines, or read the same line twice.  Others might have difficulty blending information from both eyes to have depth perception.  They might misjudge depth or distance, bumping into things or having difficulty with tasks where this information is needed to tell the hands or body what to do.  If there is difficulty with visual perception, there could be problems with tasks that require eye-hand coordination (visual motor skills) such as catching a ball, doing a puzzle or picking up a glass.


Once information is recorded in the brain (input), three tasks must be carried out in order to make sense or integrate this information.  First, the information must be placed in the right order or sequenced.  Then, the information must be understood beyond the literal meaning, abstraction.  Finally, each unit of information must be integrated into complete thoughts or concepts, organization.


The individual might have difficulty learning information in the proper sequence.  Thus, they might get math sequences wrong, have difficulty remembering sequences such as the months of the year, the alphabet, or the times table. Or, they might write a report with all of the important facts but not in the proper order. 


A person might have difficulty inferring the meaning of individual words or concepts.  Jokes, idioms, or puns are often not understood.  They might have problems with words that might have different meanings, depending upon how they are used.  For example; “the dog” refers to your pet. “You dog” is an insult.

2. Organization

The individual might have difficulty organizing materials, losing forgetting, or misplacing papers, notebooks, or homework assignments.  They might have difficulty organizing the environment, such as the bedroom. Some might have problems organizing time.  They have difficulty with projects due at a certain time or with being on time (organization over time is referred to as executive function).

3. Memory

Three types of memory are important in learning.  “Working memory” refers to the ability to hold on to pieces of information until the pieces blend into a full thought or concept.  For example, reading each word until the end of the sentence or paragraph and then understanding the full content.  “Short term memory” is the active process of storing and retaining information for a limited period of time.  The information is temporarily available but not yet stored for long-term retention.  “Long term memory” refers to information that has been stored and that is available over a long period of time.  Individuals might have difficulty with auditory memory or visual memory.

One reads a sentence and holds on to it.  Then the next and the next.  By the end of the paragraph, he pulls together the meaning of the full paragraph. This is working memory. He continues to read the full chapter and study it.  Information is retained long enough to take a test and do well.  This is short-term memory.  But, unless the information is reviewed and studied over a long period of time, it is not retained.  With more effort over time, the information might become part of a general body of knowledge.  This is long- term memory. 

4. Output

Information is communicated by means of works (language output) or through muscle activity such as writing, drawing, gesturing (motor output). An individual might have a language disability; also called expressive language disability or a motor disability.

Language Disability

It is possible to think of language output as being spontaneous or no demand.  Spontaneous means that the person initiates the conversation.  Thoughts have been organized and words found before speaking.  Demand language means that one is asked a question or asked to explain something.  Now, they must organize their thoughts, find the right words, and speak at the same time.  Most people with a language disability have little difficulty with spontaneous language.  However, in a demand situation, the same person might struggle to organize thoughts and words.

Motor Disability

One might have difficulty coordinating teams of small muscles, called a fine motor disability. They might have problems with coloring, cutting, writing, buttoning, or tying shoes.  Others might have difficulty coordinating teams of large muscles, called a gross motor disability.  They are awkward when running or jumping.

Each individual will have his or her unique pattern of LD.  This pattern might cluster around specific common difficulties.  For example, the pattern might primarily reflect a problem with language processing:  auditory perception, auditory sequencing/abstraction/organization, auditory memory, and a language disability. Or the problem might be more in the visual input to motor output areas.  Some people with LD will have a mixture of both. 

Last Modified: 3/20/23 3:40 PM | Website Feedback