How to Identify Students with Learning Disabilities

Do your kids exhibit behaviors that suggest that they have learning disabilities?

It is normal for most students to have difficulty learning at one time or another. Struggling with new material or topics is part of the learning process and, sometimes, not always a symptom of learning disabilities. Some learning struggles can be beneficial to learners, as the additional effort required to complete challenging tasks can strengthen problem-solving skills and improve long-term memory.

Learning disabilities represent chronic problems with learning, but not all struggles a child experiences are symptoms of a disability. This article will enlighten you on how to identify learning disabilities in students. 

Developmental delays vs. learning disabilities

In early childhood, symptoms of learning disabilities may initially appear as developmental delays. However, many children with developmental delays learn fast if they receive early intervention in special education programs. These children do not necessarily go on to develop disabilities later in their school years.

In elementary school years, difficulty with school work and underachievement may represent more serious symptoms of learning problems. And students with symptoms that do not improve over time with appropriate interventions may have learning disabilities.

Signs of learning disabilities

Parents and teachers may begin to suspect a learning disability when students:

  • Need constant, step-by-step guidance to complete tasks.
  • Have difficulty remembering problem-solving steps because they do not comprehend tasks or the logic behind them.
  • Have little or no memory of learning materials.
  • Are unable to remember skills and facts over time.
  • Make poor grades despite significant effort.
  • Have strong general knowledge but cannot read (dyslexia), write (dysgraphia), or do math (dyscalculia) at that level.
  • Struggle with communication and language processing, and expression. 
  • Become easily frustrated with school and homework.
  • Battle with low self-esteem.

Recognizing Early Signs of Learning Disabilities

Knowing the behavioural signs and symptoms of learning disabilities can help parents and teachers identify the need for early intervention. The most common behavioral signs of learning disabilities are organized into two categories: internalizing and externalizing.

Common Internalizing Behaviors

Students with learning disabilities often demonstrate behaviors that often only affect themselves. As a result, their struggles may be overlooked by the adults around them.

  • Students with internalizing behaviors are generally quiet and may be withdrawn. 
  • They detest attention and worry that others will see their academic weaknesses.
  • These students may also demonstrate other common behaviors—including boredom and carelessness, disinterest in school, withdrawal in class, etc. 
  • Exhibit physical symptoms of stress, like headaches.
  • Slow to respond to questions.
How to identify children learning disabilities in students
Some types of learning disabilities in students

Common Externalizing Behaviors

Students with symptoms who externalize are easy to identify. These students are often loud and disruptive, and they seem to want attention—even if it is negative. These students also enjoy joking about their poor academic performance and take pleasure in provoking others because they feel it shifts the focus away from their weak academic skills. However, these students often feel dejected and embarrassed within.

Many students with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are categorized as externalizers.

Some externalizing behaviors include:

  • Impulsive blurting out incorrect answers.
  • Violation of school rules.
  • Aggression toward peers or adults
  • Clowning around and making inappropriate jokes.
  • Attraction toward other underachievers.
  • Disorganized at home and in school.

Students who demonstrate externalizing behaviors have a more direct effect on those around them, and their struggles are typically recognized earlier than students with internalizing behaviors.

While this article may be comprehensive, it does not downplay the possibility of identifying other symptoms of learning disabilities not mentioned here. So, if you are a parent or guardian and you think your child is demonstrating symptoms of a learning disability, keep a record of what you observe. Make a list of your child’s behaviors as well as the strategies you are trying at home.

Contact your child’s teacher, pediatrician, or counselor to discuss your child’s behavioral and academic difficulties. Their teachers could suggest other strategies you can use at home, and they can help you get a referral for formal evaluation if a learning disability is suspected.

And on the part of educators, do not discriminate once you notice a student has a learning disability. Instead, contact the parent/guardian and the school authority for further assistance if it exceeds your jurisdiction.

How to Identify Students with Learning Disabilities

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