WARNING SIGNS of LEARNING DISABILITIES
not quite right about Johnny. He seems bright enough, but often
his performance or behavior falls short of expectations. He can
do some things very well, but in other ways is behind his peers.
Is he simply lazy? Does he just need to try harder?
the development or academic performance of a healthy child falls
short of what is expected for his or her age and intelligence, parents
or teachers may suspect the child has a learning disability (LD).
Being aware of the signs of learning disabilities will help parents
determine if the child should be referred for evaluation. This digest
summarizes some of the common warning signs of learning disabilities
for preschool, elementary, and secondary school children and youth.
As the name implies, LD is a condition that affects learning, and
sooner or later is manifested by poor school performance, especially
in reading, mathematics, spelling, and writing. In addition, LD
is a lifelong condition, and can significantly impact relationships,
daily activities, and eventually work and careers.
disabilities are presumed to arise from dysfunctions in the brain.
Individuals with learning disabilities have significant difficulties
in perceiving information (input), in processing and remembering
information (integration) and/or in expressing information (output).
Outward manifestations of any of these difficulties serve as indicators—or
warning signs—of a learning disability.
Signs in Preschool Children
children's growth patterns vary among individuals and within individuals,
uneven development or significant delays in development can signal
the presence of LD. It is important to keep in mind that the behaviors
listed below must persist over time to be considered warning signs.
Any child may occasionally exhibit one or two of these behaviors
in the course of normal development.
development in speaking words or sentences
learning new words
following simple directions
expressing wants and desires
of interest in story telling
manipulating small objects
with running, jumping, or climbing
learning to tie shoes, button shirts, or perform other self-help
of drawing or tracing
memorizing the alphabet or days of the week
memory for what should be routine (everyday) procedures
with cause and effect, sequencing, and counting
with basic concepts such as size, shape, color
staying on task
repetition of an idea, inability to move on to a new idea (perseveration)
interacting with others, playing alone
to sudden and extreme mood changes
to manage, has temper tantrums
early intervention is so important, federal law requires that school
districts provide early identification and intervention services.
The special education department of the local school district can
direct families to the agency that provides these services. Families
may also want to consult the child's doctor, who should also be
able to refer the family to appropriate resources.
Signs in Elementary School Children
is during the elementary school years that learning problems frequently
become apparent as disabilities interfere with increasingly demanding
and complex learning tasks. Difficulties in learning academic subjects
and emotional and/or social skills may become a problem. Warning
signs for this age group may include any of those listed above for
preschool children in addition to the following.
learning of the correspondence of sound to letter.
errors in reading or spelling
remembering basic sight words
to retell a story in sequence
learning to tell time or count money
of math signs (+, -, x, /, =)
of number sequences
memorizing math facts
with place value
remembering the steps of mathematic operations such as long division
coordination, or awkwardness
copying from chalkboard
aligning columns (math)
concentrating or focusing on a task
finishing work on time
to follow multiple directions
concept of direction (left, right)
of new concepts, or changes in routine
understanding facial expressions or gestures
understanding social situations
to misinterpret behavior of peers and/or adults
lack of "common sense"
teachers have not discussed the possibility of an evaluation already,
the parents may request that the child's school conduct a formal
evaluation. A request submitted to the school principal must be
honored by the school system in a timely manner.
Signs in Secondary School Children
learning disabilities go undetected until secondary school. Physical
changes occurring during adolescence and the increased demands of
middle and senior high school may bring the disabilities to light.
Previously satisfactory performance declines. Inappropriate social
skills may lead to changes in peer relationships and discipline
problems. Increased frustration and poor self-concepts can lead
to depression and/or angry outbursts. Warning signs of learning
disabilities in secondary school students include the following,
which again, should occur as a pattern of behaviors, to a significant
degree, and over time.
of reading and writing
to misread information
understanding subject area textbooks
with open-ended questions
grasp of abstract concepts
skills in writing essays
in learning foreign language
ability to apply math skills
with test formats such as multiple choice
work pace in class and in testing situations
note taking skills
ability to proofread or double check work
seeking or giving feedback
negotiating or advocating for oneself
resisting peer pressure
understanding another person's perspectives
parents have the right to request an evaluation by the public schools
to determine if the student has learning disabilities.
has shown that the sooner LD is detected and intervention is begun,
the better the chance to avoid school failure and to improve chances
for success in life. When parents or teachers suspect a child has
learning disabilities, they should seek evaluation.
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ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
J.W., Lowenthal, B., & Egan, R.W. (1998). Preschool children
with special needs: children at risk: children with disabilities.
Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 800-666-9433.
C.D, (1997). Students with learning disabilities (5th ed.). Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 800-282-0693.
Center for Learning Disabilities. (2000) Early warning signs.
L.J., O'Shea, D.J. & Algozzine, R. (1998) Learning disabilities:
From theory toward practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
J., Deshler, D., Alley, G., & Warner, M.M. (1983). Toward the
development of an intervention model for learning disabled adolescents:
The University of Kansas Institute. Exceptional Education Quarterly,
4 (1), 45-74.
L. B. (1998). The misunderstood child:Understanding and coping with
your child's learning disability (3rd ed.). New York: Times Books,
(a division of Random House). 800-733-3000.
with permission from:
The ERIC Clearinghouse
on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
The Council for Exceptional Children
1110 N. Glebe Rd.
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272
Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and
disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This digest was
prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, under Contract
No. ED-99-CO-0026. The opinions expressed in this publication do
not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
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