Not all children learn at the same speed or through the same ways, but persistent challenges with reading, writing, and mathematics may warrant testing for a learning disability.

Learning disabilities are brain-based disorders that impact how efficiently learning takes place. In children, learning disabilities may present in common areas of academics, but they can also emerge as attention issues, diminished social skills, and altered motor function.

Living with a learning disability doesn’t indicate low intelligence. In fact, most people living with learning disabilities have average or above-average intelligence.

Up to 10% of American children under the age of 18 may live with a form of learning disability.

The diagnosis of a learning disability involves testing across multiple areas of function.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a learning disability can’t be diagnosed based on any singular test result.

“Most commonly, evaluating/testing includes overall cognitive testing, achievement testing in reading and math, evaluation of processing speed and attention, and language-specific testing … in addition to measures of spelling and writing development,” explains Rebecca Rolland, a speech pathologist and oral and written language specialist from Boston.

Intelligence testing

Intelligence testing, also known as intelligence quotient (IQ) testing, is intended to evaluate cognitive strengths, weaknesses, and problem-solving skills. In some situations, cognitive tests may be chosen that assess function but don’t provide an overall IQ score.

Common intelligence tests include:

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
  • Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
  • Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children
  • Differential Ability Scales
  • Cognitive Assessment System

Achievement testing

Achievement tests look at how well your child has retained and applied information after a period of learning.

Achievement tests that might be administered can include:

  • Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement
  • Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement
  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test
  • Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults

Visual-motor function testing

Visual-motor function tests are a part of determining how well your child can incorporate motors skills with visual skills. These tests involve abilities related to handwriting and drawing and are also an important component of assessing nonverbal learning disabilities.

One of the most common visual-motor tests is the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration.

Language testing

Language tests can help gauge how well your child understands what they’ve read, as well as their ability to form sentences and put words together.

Language tests may include:

  • Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals
  • Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation
  • Expressive Picture Vocabulary Test
  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
  • Preschool Language Scale

In 2017, “The State of Learning Disabilities,” a report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, indicated the most common specific learning disorders and their prevalence among children were:

  • dyslexia (5 to 17%)
  • dysgraphia (7 to 15%)
  • dyscalculia (5 to 7%)


Dyslexia is a learning disability that has to do with spelling, word recognition, and accurate word and sound structures.

Signs of dyslexia may include:

  • slow reading
  • incorrect pronunciation
  • use of the wrong words
  • inability to distinguish letters, sounds, or both


Dysgraphia involves an impaired ability to form symbols when writing. Both written letters and numbers may be affected, and commons signs include:

  • uncomfortable positioning or gripping when writing
  • inversed letters or numbers
  • illegible handwriting
  • poorly shaped symbols
  • challenges with written thought organization


When a learning disability seems related to math calculations, it may be dyscalculia, a deficit in the ability to quantify and process numerical operations.

Signs of dyscalculia may include challenges related to:

  • counting
  • memorizing number sequences
  • putting numbers to symbols
  • comparing quantities or large to small

Common signs a child may need testing for a learning disability can include challenges in:

  • telling left from right
  • reversing words, letters, or numbers
  • coordination
  • telling time/understanding time
  • writing
  • remembering/understanding instructions
  • organization
  • math
  • reading
  • speaking
  • memorizing
  • spelling
  • sequences

Learning disabilities can be dismissed as underperformance because of other reasons such as inadequate studying or lack of motivation.

“If a child continues to struggle learning new material after all other obstacles were considered and addressed —such as environmental stressors, testing vision and hearing, providing academic support in the classroom — the child should be referred for testing for learning disabilities,” states Dr. Nafisa Sekandari, a licensed clinical psychologist and author from Avondale, Arizona.

In addition to immediately connecting with educators and school officials, the next steps Rolland recommends are:

  • educating yourself on the diagnosis
  • engaging with support networks for both you and your child
  • regularly communicating with your child’s teachers
  • encouraging open communication with your child about the diagnosis

Other considerations

There are several other ways you may help your child find success after a learning disability diagnosis.

Inspiring your child with examples

Sekandari reminds parents that children living with learning disabilities are fully capable of being highly successful in life.

“Identifying highly successful individuals such as Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Albert Einstein, and Charles Schwab who have a history of learning disabilities but continued to be highly successful can help your child feel inspired instead of defeated,” she suggests.

Getting learning disability-specific guidance as soon as possible

Dr. Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist and founder of Serin Center from Peoria, Arizona, urges parents to get intensive, focused treatments for their children as soon as possible.

“Traditional tutoring typically does not work,” she says. “Reading more or doing more math problems will not typically change the way the brain processes information. This method usually becomes a cycle of intense work and catch-up rather than fixing the root of the problem.”

Non-school alternative treatments

Serin says the best outcomes she’s seen often occur when parents utilize treatments outside of school because schools often don’t possess the necessary resources or training to support children with learning disabilities.

“Some parents have pulled their children from school to home-school them for a year while they get interventions,” she says. “Others have tried the summer programs where available. These are the best outcomes I have seen in remediating the problem.”

Learning disabilities are brain-related disorders that impact how information is processed.

They’re not universal indicators of low intelligence, and many people living with learning disorders go on to lead successful lives.

Educating yourself about your child’s diagnosis, engaging with targeted treatments as soon as possible, and regularly communicating with teachers may help your child adjust to a learning disability as quickly as possible.