How do you tell if a child has a reading disability

Does your child continue to find reading difficult? Is he struggling to spell and comprehend what he has read? You may wonder whether your child is slow to catch up or has a reading disability. Since reading is one of the most cardinal skills for academic success, then struggling to read may lead to poor grades and a feeling of discouragement.

Detecting the signs of reading disability is necessary, for you to get the much-needed help for your child so that he can succeed. But first, let’s explore what learning disabilities are. 

Learning disabilities is a general term used to describe a wide range of learning disorders. A learning disability is a  neurological condition. It affects the way the brain’s function. It obstructs the brain’s ability to receive and process information in a normal way. Learning disability can cause necessary cognitive skills (reading, writing, speaking) to be very challenging. It can impair the brain’s ability to perform some knowledge-based skills like concentration, time management, organisation, problem-solving or even reasoning. It is noteworthy that children with learning disabilities sometimes have to face challenges maintaining social relationships.

Learning disability is not synonymous to intellectual disability or physical handicap. Children with learning disabilities should not be regarded as unintelligent or ‘retarded’. They are as smart or can even be more intelligent than their peers. Learning disabilities have no cure. With effective management, intervention and support, children who have learning disabilities can attain a great deal of success in their academics and future endeavours. 

How do you tell if a child has a reading disability

What are the top 5 learning disabilities?

Below are five very common learning disabilities in children:


Dyslexia is a common learning disability, popularly referred to as reading disorder. The condition affects the area of the brain that processes language. Children with dyslexia have difficulty in recognising words and sounds. Dyslexic children may find it challenging to decode or interpret a text, causing them an abysmal reading experience and a weak grasp of vocabulary. Dyslexia should not be blamed on ‘low intelligence’ or ‘poor motivation’. Some exceptional dyslexics are highly knowledgeable and great thinkers.

It has been estimated that by Dyslexia International that more than 500 million persons in the world live with the reading disorder. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition and has no cure, though early detection and intervention can improve the condition tremendously.

Read: Learning English Language for Kids

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

This learning disability is very common. It affects the way the brain functions and can trigger hyper-normal level of impulsive and overactive behaviours. It can cause lack of concentration and focus, acting without regards for consequences, fidgety and lack of self-control. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) negatively impacts a child’s academic and social life. Children with ADHD may be ignorantly categorised as ‘irresponsible’ or ‘slothful’ or ‘mischief makers’. The condition is lifelong but can be managed by medication and counselling.


Dysgraphia is etymologically traced to the Greek root words ‘dys’ which means ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ and ‘graphía’  meaning ‘handwritten’. Dysgraphia is characterised by poor handwriting. This is often attributed to poor motor skills and hand coordination. Since writing clearly and coherently is a prerequisite for excellent academic performance. Children with dysgraphia may experience frustration seriously. Schoolwork requiring handwriting may become very difficult for them. It is not uncommon for children with ADHD or dyslexia to have dysgraphia.


Dyscalculia is a learning disability that makes mathematics, arithmetic and numerical-based calculation very challenging in children. It is a neurological condition that causes poor mathematical reasoning. A child with dyscalculia will find mathematical sum tough to understand. Dyscalculia is usually referred to as ‘math learning disability’ or ‘math dyslexia’

Dyspraxia or Developmental coordination disorder

This learning disorder affects up to 6 percent of children in school. Dyspraxia is a chronic neurological condition that makes physical coordination difficult because it hinders the brain’s capacity to control the body properly. Children with dyspraxia may find simple activities that require movement, like writing, playing football, or even combing hair, very challenging.

Read: How Important is Parental Involvement in their Child’s Education

What are the signs of learning disabilities?

Early detection and diagnosis, coupled with prompt intervention and management of learning disabilities, will help children with learning disabilities to be successful in their educational pursuits. Here are warning signs of learning disabilities you should be aware of:

Language disorder

Observe if your child has the following learning disabilities in language:

  1. Delay in utterances or speech production.
  1. Inability to pronounce correctly.
  1. Trouble understanding simple instructions.
  1. Slow to understand simple questions.
  1. Non-interest in storytelling.
  1. Poor grammar.

Persistent learning challenges

  1. Inability to understand the relationship between sounds and letter.
  1. Failure to learn the alphabet.
  1. Difficulty understanding phonetics
  1. Slow to name colours and object

Poor motor skills

  1. Sluggishness
  1. difficulty handling essential learning tools, e.g. pencil, sharpener, crayon.

Poor social interaction

  1. Easily get riled up.
  1. Throws tantrum easily.
  1. Faces difficulty in social interacting.
  1. Always isolated.


  1. Easily distracted and hard to concentrate
  1. Overactive
  1. Very impulsive
  1. Difficulty following instructions.

Is poor memory a learning disability?

There seems to be a link between poor memory and learning disabilities of different types. Poor memory is responsible for poor academic performances. It is also the cause of persistent forgetfulness and an inability to retain information. Children with poor memory are often misunderstood and regarded as ‘lazy’ and ‘poorly motivated’. This shaming may discourage these children and make them feel inadequate and incompetent.

A child with poor memory will find it challenging to understand comprehension passages or solve mathematical sums. Therefore, poor memory is a symptom of learning disability. 

Read: How do You teach a Child with a learning disability

At what age are learning disabilities diagnosed?

Diagnosing learning disabilities can be difficult. It is possible to observe early learning disabilities symptoms in your child during the first three years of schooling. A qualified and professional developmental psychologist will have to evaluate and test your child. If you see your child struggling, seek early intervention. Ensure you give your child the necessary support.

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