What is the difference between a slow learner and learning disability

Most people erroneously believe there is no difference between slow learners and children with learning disabilities. They use both terms interchangeably to tag a child. Mislabeling a child is an unjust action. So how can one distinguish between a slow learner and one who is learning disabled?


It may be challenging to distinguish a slow learner with a child with learning disability solely based on observation. While a slow learner has a below-average intelligence and meets his developmental milestone at a very slow rate compared to his peers, a child with a learning disability has a psychological deficiency that will affect his ability to perform effectively at one or more cognitive or psychomotor skills.


A child with a learning disability may be of average or above-average intelligence, but will overwhelmingly underperform in a specific academic or language skill, e.g. reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia) or mathematical calculations (dyscalculia). A slow learner, compared to the rest of his peers, progresses intellectually at a very slow rate. For a slow learner, to learn and understand is a struggle. It is not to say a slow learner will never ‘improve’, he definitely will, but a slow rate. 

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


Here are ways to identify a slow learner and a child with learning disabilities.

What is the difference between a slow learner and learning disability?

How to identify a child with learning disabilities

Hyperactivity and poor attention span

A child with a learning disability usually finds it difficult to focus or concentrate in whatever activity he is facing. This happens mostly in the classroom. This attitude might be mistaken for ‘laziness’ or ‘forgetfulness’. The child can also display an impulsive, unpredictable and restless action. He may become isolated due to inability to participate in group leisure tasks.

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is one of the problems those with learning disabilities face. They may experience so much frustration and hardship in school and will feel let down as time goes by. The negative feedback that they may receive from parents and teachers can also cause a feeling of inferiority complex. They wallow in anger and self-pity.

Academic deficiency

Cognitive tasks like reading, spelling and solving simple math sum may be difficult for those who have learning disabilities. They tend to mix up words and letters, dislike reading, wrongly place the correct order of letters in words, find it very challenging to associate sounds with letters etc. Also, children with learning disabilities may struggle at understanding mathematics.

Poor hand-eye coordination and visual perception problems

Proper hand-eye coordination is necessary for performing a wide range of activities. It is responsible for a child’s ability to carry out a simple, everyday task like picking up a book, writing or drawing. It is very vital in learning because children have to use their eyes and simultaneously control the movement of their hands to perform some tasks like writing or playing sport. Children with learning disabilities often have poor hand-eye coordination, difficulty in performing motor skills and controlling muscular movement.

Read: How do I help my child who is struggling in school

How to identify a slow learner

Speech delays

A slow learner may have an immature language pattern as a result of language delay. A slow learner may develop language and speech skill at a slower rate, compared to the rest of his peers. He might face difficulty in forming or understanding a word or sentence.

Socially Immature behaviour

Slow learners may struggle to mature at the expected pace. They may display more inadequate physical coordination than their peers, sulk and become easily upset, find it difficult to adapt to academic challenges in school, prefer fraternizing with younger kids, socially awkward etc.

Low frustration threshold/ easily frustrated

Slow learners may have poor control of their emotions and are easily prone to frustration and frequent outburst of rage. They nearly never think of fixing situations logically and rationally. Slow learners are also unable to stay calm when raging. They become frustrated by very trivial conditions when compared to their peers.

Academic deficiency

Slow learners may find it difficult to learn and understand the school work that is expected of their peers. Their academic performance is far below their age groups. Slow learners are not in any way intellectually disabled, because he is capable of becoming self-independent and successful academically, even at a slower rate. Slow learners may need additional time or extra help in the classroom. They may also experience poor memory retention and forgetfulness.

Read: How do you tell if a child has a reading disability

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