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See These 20+ Essential Tips if You Suspect Your Child or Student Has a Learning Disability (With Interactive Checklist)

signs of a learning disability

The Interactive Checklist Can Be Found at the Bottom of This Article

Have You Ever Wondered if Your Child or Student May Need of Support for a Learning Disability?

how do you know if your child has a learning disability

1. What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability interferes with one’s ability to receive, process, recall, or communicate information. Learning disabilities can primarily affect an individual in the areas of reading, writing, math, speaking, and listening.

Focus, reasoning, memory, coordination, social skills, and behavior may also be impacted as a result of a learning disability.

Research shows that students who display signs of learning disabilities benefit from extra instruction and support. To read more about this research see Intensive Interventions for Student Struggling in Reading and Mathematics.

If You Have Concerns that Your Child is Having Challenges in an Area of Learning What Should You Do?

2. Start Asking Questions and Communicating with Appropriate Professionals as Soon as You Feel Concerned

Ask for support from your child’s doctor, school, or state early intervention department as soon as you feel concerned. While it is difficult to accept that your child is having trouble learning and very common to fear that your child will be labeled, it is also important to know that you are not alone. Literally millions of children need extra support and are identified as having learning disabilities in schools.

3. Keep in Mind That Labels Drive Services

It is also important to note that “labels”, which are actually either diagnoses or “educational classifications” are only utilized to get children services and supports. We need a system where we can provide support based on what the individual needs. What we call it shouldn’t matter.

Why not say “Johnny needs support in reading because sounding out words has been challenging” instead of “”Johnny has a learning disability in reading.”

Rachel Wise

3. Diagnosed Disability Vs. Educational Classification: What’s The Difference?

It is important to note that the presence of a learning disability determined by an outside psychologist or other related professional would fall under the category of a diagnosis. However, when students meet criteria for learning disability in the school setting, it is referred to as an educational classification, rather than a diagnosis. A diagnosis from a provider in your community, may help your child connect and link with resources and supports that may not be available through the school (e.g., social groups, counseling services, etc.).

5. Acting Sonner Rather Than Later Increases Your Child or Student’s Chance for Success

Please know that delaying help makes it more difficult for a child to make sufficient progress. It is also critical to seek help as soon as you have concerns to prevent a child from feeling frustrated and disappointed when they struggle in school and don’t know why. School challenges, frustration, and disappointment can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and low motivation…which often lowers self-esteem and affects the trajectory or that child’s life.

6. How Are Learning Disabilities Identified?

Professionals (school psychologists, child psychologists, etc.) utilize a number of measures to determine whether or not a child meets criteria for a learning disability. To read more about what measures are utilized in schools see Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities.

Learning disabilities are generally identified when an evaluation by a psychologist shows that a student’s academic performance is significantly below that of their peers, despite consistent instruction over time. Often the child will show patterns of strengths and needs (high and low scores) within their IQ and/or achievement testing completed by the school psychologist.

They may have a significant discrepancy between their intellectual ability on IQ testing and their academic performance on achievement testing. Sometimes students are identified to have a learning disability when they have received a research-based intervention for a period of time, and they are still struggling to made sufficient academic progress in that area. The student’s schoolwork and homework, school assessments, attendance, and report card grades should all be considered as well when a student is evaluated for a learning disability.

7. Research-Based Interventions Can Occur While Waiting for the Evaluation Results

Sometimes schools will ask parents if they can try interventions to support a student first, before moving to conduct an evaluation to see if the child meets criteria for a learning disability or any other educational disability.

If you want your child to be evaluated by a school psychologist immediately, without having to wait for the school to try interventions first, let them know that. Work with the school team to determine the best course of action. The school can still put interventions into place while you wait for the results of the school psychologist’s evaluation.

You can ask about the type of intervention they are using and whether the intervention is backed by research. You can also ask the school to keep you posted on your child’s progress periodically throughout the intervention period.

8. Determining the Presence of a Learning Disability Can be Challenging with Very Young Students

If you have concerns of a learning disability for a child in kindergarten, your child’s school psychologist or a private evaluator (e.g., child psychologist) may not have enough evidence to support a learning disability, and may recommend more academic instruction and possibly that academic interventions take place in school for a certain amount of time (e.g., until the middle or end of kindergarten or first grade). If the child is still struggling with learning at that time, the psychologist may then evaluate for a learning disability.

With young students (e.g., Pre-K, Kinidergarten), it may be difficult to determine the presence of a learning disability without prior interventions due to the little formal instruction they have had.

Also, young children, such as those in preschool and kindergarten, develop at different rates. For example, some children may struggle with learning to add numbers in kindergarten, but catch up in first grade.

If you have learning concerns for a preschool age child, contact your state’s early intervention department, which you can find through a Google search. They will provide you with a free evaluation. They will not evaluate for a learning disability at that young age, but they can provide support if your child shows significant learning delays.

9. What Happens if Your Child is Found to Have a Learning Disability?

If your child meets criteria for a learning disability after an evaluation from the school psychologist, and that disability is found to have a negative impact on their progress in school, your child will receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Related Article: How Do You Know if Your Child Needs and IEP?

10. What is an IEP?

An IEP is a legal document that will provide your child with specialized educational services, including:

*Again, if your child attends private school or school outside the United States, you may need to ask which supports they provide

Your child’s IEP will also allow them to receive intensive instruction by a special education teacher in their area(s) of need.

11. Special education does not always require a student to go into a special class or smaller classroom.

Depending on your child’s needs, they may be able to stay in the general education setting, while receiving small group instruction from a special education teacher, either within the classroom, in a small group outside of the classroom (during certain times of the day), or virtually.

how do i know if my child has a learning disability

12. You Are Part of the Team: You Can Advocate for Your Child as Much as You See Fit

You and the rest of the IEP team will meet when the IEP is first implemented and once a year thereafter.

As a critical part of the IEP team, you know your child best. Your input is important in the decisions regarding your child’s accommodations/modifications, goals, and placement.

If you have questions about anything regarding the IEP ask and if you have concerns make them known. If you think changes need to be made to the IEP or important information needs to be discussed, you can request an IEP meeting prior to the annual meeting.

You can also ask school professionals if they are using any strategies that have been successful with your child that you may be able to implement at home. Also, share any strategies you have tried with your child that you have found to be effective.

13. Some Possible Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Learning Disabilities Include:

  • extra time to complete assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests
  • allowed to revise writing assignments before final grading
  • provided with audiobooks to supplement reading material
  • having test questions read aloud by a teacher
  • having math word problems read aloud by a math teacher
  • modification or clarification of directions as often as needed
  • use of graphic organizers for writing assignments
  • having multiple-choice tests include three choices per question instead of four
  • use of a calculator
  • speech to text and text to speech programs
  • providing materials at the students instructional level

14. Keep an Eye on Your Child’s Progress Towards Their IEP Goals.

Keep in contact with your child’s school team to ensure they are receiving the accommodations/modifications listed in their IEP and to determine if accommodations or goals need to be changed or modified. Keep a copy of your child’s most recent IEP and bring it to each IEP meeting, even if it’s an electronic version in your smart phone or other device.

To effectively monitor your child’s progress over the years, organize information about your child’s education and learning disability. Keep all important papers in a folder so you will have them to review with professionals if necessary. You can also search for an app or program to help you keep everything organized.

Documents can include:

  • samples of work to show strengths and areas of need
  • documentation of contact between you and professionals related to your child’s education
  • standardized tests and results
  • medical exams
  • report cards
  • discipline reports
  • evaluation reports
  • your own observations
  • IEP’s and any interventions or accommodations your child’s school has implemented to help your child outside of the formal IEP

15. What is an Educational Advocate and Should You Get One?

If you want support from a knowledgeable professional at your IEP meeting or other related meetings, you can bring an educational advocate. Search for an advocate in your area through Google or the Yellow Pages. For more tips on finding an advocate check out How Can I Find an Advocate?

I also provide educational advocacy in person, virtually, or on the phone. Contact me for more information at rachelwise@educationandbehavior.com

16. What Are Your Rights as a Parent Having a Child Evaluated for an Educational Disability?

As a parent having a child evaluated for a disability in school, you are offered certain rights, such as the right to dispute the findings of the evaluation and your child’s accommodations and/or placement as described in the IEP. Your child’s school should give you a copy of these rights when you sign the permission form for the evaluation.

17. Go Beyond the School By Seeking Resources in Your Community

As stated previously, tell your child’s doctor if you are concerned that your child may have a learning disability. They can refer you to a specialist to evaluate your child, such as a child psychologist, to determine the presence of a learning disability or other possible reasons for any difficulty your child is experiencing.

You can also find your own child psychologist by doing a Google search for child psychologists in your area or by contacting your child’s insurance provider.

18. Work Consistently and Collaboratively with the School Team and Outside Providers

If a child psychologist or other related professional (e.g. developmental pediatrician, neuro-psychologist) determines that your child has a learning disability, ask them for suggestions to support your child at home.

Additionally, share the results with your child’s school. The school will take those findings and recommendations into consideraton. They will also conduct their own evaluation, with your permission, to determine more specifically what your child’s needs in the school setting.

19. Support Your Child at Home if Possible

You May Like Orton Gillingham or Reggio Approaches to Try at Home

Ask your child’s school how you can help at home or visit me at educationandbehavior.com, for ideas. If you can’t find what you are looking for, contact me! Also contact me if you have questions pertaining to this article about a child who is homeschooled or attends a cyber or charter school.

Learn bout the Benefits of Hands-On and Multisensory Learning – Some Student Need a Different Approach

STEM, Hands-on, and Multisensory Learning is Great for All Ages – We Need More of it at All Grade Levels

20. Connect with Others Who Have Gone Through Similar Experiences

Social Media Network People - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

Talk with other parents who have children with learning disabilities so you do not feel alone. Talking to others also helps keep you informed about learning disabilities. See our Resources Section for ideas on how to connect with other parents and professionals on a national and state level. Facebook and Linkedin also offer many support groups for a variety of disabilities. You may even be able to find (or start) a local Facebook group of parents with common experiences.

21. Focus on Your Child’s Strengths

crop black girl rolling out dough while helping mother

Many children with learning disabilities are often very intelligent, possessing extraordinary skills in areas such as music, art, sports, cooking, leadership, and more!

Focus on and acknowledge your children’s strengths and encourage them in their areas of interest. Talk to professionals who work with your child, such as school staff, to understand your child’s academic strengths and needs, and work habits.

22. Should You Talk To Your Child About Their Learning Needs?

If your child is stressed or struggling, and getting frustrated with their work or assignments, it is okay to empathize with them and also let them know that everyone learns differently and at a different pace. Reassure them that you are working to find methods and strategies so they can feel successful and connected to their school and assignments.

photo of woman and girl talking while lying on bed

Let your child know that everyone struggles in certain areas, so if they have trouble with reading, math or anything else, they are not alone. Millions are going through the same.

Let your child know that people who need a different strategy or approach in a particular area, are intelligent people, who have trouble learning in certain ways because their minds process things differently.

Be honest and encouraging. Let your child know that although they may have trouble with learning in certain areas, they can learn and be successful just like any one else who works hard to surpass challenges and build upon their strengths.

23. What Can Educators Do if They Suspect a Student May Have a Learning Disability?

If you have concerns about a student’s learning, speak to your school team and your student’s parents to see what steps need to be taken to get them any support that may be needed.

Miranda Padilla helping a student with speech therapy. | Flickr

Work with your school team to utilize research-based strategies to support your student in any area of need, whether it be academic, social, emotional, or behavioral.

Talk about the benefits of interventions, an evaluation, etc. with your team including the parent.

What Can Educators Do if They Suspect a Student May Have a Learning Disability

Interactive Checklist for Learning Disability Concerns

Below you will find a checklist with signs that may indicate a learning disability. You can complete it, print it out, and take it to your child’s school, doctor, or early intervention team to discuss your concerns.

Side note: It is very common to see one or more of these signs in a child and it does not necessarily indicate a disability. You should look into getting support for your child if you see several of these signs over a long period of time (e.g., six months or more) despite continuous instruction at school or at home.

Instructions for Use:
For older children, you can check any difficulties you currently observe or have previously observed, even the ones that are listed in the younger grade categories.

Learning Disability Interactive Checklist
Date :
Child’s name :



speech came later than most children

difficulty with vocabulary (e.g., often has trouble finding the right word)

difficulty learning the alphabet, days of the week, numbers, shapes, and colors

difficulty understanding the concept of rhyming words

difficulty understanding directions, questions, or information given by others

trouble using language to express wants and needs or to share information

trouble with fine motor skills (e.g., difficulty using playdough to make balls, difficulty cutting across a
piece of paper, difficulty feeding self with spoon and fork, etc.)

Grades K – 4

trouble learning the connection between letters and sounds

consistently makes reading and spelling errors such as letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w),
transpositions (leave/laeve), and substitutions (house/home)

trouble understanding what he/she reads

transposes number sequences (e.g., 17 for 71)

confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)

trouble remembering math facts (e.g.,trouble remembering the sum of simple addition problems, such
as 2 + 1 or 5 + 5, without having to count on fingers, draw lines, or use objects to represent the
problem). Consider age and grade level. Younger students (e.g., grades k and 1) are learning basic
math facts and need time before they have them memorized.

trouble learning about telling time

difficulty planning the steps to complete an assignment or project

Grades 5 – 8

frequently reverses letters sequences when spelling (e.g., reverse/reserve, special/specail)

trouble learning prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies

trouble understanding what he/she reads

avoids reading out loud

avoids assignments that require writing

trouble recalling math facts (e.g., trouble remembering times table)

trouble understanding math word problems

High School Students and Adults

frequently reads words incorrectly

trouble understanding what he/she reads

spells the same word more than one way in the same piece of writing

frequently spells words incorrectly

trouble using writing to summarize information

dislikes or avoids writing

trouble answering open-ended questions in a writing assignment (e.g., “what did you think of….?”
“what happened in the story?” “what is your opinion on…?)

trouble remembering previously learned information or concepts

Type Additional Concerns Here:


Recommended Books to Support Children with Learning Disabilities:

Education and Behavior – Keeping Us On the Same Page

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3 thoughts on “See These 20+ Essential Tips if You Suspect Your Child or Student Has a Learning Disability (With Interactive Checklist)

  1. A great job!Simple,practical,informative,educative for student-teachers,practitioners,and parents/guardians.

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