Types of Learning Disabilities

The term “learning disability” is an umbrella term describing of more specific learning disabilities. Definitions of these problems are not standardized; however, we do know that learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors or injury that alters brain functioning in a manner which affects one or more processes related to learning. These disorders are not due primarily to hearing and/or vision problems, socio-economic factors, cultural or linguistic differences, lack of motivation or ineffectual teaching, although these factors may further complicate the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities may co-exist with various conditions including attentional, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions. – LDAC fact sheet

For further information on the causes of learning disabilities please select this link.

Following are some of the common terms and definitions as listed by the classic self-help book for adults with learning disabilities, Steps to Independence by Dale S. Brown:

Academic Difficulties

Problems with basic academic skills. These include:

  • Dyscalculia – Difficulty doing math
  • Dysgraphia – Difficulty writing
  • Dyslexia – Difficulty reading

Associated Reactions

One part of the body moves involuntarily because of the movement of another part of the body, for instance, the left arm may- move a little when the right arm moves or one arm may move when the head turns.

Auditory Perceptual Problems

Trouble taking information in through the sense of hearing and/or processing that information. People with this problem frequently hear inaccurately. A sequencing or discrimination error can change the meaning of an entire message: for example, one might hear “I ran to the car,” instead of “I rented the car.” People with auditory handicaps frequently do not hear unaccented syllables. They may hear “formed” instead of “performed,” “seven” instead of “seventy.” Some auditory perceptual handicaps are:

  • Auditory discrimination problem – Trouble telling the difference between similar sounds, such as “th” and “f” or “m” and “n”; hearing “seventeen” instead of “seventy”; hearing an angry rather than a joking tone of voice.
  • Auditory figure ground problem – Trouble hearing a sound over background noise, for example, being unable to hear the cell-phone ring when one is in a crowded, noisy room, or having difficulty hearing someone talk at a party when music is playing.
  • Auditory sequencing problem – Trouble hearing sounds in the correct order, for example, hearing “nine-four” instead of “four-nine”; hearing “treats” instead of “street”; hearing music garbled because the melody is perceived out of order.

Catastrophic Response

An involuntary reaction to too many sights, sounds, extreme emotions, or other strong stimuli. This may result in losing one’s temper, becoming dazed or unaware of one’s surroundings, or “freezing” for a short time.

Crossing the Midline

Trouble with moving ones limbs across the center of the body. This could include: difficulty writing across a page, sweeping a floor, or controlling a steering wheel.

Directional Problem

Trouble automatically distinguishing left from right; learning north, south, east, west; remembering the placement of an icon on a computer toolbar; learning the layout of a large symmetrical building.


Difficulty in behaving appropriately in an automatic way. This is a problem with the self governing part of the brain that stops one from doing such things as laughing at the wrong time, talking aloud to oneself, coughing without covering the mouth. A disinhibited person might abruptly interrupt a conversation or talk aloud to himself in public.

Intersensory Problem

Trouble using two senses at once or associating two senses, for instance, not realizing that the letter “d” which is seen, is the same as the sound “d” when it is spoken; being unable to feel someone tap you on the shoulder while you are absorbed in a task; being unable to listen to a conversation and drive at the same time.

Memory Problem, ‘Short-Term’

Trouble remembering names, numbers, specific facts, what happened a few minutes ago. A poor memory makes academic success difficult.

Motor Problem

Trouble moving one’s body efficiently to achieve a certain goal. Some motor problems are:

  1. Perceptual motor problems – Trouble performing a task requiring coordination because of inaccurate information received through the
    senses. This may result in clumsiness, difficulty in participating in simple sports, awkward or stiff movements.
  2. Visual motor problem – Trouble seeing something and then doing it: learning a dance step while watching a teacher, copying something off a blackboard, throwing something at a target.
  3. Auditory motor problem – Trouble hearing something and then doing it; following verbal directions, dancing to a rhythmic beat, taking notes in a lecture.

Perceptual Problem

Trouble taking information in through one’s senses and/or processing that information.

Proprioceptive Perceptual Problem

Trouble knowing where one is in space. A person with this problem might not be able to tell the position of her limbs with her eyes closed.

Soft Neurological Signs

Signs of central nervous system dysfunction that can be observed: staring, turning the head instead of moving the eyes, inability to look at people in the eye, not holding the head straight, being easily startled.

Tactile Perceptual Problem

Trouble taking information in through the sense of touch. Some tactile disabilities are:

  1. Tactile defensiveness – Tendency to avoid being touched and to perceive light touch as threatening.
  2. Tactile discrimination problem – Trouble feeling the difference between similar objects such as heavy or light sandpaper, silk or cotton, ripe or unripe cantaloupe.
  3. Tactile pressure problem – Trouble judging the right amount of pressure needed to perform motor acts: holding an egg in two fingers without breaking or dropping it, tapping someone playfully rather than hitting them.

Vestibular Perceptual Problem

Problem with one’s sense of balance, for example, a tendency to lose one’s footing on a curb.

Visual Perceptual Problem

Trouble taking information in through the sense of sight and/or processing that information. Some visual perceptual difficulties are:

  1. Visual figure-ground problems – Trouble seeing a specific image within a competing background: finding a face in a crowd, finding keys on a crowded desk, picking out one line of print from the other lines in a book. People with this problem cannot see things that others can see. To them the keys on a crowded desk are not there.
  2. Visual sequencing problem – Trouble seeing things in the correct order, for instance, seeing letters or numbers reversed, seeing two cans reversed on shelf of cans. The person with this
    problem actually sees a word incorrectly. He may see “was” instead of “saw.”
  3. Visual discrimination problem – Trouble seeing the difference between two similar objects, such as the letters “v” and “u,” or “e” and “c”; the difference between two shades of one color; or
    two similar types of leaves. The person with this problem sees the two similar objects as alike.
  4. Depth perception problem – Trouble perceiving how far away (or near) an object may be: for instance, you may not know how close the fork is to your hand or how far to reach to put a glass of water on the table.