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Characteristics of a learning disability

Characteristics of a learning disability

Do you suspect your student has a learning disability? If so, it's probably based on observations you've made (e.g., homework struggles, less-than-stellar grades) or feedback from a teacher (e.g., classroom disruptions, the need for accommodations). We've put together some specific "red flags" that often manifest in the presence of a learning struggle, as well as an explanation as to what might be at the root of the problem.

FIRST: Understanding cognitive skills

Cognitive skills are the foundational set of skills the brain uses to think and learn. Strong skills make learning easier and faster. But if one or more brain skills is weak, it can impact how efficiently we grasp, process, remember and apply the things we are attempting to learn.

The main cognitive skills are attention, memory, processing speed, visual processing, logic & reasoning, and auditory processing.

NEXT: The impact of weak cognitive skills on learning

Here’s a brief description of each of the cognitive skills, as well as common learning struggles that can be experienced if that skill is weak:

Sustained attention enables you to stay focused and on task for an extended period of time.
Signs that sustained attention skills may be weak include jumping from project to project, and/or always being surrounded by unfinished projects.

Selective attention enables you to ignore distractions and stay focused on what you are doing.
Signs that selective attention skills may be weak include being easily distracted and/or jumping from task to task.

Divided attention enables you to remember information while doing two things at once.
Signs that divided attention skills may be weak include not being able to multitask, or making frequent mistakes.

Auditory Processing
Auditory processing enables you to analyze, blend, and segment sounds and is a critical skill for successful reading.
Signs that auditory processing skills may be weak include having difficulties learning to read, or struggling with reading fluency or comprehension.

Visual Processing
Visual processing enables you to think in visual images.
Signs that visual processing skills may be weak include struggling to understand what you’ve just read, remembering what you’ve read, following directions, reading maps, doing word math problems.

Working memory enables you to hang on to information while you are in the process of using it.
Signs that working memory skills may be weak include having to read the directions again in the middle of a project, experiencing difficulty following multi-step directions, forgetting what was just said in a conversation.

Long-term memory enables you to hang on to, and access, stored information that was learned in the past.
Signs that long-term memory skills may be weak include forgetting names, doing poorly on tests, forgetting things you used to know.

Logic & Reasoning
Logic & reasoning enables you to reason, form ideas, and solve problems.
Signs that logic & reasoning skills may be weak include frequently asking “What do I do next?” or saying “I don’t get this,” struggling with math, feeling stuck or overwhelmed.

Processing Speed
Processing speed enables you to perform tasks quickly and accurately
Signs that processing speed is weak include the ongoing feeling that tasks are more difficult for you than for other people, taking a long time to complete tasks for school or work, frequently being the last one in a group to finish something.

FINALLY: How to help your student

If one or more weak skills are contributing to a learning struggle or disability, that skill can be identified, targeted with exercise, and strengthened.

This can be accomplished through personal brain training, a form of cognitive training that pairs students together with their own personal brain trainers for fun, challenging mental exercises.

The first step is to identify if weak cognitive skills are at the root of the problem. LearningRx offers a one-hour Brain Skills Assessment that measures exactly how each skill is performing and gives you a detailed look at which skills are strong and which are weak.

To learn more or to schedule a Brain Skills Assessment, visit