Types of learning disabilities

There are several different types of learning disabilities. These learning disorders, and the symptoms directly related to them, impacts up to 20% of the population, which it is why understanding these conditions is so important for assisting those who present with any type of learning disability.

One of the most well-known, and misunderstood, types of learning disabilities or disorders is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which is a developmental disability characterised by a pattern of inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. Inattention is characterised by difficulty focusing on one task, and staying organised, but with no intention of being defiant.

Hyperactivity is understood as constant movement, fidgeting, restlessness, and talking too much. Impulsivity means that there are often no thoughts before an action, indicating difficulties with self-control. This often means acting on the current emotion and not considering the consequences of various actions. People with ADHD also often struggle with executive functioning (a symptom to be explained later). Often, when children with ADHD are left unassisted their growth may lag behind children without ADHD for up to 3 years[1].


Dyslexia is a reading disorder, due to problems in identifying speech sounds, and decoding (how speech sounds link to letters and words). Dyslexia occurs due to individual differences in areas of the brain that process language, with 20% of the population living with this condition. This condition has many misunderstood aspects, and it is not simply the inability to read or write, but also impeded upon emotional processing within the brain.

Manifestations of dyslexia are the confusion of similar words (dog and dot), difficulty scanning text, slow reading & writing skills, the need to re-read sentences to understand the context, difficulty with listening and focus, and being easily distracted by external surroundings.

[2]The four types of dyslexia are:

Phonological Dyslexia: This form is dyslexia is also known as “dysphonic” or “auditory” Dyslexia is where the person struggles to process sounds of individual letters, and syllables, and are therefore unable to match them with their written counterparts.

Surface Dyslexia: Surface dyslexia, known as “dyseidetic” or “visual dyslexia “is where the individual struggles to recognise whole words. This also means that memorising and learning is more difficult for people with this condition.

Rapid Naming Deficit: This is a form of dyslexia in which the processing speed in order to name a letter, number, object, or colour.

Double Deficit dyslexia: A person with this condition experiences the difficulties of both phonological dyslexia and surface dyslexia. People who struggle with reading more than other aspects of learning usually fall within this category.


Dyscalculia is a lesser-known learning disability, but up to 6% of the population is afflicted with this condition. It is defined as a learning disorder which impedes someone’s ability to understand maths, numbers, and the majority of maths-related concepts.


Dysgraphia presents “in written expression”, where a person struggles to translate their thoughts into written word. Dysgraphia may appear in forms such as: poor spatial planning, frequent erasing of work, inconsistency in letter and word spacing, unusual body positions when writing, and frequent hand cramps.


Dyspraxia is medically known as “Developmental co-ordination Disorder”, which is a disorder impacting the person’s physical coordination. The reason this is considered a “learning disability’, is because it directly targets the muscles, including muscles used for speech, writing, and any other physical actions that contribute to the learning process[3].


Executive functioning is not a diagnosis, but it a symptom of many conditions, including (but not limited to) Autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. It is encompassed by a range of skills sets, especially those of working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. When these skills are remiss (known as executive dysfunction), the individual can focus with basic daily functioning, which, in turn, impedes their ability to learn and communicate effectively and to their full potential.


Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) is also one of the types of learning disabilities. It is classified as a learning disorder where a lack of motor, visual-spatial, and social skills that results in verbal communication deficits. This disorder does not mean that people with NVLD care unable to communication, but it does mean that approximately 65% of their communication will be non-verbal. These children have the ability to speak, and they have good writing abilities, but they struggle with social cues and the understanding the abstract concepts of conversation[4].


Having an oral or written language disorder is a condition that makes verbal and written expression incredibly difficult, and it is not due to a lack of understanding, but rather difficulties in finding the words to express themselves, understanding that the ordering of the words impacts the meaning of the sentence and having a general understanding of the sentence.

Specific comprehension deficit (also known as hyperlexia), is characterised by deficits in listening, understanding what is being read, as opposed to having difficulty reading the words. The same deficit that presents in comprehension skills across varying learning disorders, presents itself in this condition too.

Learning difficulties are not present due to a lack of intelligence, but rather lie in the differences of the brain. Often, learning disabilities exist alongside others, making learning even more challenging for different people. Everybody deserves to learn in a way that they understand, which is why the understanding of these learning disabilities is crucial in providing the help that those with these conditions deserve.

Article by: A. Pascoe (2023)


[1]  Armstrong, T. (2010) Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary gifts of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other brain differences. ReadHowYouWant.com.

[2] Dr Sruthi, M. (2022). What Are the Main 4 Types of Dyslexia? [online]. https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_4_types_of_dyslexia/article.htm

[3] Cunningham, B. (2023) Is Dyspraxia a Learning Disability? Understood.com

[4] Churchill Center & School for Learning Disabilities, National Leader in Learning Disabilities (2017). What is Nonverbal Learning Disorder?