10 Most Common Learning Deficits in Children

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Early intervention is key in helping your child thrive and reach their full learning potential.

Many children with learning deficits struggle in school long before they’re diagnosed. Not being able to learn and participate in class can affect a child's self-esteem and motivation, not to mention their education. 

Let’s look at ten of the most common learning challenges and how to recognise them:

1. Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorders go by many names, including spatial processing disorder, auditory hypersensitivity, and decoding deficits, to name a few. With auditory processing disorders, there’s a disconnect between the ears and brain, making it hard for kids to understand what they hear. With spatial processing disorder, for example, kids struggle to tell which direction a sound comes from, especially when hearing multiple sounds at the same time. This can lead to confusion and an inability to act on or retain the information they receive.

Signs to look for include:

  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Trouble following verbal directions
  • Improvement in quieter settings
  • Difficulty following conversations

2. Language Processing Disorder

A language processing disorder (LPD) negatively affects communication through spoken language. Children may not understand what’s being said to them, or they may be unable to verbally express themselves. 

Symptoms to look for include:

  • Having a limited vocabulary for their age
  • Using a lot of “filler” words, like “um”
  • Have trouble learning new words
  • Frustration when trying to share their thoughts
  • Frequently making statements that don’t make sense

3. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning deficit that makes a person struggle to interpret words or letters but does not otherwise affect their general intelligence. For example, the letters in a word might appear to the student in a different order than how they’re written, or letters may seem to be written backward.

Signs to look for include:

  • Late speech development
  • Trouble learning new words
  • Confusing sounds in words
  • Problems naming letters or numbers
  • Reading below their expected reading level
  • Trouble with spelling
  • Avoiding reading and related activities

4. Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia refers to a condition where a student struggles with writing. They might write more slowly than others because they have to work extra hard to form their letters, words, and thoughts. This is usually a problem with motor skills rather than intelligence. 

Common signs of dysgraphia include:

  • Struggling with forming letters
  • Not writing clearly enough to read back later
  • Writing words that skip letters
  • Writing in a crooked or slanted line

5. Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a learning deficit that affects a person’s ability to do basic arithmetic, such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Students may take longer than others to solve problems and may be more prone to miscalculations.

A boy and a girl sitting at a desk, writing down numbers on paper with coloured pens.

Signs of dyscalculia include:

  • Confusing different math symbols
  • Weak mental arithmetic skills
  • Math anxiety

6. Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

Visual motor deficits affect a child’s ability to process visual information. For example, they may struggle to copy information from the whiteboard or recreate a simple drawing. 

Symptoms include:

  • Trouble with navigational skills
  • Losing their place on the page when reading
  • Turning their head while reading
  • Holding a pencil too tightly, leading to breakage

7. Non-Verbal Learning Deficit

A non-verbal learning disability usually involves any area that’s not language-based, such as social, spatial, or motor skills. This is not an official term or diagnosis, but it can have a negative impact on learning and socialising. Children with non-verbal learning deficits might be unable to detect sarcasm, may have trouble with coordination, or can capture details but miss the big picture.

8. Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia, sometimes referred to as developmental coordination deficit, affects a person’s movement and coordination. It’s most evident in tasks that require balance and motor skills, such as playing a sport or driving a car. 

Signs to look for include:

  • Struggles to grasp small objects, writing, typing, or drawing
  • Coordination and balance or movement that seems off
  • Abnormal posture
  • Poor hand-eye coordination


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurological condition that affects an estimated 1 in 20 kids in Australia. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviours or be overly active. 

10. Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction isn’t a learning deficit, but it can impact a student’s ability to learn. It refers to a deficiency in a person’s cognitive abilities and can affect a broad range of things, including the ability to plan, pay attention to details, remember information, and manage time and space.

Next Steps

A boy of African descent is sitting in a classroom, looking at his homework with a happy expression on his face and one hand raised.

As a teacher, parent or guardian, it’s important to understand what a learning deficit looks like before diagnosis so that early intervention can occur. It’s vital to see these signs for what they are and not write them off as normal childhood behaviour. Every child deserves the same chance to learn.