Reasons why kids have trouble

Here are some important things to know if you have asked yourself, "does my child have a learning disability" as a result of their struggles in school.

There are many reasons why a child may struggle in school. 

All of these categories can affect your child's learning:

Image of a student confused at a desk

  • Physical: vision, hearing or muscle weakness

  • Cognitive: how their brain works

  • Learning style: some kids need to see pictures, others need to hear the information, some need to move their bodies as they learn

  • Emotional and Mental Health: stress, depression and other common issues 

Does my child have a Learning Disability? Here are some reasons why some kids have trouble learning:

  • Home experience: if a child is just learning English or has missed a lot of school because of illness, they may have a harder time getting started with learning.

  • Teaching (instruction): if the teaching is not high quality, or if the teaching style is not the kind your child needs

  • Learning disabilities

  • Developmental disabilities

  • Trouble with focus and attention 

(Click on the boxes below to learn more.)

There are many different types of learning disabilities. They affect how a child takes in new information, understands it and responds to it.

Here are a few important things to know:

  • Kids can have a learning disability at a young age, but we often don't notice until they're in school. This is when their challenges show up, because they may have a hard time with things they're expected to do in school.
  • You can find out if a child has a learning disability through an evaluation. This is a series of special tests. The school system should offer this for free to any child over 3. (We'll tell you later how to set this up.)
  • If a child has a learning disability, it does not mean they're not smart: they can learn successfully with the right kind of teaching.
  • Your child can do much better if you can catch this early and have them work with a trained special education teacher.

To learn more, click on the title to go to this web page: Learning Disabilities (from MedlinePlus)(It will open in a new tab on your screen.) Here's another link that includes some of the different types: Learning Disabilities (from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development).


Source: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, MedlinePlus

A Developmental Delay is when your child is not doing certain things that kids usually do at their age. If this is still happening after age 9 or so, they may call it a disability instead of a delay.

  • There are different kinds of development, and different milestones: things a child usually can do at a certain age.
  • Kids learn things at different ages, so there is a big range of what is "normal". But an evaluation can tell if your child may need some help to catch up.

A Developmental Disability is any condition that limits someone's ability to take care of themselves, starts when they are young and will probably affect them for their whole life.

  • It can be physical (like being blind or hearing impaired) or intellectual. 
  • Intellectual or cognitive refers to how someone's mind works.  If you have trouble thinking, learning and communicating in a typical way, these are cognitive or intellectual limitations.

Here's a link to learn more: Developmental Disabilities. (It will open in a new tab.)

Sources: CDC, National Institutes for Health, MedlinePlus  

If a child has trouble focusing in school, they may just be restless or they may have ADHD, which is a condition related to how their brain works.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. You may also hear ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. 

  • This is a condition where a person's brain processes information differently. It is not their fault!
  • It makes it hard for them to focus on one thing, and can make them impulsive and disorganized.
  • If a child has ADHD there are things you can do to help them. You can reduce distractions by having them sit at the front of the class, do their work or take tests in a quiet corner, or use headphones to cancel outside noise. 
  • They can also get help to learn strategies to stay focused and organized. Medicines can also help.

Click on this link for a one-page fact sheet about ADHD. (It will open in a new tab.)


The big difference is whether the child simply needs different teaching strategies or specialized services

  • Usually the first step is that the school will try some strategies (interventions). If those don't work, they may adjust them.
  • The next step is to do an evaluation to see if your child has a learning disability (or another kind) that qualifies them for special education services.

At any time, if you are concerned that your child may have a disability, you have a right to get an evaluation. If the school says no, you can talk to the director of Special Education for the district. (In some districts this is called ESS: Exceptional Student Services.)

What if my child has a learning disability?

  • If your child has a disability, you should be able to confirm it with an evaluation from the school. 
  • If the disability affects their learning and they will need specialized instruction or services, they should qualify for special education. Keep reading and we'll tell you more!
  • If they have a developmental disability, there may be other supports you can get outside of school as well. See our other Guide: What to Do if You Think Your Child May be Different. It will give you lots more information! (Click to open it in a new tab. But remember to come back to this Guide to continue.)