What are learning disabilities?

At a glance

  • Learning disabilities are challenges with reading, writing, and math.

  • Between 5 and 15 percent of people have a learning disability.

  • People don’t outgrow learning disabilities, but there are strategies and supports that can help.

Learning disabilities are lifelong challenges with reading, writing, and math. They can impact people at school, at work, and in everyday life.

Between 5 and 15 percent of people have a learning disability. Some people struggle in only one area. But it’s common to struggle in more than one.

Learning disabilities are caused by biological differences. Research shows that brain structure and function are different in people who have learning disabilities. Heredity also plays a role. Learning disabilities run in families.

Learning disabilities are real. People who have them aren’t “just being lazy.” And learning disabilities are not related to intelligence.

You may hear learning disabilities called learning disorders or specific learning disabilities. You may also hear terms that refer to a specific type of learning disability, like or .

People don’t outgrow most learning disabilities. But there are strategies, supports, and teaching approaches that can help people with learning disabilities thrive.

Dive deeper

About the author

About the author

Trynia Kaufman, MS was the senior manager of editorial research at Understood. She is a former educator and presents nationwide at education conferences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist, professor, and founding director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital.


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