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The Most Common Learning Differences: Signs and Classroom Accommodations

Updated: 1 day ago

The most common learning differences affect reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), math (dysgraphia), and attention (ADHD). While reading, writing, and math are the areas where students demonstrate their abilities, it is important to understand the underlying processing skills that enable students to achieve each skill. Auditory processing, visual processing, sensory-motor, and attention skills impact learning and achievement.

A good assessment can pinpoint areas of strength and areas that need remediation and acceleration. When teachers and parents understand why a student is struggling in school they can create a learning plan along with classroom accommodations. Here is a list of the four most common learning challenges:


Dyslexia means that a student’s reading skills are below their potential. In addition to reading, spelling and speech can also become challenging. Strong reading skills require auditory processing, visual processing, and attention skills. These skills need to integrate and work together for reading fluency.

Signs of dyslexia:

  1. Difficulty learning nursery rhymes or playing rhyming games

  2. Problems forming words correctly, such as reversing sounds in words or confusing words that sound alike

  3. Problems remembering or naming letters, numbers, and colors

  4. Reading well below the expected level for age

  5. Trouble processing and understanding what they hear

  6. Difficulty finding the right word or forming answers to questions

  7. Problems remembering the sequence of things

  8. Difficulty seeing (and occasionally hearing) similarities and differences in letters and words

  9. Inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word

  10. Difficulty spelling

Classroom accommodations:

  1. Form small groups to make them more comfortable

  2. Call on the student when they are likely to know the answer. Often this will be the 2nd or 3rd person to talk in the discussion as this will give them time to establish the context of the conversation

  3. Find out what they are good at and have them share that skill with the class

  4. Help them understand directions

  5. Their low reading ability limits understanding of written corrections and weak auditory processing difficulties make it difficult for them to understand oral directions

  6. Break both written and oral directions into short concise parts

  7. Teach them to number each set of written directions and underline key words, which indicate actions needed to complete the assignment

  8. Check with them directly after getting instruction is given to ensure they understand what to do

  9. Seat them in the front of the class so they can gain as many visual and auditory clues as possible

  10. Focus on the main idea of the topic to help facilitate the understanding of the whole concept


Dysgraphia means a child has difficulty writing legibly. Some children with dysgraphia struggle to hold a writing utensil comfortably while others lack the spatial awareness needed to produce legible text. Many students with dysgraphia have a weakness in visual-motor integration, meaning the student has fine motor difficulties, which make it hard for them to write, combined with a visual problem, which makes it hard for them to manually reproduce visually presented information.

Signs of dysgraphia:

  1. Cramped grip

  2. Hand pain when writing

  3. Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spatial planning)

  4. Frequent erasing

  5. Inconsistent letter and word spacing

  6. Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters

  7. Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing

Classroom accommodations:

  1. Excuse them from note-taking

  2. Provide handouts

  3. Assign a partner whose notes they can photocopy

  4. Assist in notetaking

  5. provide an outline so they can then fill in the lecture information

  6. provide a template for writing paragraphs and essays

  7. Use wide-ruled paper

  8. Allow the use of computers whenever possible

  9. Allow speech-to-text for writing assignments

  10. Encourage the use of graphic organizers to organize ideas prior to writing

  11. For lengthy assignments, either shorten the assignment or allow extra time

  12. Allow and encourage the use of graph paper for all math assignments


Dyscalculia means a student is challenged to understand basic math concepts. The reason for this challenge is that math is a skill that builds upon previously learned information, so children who lack the basic concepts quickly fall behind their peers. Math skills require visual-spatial skills to enable student to “see” the sequence, shape, and scope of math concepts.

Signs of Dyscalculia:

  1. Deliberately avoiding math tasks, while being OK with other subjects

  2. Basic number sense is challenging

  3. Uncomfortable with activities involving counting or numbers

  4. Making wild guesses or just jotting down random numbers

  5. Working slowly and inconsistently

  6. Difficulty memorizing and learning to write the numerals

  7. Counting on fingers rather than memorizing math facts

  8. Difficulty selecting the larger of two small quantities without counting

  9. Difficulty with perception of shapes and relative sizes

  10. Confusion over telling time on a digital and an analogue clock

  11. Seems to ‘get it’ one day, ‘forgets’ it the next

  12. Using a number-line is difficult, can’t visualize the order

  13. Reverses number order in multi-digit number

Classroom accommodations:

  1. Provide a written list questions the student can ask themselves to “talk through” problems.

  2. Use graph paper to help line up numbers and problems.

  3. Give a number line or multiplication table the student can use to solve problems.

  4. Use concrete objects like coins, blocks, and puzzles to teach math ideas.

  5. Have the student re-verbalize the concept to make sure they understand

  6. Highlight or circle key words and numbers on word problems.

  7. Allow extra time on tests.

  8. Let the student use a calculator when computation isn’t what’s being assessed

  9. Give more space to write problems and solutions.

  10. Break down worksheets into sections.


Attention Deficit Disorder makes it hard for students to sustain attention on a non-preferred task. While they can often focus on tasks they are interested in, maintaining that attention over time can be a challenge. These students can have trouble sitting still to listen to instructions and following through on tasks. Students with ADHD often have weak executive functioning skills. There are two types of ADHD: Inattentive and Hyperactive:

Sign of Inattentive ADHD:

  1. a short attention span

  2. easily distracted

  3. makes careless mistakes 

  4. forgetful or loses things

  5. difficulty remembering instructions

  6. disorganized

Signs of Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

  1. unable to sit still

  2. constantly fidgeting

  3. difficulty concentrating on tasks

  4. unnecessary physical movement

  5. excessive talking

  6. unable to wait their turn

  7. acts without thinking

  8. interrupts conversations

Classroom accommodations:

  1. Seat them in the front of the room

  2. Have “cue” words that you both agreed upon, these are intended to call them back when they daydream

  3. Provide structure words in your lectures that enable them to refocus and know where they are.

  4. “1st point, 2nd point, 3rd point, moving to the next idea”

  5. Provide weekly assignment sheets

  6. Use visual organizers/calendars for long-term assignment.

  7. Check their assignment book, or have a partner check, to ensure all assigned work written down and they know which books need to be taken home

  8. Remind them to turn in homework each day

  9. If excessive activity is a problem, discuss appropriate movements that can be done within the classroom system

  10. A wiggle seat can be helpful

  11. Timers can be very helpful, especially ones that count down

  12. Checklists and charts that can be used in the classroom and at home can be very beneficia.

  13. Teach children to take control of their thinking with these metacognitive prompts:

If you think your child has a learning difference, the K&M Center can help. Contact us at

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