HomeLearning DifficultiesLearning Disabilities & ADHDIdentifying a Learning Disability

Kindergarten signs and symptoms of an LD

How do you know if your child has a learning disability? Learn to read the signs.

By Carol Lloyd

What do tears, rhyming, storytelling, and gripping a pencil all have in common?

Don't answer. Just imagine this scene: an 18-month-old falling on the ground and bawling over a lost balloon. Now picture the same child collapsing into tears because a balloon slipped from her hand eight years later.

When does a tantrum turn from difficult to diagnosable? We all know that the meaning of the behavior changes radically with the age of the child. But when it comes to our children, it can be difficult to see. As parents, filled to the brim with worry and love for our ever-changing children, we easily get caught in a limboland of wondering: Is that normal? Should she still be doing that? Her brother never did that — maybe she's got an issue.

The common factor in the laundry list above? All can be clues that a child is struggling with a learning or behavioral problem. So says Steven E. Curtis, author of the book Understanding Your Child’s Puzzling Behavior (Greenleaf, 2008) and a licensed child clinical psychologist specializing in the assessment and treatment of children with emotional, behavioral, developmental, and learning difficulties. He offered to walk me through the first signs and symptoms of a learning disability for kids in preschool through high school.

GreatSchools: What are the primary warning signs for children in kindergarten? Is it fair to judge them on their academics since some kids develop more slowly?

Curtis: Kindergarten is a time to start getting to the basics, so though they may all not be reading, there are certain benchmarks to keep in mind. They should be learning the alphabet as well as the sounds of the letters. They should be learning to count. They should also be developing their fine motor skills: learning to copy words, cut paper into shapes. Most kindergartners begin to read simple words too. Finally, parents should continue to look at their children’s ability to understand stories.

Those are the main indicators: Do they have their sounds, numbers, and letters?
Of course, you might not hear much from your teacher if your child isn’t reaching these benchmarks. I used to teach general education teachers. The philosophy they’d been taught is “wait and see,” but the research suggests that if you catch this stuff early, you get better results. With language, you’ve got to hit it early — or kids get left in the dust. For instance, a preschooler and a kindergartner will learn phonemes better than a first- and second-grader. Once you hit first and second grade, you start going into content reading, and so kids who are still struggling with learning to read have a harder time.

There’s an idea in general education that learning to read is like osmosis — and it’s true! Most kids learn to read and write with very little instruction. About 80% learn like that, but the other 20% don’t learn that way. They need it broken down and need it to be taught.

It’s clear that we can impact this 20% with early intervention. With intensive instruction, they can get on track early before their self-esteem takes a hit.

Kindergarten is also the age when some kids are having trouble reading because they are having trouble seeing accurately. Sometimes their eyes aren’t tracking, or they are not focusing on the page. If your child is having trouble with early reading, it’s worth having their eyes checked too.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.

Comments from readers

"Thank you for this article!"
"After reading these other post I no longer feel so alone. My 6yr. old son was born profoundly deaf and now hears with a mild hearing loss with the blessings of his cochlear implants. Even though his chronological age is 6 he is acts as if he is 4, his surgeons say he was born the day he started to hear. I've had difficulties with his school and his kindergarten teacher. My son has just learned his abc's about 2-3months ago and does still struggle with the sounds. Sight words and reading simple words are so frustrating for him that I feel his self-esteem slipping away. I am going to have him repeat kindergarten and hope that over the summer we can work on his focus and maturity. I pray for more support from his school and educators."
"My son is 5 yrs old and was diagnosed at 3 yrs old that he has a speech disability. As a child, he didn't speak at all and he didn't speak until 3 yrs old. He used to point at everything and I used to tell him what it was and have him to repeat it. He also is in IEP at school,For a long time, he would not let them put the ear phones on his ears because the sounds may have been disturbing to him. As of now, he can't remember his alphabets. He seems to love numbers more and his attention expand is short but he is interested in learning and you can tell. I take him to a private speech therapist also. I don't see 'I guess enough improvement and I'm nervous' trying to figure out what else can I do."
"My child is having trouble with her abc she don't remember them than we do it together and still no diffenent"
"my daughter is 5.6 and she was recently tested by the school system. She's ADHD and I know that she has an LD. They said that she tested average and that's good enough. We've already been through a year of preschool with barely any progress, summer of Sylvan Tutoring (not much more success), and now Kindergarten. She can not remember all her letters from day to day. One day she'll know them and the next hardly any. The sounds are the same way. She tells me that she has a hard time and that she wishes she didn't have to struggle to remember a letter. Her rhyming is barely there. I know when she's having trouble because she has created her own way to get through any question. The teachers are on my side and anyone who knows her. I am so lost, what do I do? They told me she was young, wait and see what happens."
"My son is 5yrs and 8months,He's diagnosed as speech of Apraxia and difficult of understanding for language express and communication. But he is very good in reading that you can understand what he is reading about but if you asked him what is all about he got confused seems doesn't know what or how to express and too much information for him. What is the best option that you can contribute for his LD. I successfully put him into a IEP at his school and still maybe continued for his private speech articulation.He was at private speech articulation since he was at 3yrs. How long that he can able to be more successful for his speech and language disabilities with the help of Academics teams and school speech teraphys. I put him into a different lessons such as piano lesson and swimming lesson both this after school lesson seems he is fine. It is just need articulation and language express best commucniation. Please kindly give more comments from this community, "