8 Preschool Behaviors That Could Be a Learning Disability

Children are resilient little creatures. This is especially true if an issue is caught early. As toddlers enter the preschool stages, it’s important to be aware of any lurking learning disabilities so you can course-correct early on. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), learning disabilities affect one in seven people. And the key is to know the early indicators. The earlier a learning disability gets detected, the better chance a child will have to succeed later on in life. A similar study from NIH showed that 67 percent of young students identified as being at risk for reading difficulties were able to achieve average or above average reading ability when they received help early. Parents are encouraged to pay attention and understand warning signs as early as pre-school. Here are 8 preschool behaviors that could be a learning disability.


She is late with talking, compared to other children

Does your little one talk like a mini adult or does she remain quiet most of the time when you try to engage her with conversation? Children do develop differently than their peers so there’s a host of possibilities when it comes to growth. But one in five school-age children has a learning and attention disability so it’s imperative to pay attention to her chatter early.


She has problems with pronunciation

Does your toddler rattle off words or mangle certain letters? While pronunciation for toddlers isn’t perfect, she should be able to come close to everyday words. If a child has difficulty interpreting sounds or language, it could be a sign of an auditory or language processing disorder. Chronic ear infections or undiagnosed hearing loss can delay speech so check in with your doctor if you’re concerned. Standard practice is to check a child’s hearing at birth and then not again until around age 5.


Her vocabulary is slow to grow

How many words does she know? Most 3-year-olds should know body parts, everyday objects and basic pronouns like “you” or “me.” Preschoolers should also be able to say their name, understand the concept of “how many,” hold up their fingers when you ask their age and be able to recite several numbers in order (toddler “counting”). By 4 years old, kids should be able to count to 20. A delay in this area may be a sign of dyscalulia, a learning disability that challenges kids with understanding numbers and telling time.


Learning colors, days of the week and alphabet does not come easy

Between 3 and 4 years old, toddlers should be able to recognize ten or more letters when they see them. They know their colors, days of the week and her ABCs. Some can even recognize their name. If your child seems behind compared with her peers, it could be a warning sign for dyslexia, a learning disability that affects reading, writing and spelling.


She doesn’t show interest in reading

Does your toddler show an interest in “reading” at her tender age? Typically preschoolers can answer questions about what they see in books, trace their fingers over the words and pretend to read or make up stories about the book’s illustrations. By 4, a large number of toddlers can recite lines from their favorite book by heart. Learning the connection between symbols and pictures tell a story is an important early literacy skill.


She’s extremely restless and is easily distracted

Does your little one get distracted easily? Or does she seem restless a lot? ADHD can put children as much as three years behind their peers when it comes to brain development, social and emotional skills. Those are critical skills when transitioning to kindergarten. Being able to focus on what she’s doing and follow through, even with play, is important during those early preschool years. Although it’s not a guarantee but it’s one preschool behavior that could signal a learning disability.


She has trouble interacting with her peers

If your child plays more with imaginary friends than real friends, it could signal a delay in social skills. Between ages 3 and 4, she should be playing with other kids and interacting rather than alongside them engaging in pretend play. It doesn’t mean that she’s definitely behind but it’s something for you to monitor or talk with her pediatrician about.  


She doesn’t follow directions or easy routines

How does your toddler handle routines and following directions? While temper tantrums are a normal, everyday part of her development, she should be able to cooperate with peers and manage her own frustrations. By age 5, children start learning to regulate their emotions in an age-appropriate way, like persisting through a challenge or routine rather than giving up in frustration. Not following directions or routines isn’t an automatic sign of a learning disability, but you should keep an eye on the situation.

If you notice one or more of these situations, don’t panic. A delay in fine motor skills could just be a typical blip in development vs. something serious such as a learning disability. And let’s be real, sometimes toddlers exhibit weird behavior that you can chalk up to being completely normal. But the previous advice prevails: the earlier parents, teachers and pediatricians can intervene, the better your child is for future development.

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