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7 Learning Disabilities Every Psychology Professional Should Study

From dyslexia to language processing disorder to visual perceptual/visual motor deficit, understanding learning disabilities helps psychology professionals better understand the populations they serve.

While some degree programs set students up for a highly specific career trajectory, there are countless options for careers with a psychology degree. Some psychology professionals work in human development. Others work in clinical settings or healthcare. Many study social behavior or cognition. Regardless of your psychology career path, educational psychology is an important subspecialty worthy of further study.

It’s important to be cognizant of how others learn. Awareness of learning differences, especially learning disabilities, is critical. While this is most true in an educational environment, there are applications for all settings. Understanding the learning skill sets of others allows you to communicate and teach more effectively.

7 Learning Disabilities Every Psychology Professional Should Study

In particular, psychology professionals should study these seven learning disabilities:

1. Dyslexia

Underneath the learning disability umbrella, many disabilities are categorized as one of three types: dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.1 Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that impacts reading, writing, and comprehension. Dyslexics may exhibit difficulty decoding words or with phonemic awareness, identifying individual sounds within words. Dyslexia often goes diagnosed for many years and often results in trouble with reading, grammar, reading comprehension, and other language skills.2

2. Dysgraphia

Those with dysgraphia have trouble converting their thoughts into writing or drawing. Poor handwriting is a hallmark of dysgraphia but is far from the only symptom. Sufferers struggle to translate their thoughts into writing, whether in spelling, grammar, vocabulary, critical thinking, or memory.1 Individuals with dysgraphia may exhibit difficulty with letter spacing, poor motor planning and spatial awareness, and trouble thinking and writing simultaneously.3

3. Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia encompasses learning disabilities related to mathematical calculations. Individuals with dyscalculia struggle with math concepts, numbers, and reasoning.1 Sometimes referred to as having “math dyslexia,” individuals might have difficulty reading clocks to tell time, counting money, identifying patterns, remembering math facts, and solving mental math.4

4. Auditory processing disorder

In auditory processing disorder (APD), patients have difficulty processing sounds. Individuals with APD may confuse the order of sounds or be unable to filter different sounds, like a teacher’s voice versus background noise. In APD, the brain misinterprets the information received and processed from the ear.5

5. Language processing disorder

A subset of auditory processing disorder, language processing disorder arises when an individual has specific challenges in processing spoken language, impacting both receptive and expressive language. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, in language processing disorder, “there is difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences, and stories.”6

6. Nonverbal learning disabilities

While it may sound like nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) relate to an individual’s inability to speak, it actually refers to difficulties in decoding nonverbal behaviors or social cues. NVLD sufferers struggle with understanding body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, or the nonverbal aspects of communication.7

7. Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Individuals with visual perceptual/visual motor deficit exhibit poor hand-eye coordination, often lose their places when reading, and have difficulty with pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, and other fine motor activities. They may also confuse similar looking letters, have trouble navigating their surroundings, or demonstrate unusual eye activity when reading or completing assignments.8

The Learning Disabilities Association of America and many other mental health practitioners regard the seven aforementioned disorders as specific learning disabilities. They recognize autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as related disorders that impact learning, though not specific learning disorders.3

Understanding learning disabilities is critical to all with careers in psychology. Coexisting conditions, including learning disabilities, are extremely common for individuals with ASD and ADHD. When psychology professionals understand the neurodiversity and learning differences of their patients, they become more inclusive, empathetic, and effective contributors to the populations they serve.

If you’re interested in furthering your psychology career, Walden University, an accredited university with a flexible online education platform, offers online psychology degrees including a master’s degree in psychology. In Walden’s MS in Psychology program, students can take online psychology courses in applied behavior analysis, behavioral therapy, and life span development. The online master’s in psychology program features an Educational Psychology specialization that allows students to gain the skills necessary to work with exceptional populations, including the gifted and talented, individuals with learning differences and autism spectrum disorder, and other neurodivergent audiences.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Psychology degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Note on licensure: The MS in Psychology is not a licensure program and does not prepare an individual to become a licensed psychology or counseling professional.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,