What Causes Learning Disabilities?

What causes learning disabilities? It’s a question with only tentative answers. Researchers have identified possible causes. Learn about them on HealthyPlace.

Understanding the causes of learning disabilities won’t make a child’s learning disorder disappear, but it could, perhaps, solve a mystery that has parents and children asking, “Why?” It’s often hard for parents to watch their child struggle to learn math, writing, or reading, fundamental skills on which other learning builds. Wanting to know learning disability causes is natural. While there isn’t a definitive answer, researchers have identified several likely causes or contributing factors to the development of learning disabilities.

Causes of Learning Disabilities

Learning disability causes remain largely unknown. Researchers continue to study the issue to determine why someone develops a learning disorder. Why do some kids have a learning disability while most do not? It’s an important question to explore, for in theory, once we know the causes of learning disabilities, we can prevent them.

In their quest to uncover a cause, researchers have identified several possibilities. Some of the possible causes of learning disabilities include:

  • Individual differences in the brain
  • Genetics (heredity)
  • Environmental factors
  • Medical reasons
  • Problems during the mother’s pregnancy

Everyone’s brain is unique right down to the way it takes in and processes information. These differences could explain why some children have learning disabilities. Beyond that, it could clarify why no two children ever have the same learning disability. Even among those who have dyslexia, for example, the exact challenges and difficulties they face are different.

The next logical question is why does each person’s brain process information differently than the next person? The list above offers tentative reasons. Here’s a deeper look.

Genetics. A person’s genetics, or heredity, can contribute to their learning disability. These disorders tend to run in families, so a child with a parent or sibling who has a learning disorder has a higher likelihood of having one of their own compared to children with no family history of such learning problems.

Environmental factors.  It’s thought that exposure to toxins in the environment may cause learning disabilities. Lead is a known toxin. If a child is exposed to lead paint or lead in the water, they could develop processing problems in the brain that show up as learning disorders. Also, poor nutrition is a suspect, too.  

Medical conditions. Because brain and body are part of one unified system, it is reasonable to think that medical problems might impact the brain and cause a learning disability to develop. Many medical conditions alter the structure or development of the brain. Chronic ear infections in childhood and neurological illnesses have been implicated as learning disability causes.

Problems during the mother’s pregnancy. When babies are developing in the womb, they are susceptible to what crosses the placenta. If a mother uses substances like drugs, alcohol, and nicotine, the baby can be harmed in many ways. One such way appears to be problems with the brain’s ability to process certain information—a learning disability.

These factors have a high probability of being causes of learning disabilities. Currently, the knowledge about the origin of these processing problems is tentative. Rather than thinking of them as causes, it’s more accurate to consider them to be risk factors of learning disabilities. Researchers continue to explore what causes learning disabilities, and one day we’ll know with certainty. Then measures can be taken to prevent them from developing at all.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 17). What Causes Learning Disabilities?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Last Updated: January 17, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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