What Causes Learning and Reading Difficulties?

Learning and reading difficulties are caused by a variety of reasons. Numerous studies conducted to determine the prime causes of learning troubles in the U.S. reveal that approximately 10% of them are caused by poor or inadequate instruction. Another 5% are attributed to one or more sensory defects such as hearing or vision problems. Low motivation leads to about 5% of learning and reading difficulties. The remaining 80% of learning and reading difficulties among U.S. students and adults are found to be the direct consequence of cognitive skill weaknesses.

The Consequences of Cognitive Weaknesses

As we discovered, cognitive skill weaknesses lead to learning and reading struggles, which in turn lead to other serious mental, behavioral, and social problems including low self-esteem, disruptive or withdrawn behavior, chronically low motivation, poor selection of friends, academic weakness, and limited educational advancement. These factors directly impact life opportunities such as earnings and lifestyle.

In the Words of Dr. John j. Ratey, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

"Like a set of muscles [the brain] responds to use and disuse. For the first time, we are learning to see mental weaknesses as physical systems in need of training and practice. The brain is a dynamic, highly sensitive yet robust system that may adapt, for better or worse, to almost any element of its environment. If we are going to set about training our brains to succeed in the world, we certainly need to learn about the various factors that can influence brain functions."


After a ten-year public study, the National Institute of Health reached to a conclusion that about 88% of specific learning-to-read difficulties result from a single weak cognitive skill, i.e. phonemic awareness. Lack of phonemic awareness means an inability to blend, segment, and analyze sounds.