What are learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities, or learning disorders, are an umbrella term for a wide variety of learning problems. A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation. Kids with learning disabilities aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently. This difference affects how they receive and process information.
Simply put, children and adults with learning disabilities see, hear, and understand things differently. This can lead to trouble with learning new information and skills, and putting them to use. The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking.
Children with learning disabilities can, and do, succeed
It can be tough to face the possibility that your child has a learning disorder. No parents want to see their children suffer. You may wonder what it could mean for your child’s future, or worry about how your kid will make it through school. Perhaps you’re concerned that by calling attention to your child’s learning problems they might be labeled “slow” or assigned to a less challenging class.
But the important thing to remember is that most kids with learning disabilities are just as smart as everyone else. They just need to be taught in ways that are tailored to their unique learning styles. By learning more about learning disabilities in general, and your child’s learning difficulties in particular, you can help pave the way for success at school and beyond.
Experts say that there is no single, specific cause for learning disabilities. However, there are some factors that could cause a learning disability:
- Heredity: It is observed that a child, whose parents have had a learning disability, is likely to develop the same disorder.
- Illness during and after birth: An illness or injury during or after birth may cause learnign disabilities. Other possible factors could be drug or alcohol consumption during pregnancy, physical trauma, poor growth in the uterus, low birth weight, and premature or prolonged labor.
- Stress during infancy: A stressful incident after birth such as high fever, head injury, or poor nutrition.
- Environment: Increased exposure to toxins such as lead (in paint, ceramics, toys, etc.)
- Comorbidity: Children with learning disabilities are at a higher-than-average risk for attentional problems or disruptive behavior disorders. Up to 25 percent of children with reading disorder also have ADHD. Conversely, it is estimated that between 15 and 30 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD have a learning disorder.
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities and disorders
Learning disabilities look very different from one child to another. One child may struggle with reading and spelling, while another loves books but can’t understand math. Still another child may have difficulty understanding what others are saying or communicating out loud. The problems are very different, but they are all learning disorders.
It’s not always easy to identify learning disabilities. Because of the wide variations, there is no single symptom or profile that you can look to as proof of a problem. However, some warning signs are more common than others at different ages. If you’re aware of what they are, you’ll be able to catch a learning disorder early and quickly take steps to get your child help.
The following checklist lists some common red flags for learning disorders. Remember that children who don’t have learning disabilities may still experience some of these difficulties at various times. The time for concern is when there is a consistent unevenness in your child’s ability to master certain skills.
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities: Preschool age
- Problems pronouncing words
- Trouble finding the right word
- Difficulty rhyming
- Trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, days of the week
- Difficulty following directions or learning routines
- Difficulty controlling crayons, pencils, and scissors, or coloring within the lines
- Trouble with buttons, zippers, snaps, learning to tie shoes
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities: Ages 5-9
- Trouble learning the connection between letters and sounds
- Unable to blend sounds to make words
- Confuses basic words when reading
- Slow to learn new skills
- Consistently misspells words and makes frequent errors
- Trouble learning basic math concepts
- Difficulty telling time and remembering sequences
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities: Ages 10-13
- Difficulty with reading comprehension or math skills
- Trouble with open-ended test questions and word problems
- Dislikes reading and writing; avoids reading aloud
- Poor handwriting
- Poor organizational skills (bedroom, homework, desk is messy and disorganized)
- Trouble following classroom discussions and expressing thoughts aloud
- Spells the same word differently in a single document
Identifying a learning disability
Identifying a learning disability is a complex process. The first step is to rule out vision, hearing, and developmental issues that can overshadow the underlying learning disability. Once these tests are completed, a learning disability is identified using psychoeducational assessment, which includes academic achievement testing along with a measure of intellectual capability. This test helps determine if there is any significant discrepancy between a child’s potential and performance capability (IQ) and the child’s academic achievement (school performance).
Paying attention to developmental milestones can help you identify learning disorders
Paying attention to normal developmental milestones for toddlers and preschoolers is very important. Early detection of developmental differences may be an early signal of a learning disability and problems that are spotted early can be easier to correct.
A developmental lag might not be considered a symptom of a learning disability until your child is older, but if you recognize it when your child is young, you can intervene early. You know your child better than anyone else does, so if you think there is a problem, it doesn’t hurt to get an evaluation. You can also ask your pediatrician for a developmental milestones chart.