What are learning disabilities?
A learning disability (LD) is a disorder that affects the way that the brain receives, processes, stores, and responds to information. There are many kinds of learning disabilities. Your child may have problems with listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or solving math problems.
What causes an LD?
The causes for most LDs are not known. They tend to run in families. Learning disabilities may be caused by changes in brain chemicals or damage in certain parts of the brain.
A child is more likely to have a learning disability if the mother used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. A problem such as an infection while you are pregnant may also increase the risk. LDs are also more common in children who:
- Were premature, had low birth weight or had an injury during birth
- Had certain conditions after birth (such as imbalances of certain hormones or chemicals, or an infection)
- Have a chronic illness, such as asthma or diabetes
- Have a head injury
- Do not get the right amount of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed in the first 2 years of life
A child who has a learning disability may also have hearing problems or emotional problems. However, LDs are not caused by these conditions. They are also not caused by cultural differences or poor parenting.
What are signs?
There are many types of learning disabilities and the signs can be very different. If a child has average or above-average intelligence and is doing poorly in school, he or she may have a learning disability. Your child may have mild or severe problems. Your child may also have more than one LD. All learning-disabled children tend to have challenges in school even though they have normal or above-normal intelligence. A child with an LD may have problems in one or many of the following areas:
Attention: Your child may have trouble paying attention, be impulsive, or get tired easily when trying to concentrate.
Language: Your child may have trouble following directions and need to have things repeated. He or she may use the wrong words or mix up words. Telling a story may be hard because the events get mixed up.
Time-Space orientation: Your child may have trouble understanding time (such as the difference between tomorrow and next week). He or she may have trouble with directions and often get lost.
Visual processing: Your child may see letters or words backwards (for example, may confuse b’s and d’s or read “was” as “saw”). Your child may write very slowly or have poor handwriting.
Auditory processing: Your child may have trouble focusing on important sounds instead of background noise. He or she may seem inattentive and have trouble following spoken instructions.
Memory: Your child may not remember basic information like an address and phone number. It may be hard to remember multiplication tables or days of the week. Short-term memory may be a problem. Your child may forget instructions or lose track while telling a story or having a conversation.
Motor control: Your child may have trouble with fine motor control. Your child may have a hard time doing buttons and zippers, or have trouble holding a pencil. If your child seems clumsy or awkward, he or she may have problems with gross motor control.
How do I find out if my child has an LD?
First you need to have your child evaluated. Ask your school to evaluate your child. They may be able to do this even if your child is too young to go to school. The school’s testing may be needed for your child to qualify for extra help at school. A team of people will test your child to find out exactly what the problems are and how to help your child. The evaluation includes testing and talking with teachers and parents.
The team of people that may evaluate your child include a psychologist, a child psychiatrist, special education teacher, speech/language therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, or other healthcare providers.
Sometimes you are given one specific diagnosis. Other times you may be told that your child has more than one LD. Some of the common disorders are:
- Reading disorder. Has trouble with reading.
- Written expression disorder. Has trouble with handwriting and organizing writing.
- Mathematics disorder. Has trouble with numbers and math skills.
- Nonverbal learning disorder. Has problems with things such as understanding gestures and facial expressions.
- Sensory integration disorder. Has trouble with fine or large motor skills and may be sensitive to touch, light, sounds, or smells.
- Auditory processing disorder. Has trouble remembering what was said.
- Visual perception disorder. Has trouble with copying words and may reverse letters.
- Language disorder. Has trouble understanding spoken language and may also have trouble with reading or writing.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Has trouble staying focused and paying attention. May also be hyperactive.
How does my child get extra help at school?
The results of the testing will determine whether your child can have special education services provided at school. Some services are only given if your child has a certain diagnosis. Ask your school which disorders they provide special services for. Once you understand the problem you can help the school develop an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Parents must help write and agree with the IEP. The IEP must outline:
- Your child’s current performance
- Specific special education services and who will provide them
- Short-term and yearly goals
- Ways to test and measure your child’s progress toward these goals each year.
To get the best help for your child, you must work closely with the other team members. If you do not agree with the test results, services, or therapies, voice your concerns at the IEP meeting. Signing the IEP means that you agree to the services, goals, and other matters listed in it.
If the school cannot offer special services, you can look for help from private tutors, learning centers, psychologists, and others to help your child. Check with your stateâ€™s Department of Disabilities to find out if there are state programs that can help. Even if your child is not on an IEP or in special education classes, your child’s teacher can still modify assignments and help your child. Make sure you talk to your child’s teacher.
What can I do to help?
Depending on the disability, there are many ways to help your child at home. It is very important to do the following:
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