What is a Learning Disability?
A Learning disability is a learning difficulty that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention. Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, the disorders are usually not recognized until the child reaches school age.
Research shows that 8 to 10 percent of American children under 18 years of age have some type of learning disability. The most common treatment for learning disabilities is special education. Specially trained educators may perform a diagnostic educational evaluation assessing the child's academic and intellectual potential and level of academic performance. Once the evaluation is complete, the basic approach is to teach learning skills by building on the child's abilities and strengths while correcting and compensating for disabilities and weaknesses. Other professionals such as speech and language therapists also may be involved. Some medications may be effective in helping the child learn by enhancing attention and concentration. Psychological therapies may also be used.
What is the prognosis?
The regulations for Public Law 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), define a learning disability as a "disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations." The Federal definition further states that learning disabilities include "such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia." The label "learning disabilities" describes a syndrome, not a specific child with specific problems. The definition assists in classifying children, not teaching them. Children with learning disabilities may exhibit a combination of characteristics.
Many different estimates of the number of children with learning disabilities have appeared in the literature (ranging from 1% to 30% of the general population). The U.S. Department of Education (2000) reported that, in the 1998-99 school year, over 2.8 million children with learning disabilities received special education and related services.
Students who have learning disabilities may exhibit a wide range of traits, including problems with reading comprehension, spoken language, writing or reasoning ability. Hyperactivity, inattention and perceptual coordination problems may also be associated with learning disabilities. Other traits that may be present include a variety of symptoms, such as uneven and unpredictable test performance, perceptual impairments, motor disorders, and behaviors such as impulsiveness, low tolerance for frustration, and problems in handling day-to-day social interactions and situations.
Examples, Subsets and Synonyms for Learning Disorders (learning disabilities, Specific Learning Disorders)
- Reading Disorder (Dyslexia)
- Arithmetic Disorder (Dyscalculia)
- Writing Disorder (Dysgraphia, Graphomotor Disorder)
- Disorder of Written Expression
- Language Disorder
Learning Disabilities have the following factors:
The learning disabled child has difficulties with academic achievement and school progress. Discrepancies exist between a child's potential for learning and what he actually learns. Learning disabled children typically show an uneven pattern of development (language development, physical development, academic development and/or perceptual development.) One of the factors includes that the learning problems is not due to environmental disadvantage. However many school districts will use the argument that the child speaks another language to deny Special Education Services to a bilingual child who actually have a learning disability.
Learning problems are not due to mental retardation or emotional disturbance.
Experts estimate that 6 to 10 percent of the school-aged population in the United States is learning disabled. Nearly 40 percent of the children enrolled in the nation's special education classes suffer from a learning disability. The Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities estimates that there are 6 million adults with learning disabilities as well.
Causes of Learning Disabilities.
Some children develop and mature at a slower rate than others in the same age group. As a result, they may not be able to do the expected school work. This kind of learning disability is called "maturational lag."
Some children with normal vision and hearing may misinterpret everyday sights and sounds as a result of having a nonverbal learning disorder of the nervous system. Injuries before birth or in early childhood probably account for some learning problems. Children born prematurely and children who had medical problems soon after birth have been noted to have learning disabilities. Learning disabilities do tend to run in families and appear to have been be inherited. Learning disabilities are more common in boys than girls, possibly because boys tend to mature more slowly.
Diagnosing Learning Disabilities.
Children with learning disabilities have difficulty with reading, mathematics, comprehension, writing, spoken language, or reasoning abilities. Hyperactivity and inattention are often symptomatic with having a learning disability, since difficulties with auditory processing or with visual tracking and sequencing can interfere with attention and focus and are not indicative of having ADD/ADHD. Visual Perceptual coordination may also be associated with learning disabilities but are considered learning disabilities themselves. It is also noted that children who are left-handed or have cross lateral dominance (eye/hand dominance) will often present as having a learning disability in particular with tasks involving written expression. This same population will often do well in reading. When written work is not completed, they often down graded and even are allowed to fail. This typically happens in Middle School, where written tasks become more intensive.
The primary characteristic of a learning disability is a significant difference between a child's achievement in some areas and his or her overall intelligence. Learning disabilities typically affect five general areas:
- Language delays in listening and speaking.
- Difficulties with reading, writing and spelling.
Math: Difficulty in performing basic arithmetic operations or with problem solving.
Problems with executive tasks involving visual planning and/or organizing and integrating thoughts.
Memory: difficulty with processing or remembering information and instructions.
Among the symptoms commonly related to learning disabilities are:
Assessment and Learning Disabilities
The parent should contact the child's school and arrange for testing and evaluation.
This should be done as soon as possible since the school district will take up to sixty days to complete the assessment and hold a team meeting. Federal law requires that public school districts provide special education and related services to children who need them. If these tests indicate that the child requires special educational services, the school evaluation team (planning and placement team) will meet to develop an individual educational plan (IEP). The IEP describes in detail an educational plan designed to remediate and compensate for the child's difficulties.
Since many schools are facing budget cuts in combination with the using the Response to intervention model, often a child with a learning disability is denied services. The school psychologist and the special education teacher are often requested not to make any recommendations since that would in the event the child is learning disabled assure that he receives services.
The Independent Evaluation is a parent's right to a second opinion. It is often a godsend to getting a child the services he or she is entitled to. A learning disabilities specialist or psychologist who specializes in psychological testing is the best choice since a classroom observation and the psychologist attending the meeting is often needed to get the district to agree to provide services. The New England Diagnostic and Leaning Center Independent Evaluations provides Independent Evaluations at no cost to the parent.
The parent should take the child to the family pediatrician for a complete physical examination to see if the child hears and sees well.
Learning Disability does Affect the Parents of the Child
Research indicates that parental reaction to the diagnosis of learning disability is more pronounced than in any other area of exceptionality. If a child is severely retarded or physically handicapped, the parent becomes aware of the problem in the first few weeks of the child's life. When informed of the problem by elementary school personnel, a parent's first reaction is generally to deny the existence of a disability.
With the right assistance, most children diagnosed with a learning disability make good progress.