What are learning disorders?

  • A learning disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to learn basic skills such as reading, writing, and calculating.
  • Learning disorders do not affect a child’s intelligence, instead, they affect how well they receive and process information.
  • Learning disorders are common with the prevalence in school-age children being 5% - 15% across the domains of reading, writing, and math.

What are the types of learning disorders?

There are several types of learning disorder, some of these disorders include:
  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
    • This disorder affects how sound is processed or understood by the brain.  Individuals who have this disorder are unable to distinguish subtle differences between sounds in words. They also have difficulties finding out where the sound came from, and blocking out background noises.
  • Dyscalculia
    • This specific learning disorder is characterized by experiencing difficulty understanding numbers and learning math facts. In addition, this disorder may affect a person’s ability to comprehend math symbols, and to organize and memorize numbers.
  • Dysgraphia
    • This disorder affects a person’s writing skills. It may include unreadable handwriting, poor spatial planning when writing on paper, incorrect spelling, and having difficulties writing and thinking at the same time.
  • Dyslexia
    • Dyslexia affects reading skills and other language-based processing skills that are related to reading. This disorder affects reading fluency and comprehension, recalling and decoding known words, and experiencing writing and spelling difficulties.
  • Language Processing Disorder (LPD)
    • This disorder is a specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder. People suffering from this disorder have a tough time attaching meaning to sounds that form words and sentences. Unlike Auditory Processing Disorder, which affects how sounds are interpreted, LPD relates to the processing of language.
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities
    • Individuals suffering from this disorder have a hard time interpreting nonverbal cues like body language or facial expression.
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
    • This learning disorder affects the understanding of the information that a person’s sees. A person who is suffering from this disorder can miss subtle differences in printed letters or shapes. They may also struggle with cutting, may hold the pencil too tightly, and can have poor eye/hand coordination.

How is the diagnosis for learning disorders made?

If your child displays any of the signs and symptoms of learning disorders, a psychologist or specialist should be consulted. The diagnosis may include:
  • A medical examination to ensure no other problems are disrupting learning acquisition such as emotional disorder, developmental and intellectual disabilities, brain diseases, or other physical problems (hearing problems)
  • Examining the family history
  • Academic and neuropsychological testing to identify the type of learning problem

What causes learning disorders?

Learning disabilities are caused by factors affecting brain development, which occurs either before birth, or in early childhood. Several factors can contribute to the development of learning disorders, these factors include:
  • Hereditability: Genetics play a role when it comes to certain learning disorders that are related to reading and math such as Dyslexia and Dyscalculia, respectively. Certain genes may be passed on by the parents to the child that affects the development of the brain
  • Medical conditions: Certain conditions during or after pregnancy can cause learning disorders to occur. Lack of oxygen due to birth complications is one condition. Others include substance abuse by the mother while pregnant, or a premature birth. Also injury and illness during early childhood that affect brain development can also cause learning disorders.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to radiation or lead can increase the risk of learning disordered. Also neglecting a child and not providing them with proper mental stimulation early on in childhood may also lead to learning disorders.

What are the symptoms and signs of learning disorders?

  • Learning disorders are characterized by experiencing difficulties learning and using academic skills. Experiencing at least one of the following symptoms for a minimum 6 months, regardless of interventions to target those difficulties, indicates learning disorders.
  • Some of the general symptoms for learning disorders include:
    • Reading words incorrectly, slowly, or having difficulties sounding out words
    • Having trouble understanding the meaning of words read
    • Misspelling words; adding omitting, or substituting vowels or consonants
    • Experiencing difficulties with written expression such as poor paragraph organization, multiple grammatical errors
    • Difficulty mastering number sense, facts, or calculation such as counting on fingers for single-digit addition
    • Having trouble with mathematical reasoning such as having difficulty applying mathematical concepts or facts
  • Other signs of a learning disorder may include:
    • Lack of interest in reading or writing
    • Experiencing difficulty memorizing
    • Inability to focus on tasks
    • Having problems understanding abstract ideas
    • Disruptiveness
    • Poor social skills
    • Paying too much or too little attention to detail

Are there treatments for learning disorders?

Yes.
There are several options that can be used for treating learning disorders. Early detection of the learning disorders is extremely important since it allows the parents to get the proper help for their children. Treatments for learning disorders include:
  • Individualized Education Program is a plan put forth by some schools, regarding the best methods that the school can teach children with learning disorders.
  • Extra help can be provided to children with these disorders in the form of a specialist, tutor, or a trained professional that can help the child improve his/her academic skills.
  • Psychotherapy and Psychomotor Therapy can help some children who have language disabilities or motor skills problems.
  • Certain medications can help lessen the effects of the learning disorders. However, it is extremely important to consult a doctor before giving a child any type of medication

How to cope with having a child that has a learning disorder?

Dealing with a child that has a learning disorder is no easy task. Some tips that may help with this task include:
  • Be supportive and understanding of your child’s strengths and limitations.
  • Focus on other aspects of a child’s growth and not just the academic aspect.
  • Learn everything there is about the specific learning disorder your child has, including learning about how it affects your child’s learning process in the future,
  • Work with your child’s school in order to develop an Individualized Education Program that is best suited for your child.
  • Pay attention to your child’s moods. Learning disorders are hard to deal with and can have an effect on the child’s self-esteem. Paying attention to symptoms of depression such as change in appetite, sleep schedule, and mood changes are very important.
  • Help your child keep up good habits such as eating a well-balanced meal and exercising which are also important for your child’s health and mental well-being.