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.
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:
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.
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.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child's development at each well child visit. Tell your provider about any concerns you have and anything that seems unusual. Do not ignore problems, thinking that your child is just a little slow and will "catch up." Your child’s provider will check to make sure there is no medical problem that could cause the symptoms.
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 will evaluate your child may 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:
The results of the testing will determine whether your child can have special education services provided at school.
Many states offer Early Intervention Programs for children under 5 years of age who have an LD. Some states offer special developmental preschool classes. Early treatment increases your child's ability to succeed and learn new skills.
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:
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 state’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.
Depending on the disability, there are many ways to help your child at home. It is very important to do the following:
Your child needs you to accept his condition. Give unconditional love and support. You can build up your child's self-esteem if you remind him of his strengths. Do this regularly. Your child may need counseling to help change views and expectations about themselves.
Be careful that your child does not take on too many activities. It can be better to do a few things well than to stress about trying to do too many things.