What if you think your child has a learning disability?


What Is a Learning Disability?

One in five children have some type of learning disability, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Learning disability is a broad term that can cover many disorders. It is defined by the National Center for Learning Disabilities as a disorder that interferes with a person's ability to store, process, or produce information, and creates a gap between one's ability and performance. Children with learning disabilities may suffer from problems with speech, language, reading, mathematics, concentration, or reasoning.

In many cases, the cause of a learning disability is not known. Experts believe that the learning difficulties that accompany this disability aren't the result of the way the child takes in information -- his sight and hearing are fine -- but rather the result of the way the brain processes the information. Recent scans have actually shown differences in the brains of children who have learning difficulties. Certain types of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, can be inherited.

Learning disabilities are not the same as mental retardation, autism, deafness, blindness, or behavioral disorders. Children with learning disabilities often have average or above-average intelligence.

Types of Learning Disabilities

Here are the specific problems that fall under the umbrella of a learning disability:

  • Auditory discrimination: Difficulty perceiving the differences between speech sounds and sequencing the sounds into words
  • Visual perception: Inability to notice important details and assign meaning to what is seen
  • Dyslexia: Problems with language processing, impacting reading, writing, and spelling
  • Dysgraphia: Struggles with the motor patterns used in writing
  • Dyscalculia: Difficulty with math skills and computation
  • Dyspraxia (Apraxia): Inability to coordinate appropriate body movements

Warning Signs

Early diagnosis and treatment can be very helpful in overcoming a learning disability. However, these learning problems are sometimes overlooked. If you suspect your child may have a learning disability, doctors or teachers can give screening tests to see if a problem exists. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, these are some signs that may indicate a learning disability in your child:


  • Difficulty connecting sounds and letters or pronouncing words
  • Inability to learn the alphabet or rhyme words
  • Problems counting
  • Difficulty using scissors, crayons, or paint
  • Problems being understood when she speaks to a stranger
  • Trouble walking up or down stairs
  • Difficulty dressing herself

Elementary school

  • Inability to speak in full sentences
  • Problems following the rules of conversation
  • Frequently forgetting newly learned information
  • Difficulty holding a pencil or sloppy handwriting
  • Problems following directions or remembering routines
  • Difficulty understanding what information is important
  • Inability to play age-appropriate board games
  • Trouble getting along with peers
  • Speaking in an unusually loud voice or in monotone

Dealing with a Disability

While there is no cure for a learning disability, children may learn to achieve and lead a fruitful life in spite of their disability. With the proper help, children with learning disabilities can become quite successful later in life. Famous Americans with learning disabilities include inventor Thomas Edison, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, scientist Albert Einstein, and athlete Bruce Jenner. These people rose above their disability and went on to achieve great personal and national goals.

Problems in brain function -- the causes of a learning disability -- delay the normal learning process. Overcoming these difficulties require special teaching methods. Federal laws require that schools test and help all children with language and/or learning disabilities at no cost to parents, and your child's doctor can help in developing the right type of program for your child.

Early identification and treatment are essential. If it's diagnosed and treated early, there's a greater chance that the children will reach their potential. If it isn't, it could lead to major emotional problems causing depression and withdrawal. Both factors are linked to school failure.

If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, your child's pediatrician can refer you to resources in your community that can provide educational assistance and parental support. For children with a learning disability, nothing can replace a good educational program and proper medical management. Just as important are loving and supportive parents, family, and friends.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; National Center for Learning Disabilities

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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