What are Learning Disabilities? (page 3)
Learning disabilities (LDs) are real. They affect the brain's ability to receive, process, store, respond to, and communicate information. LDs are actually a group of neurological disorders, not a single disorder.
LD is not the same thing as mental retardation or autism. People with LD are of average or above-average intelligence and do not have any major sensory problems such as blindness or hearing impairment or cognitive challenges like mental retardation. Still, they may struggle to keep up with people of the same age in acquiring basic academic skills and in daily functioning. These skills are essential for success in school, work, and life. So it is important to seek help for learning disabilities.
How can you tell if a person has a learning disability?
One sign of a learning disability is a distinct gap between a person's level of expected achievement and what he actually is achieving. But LDs affect every person differently. And they differ at various stages of development. LDs can range from mild to severe. And sometimes people have more than one learning disability. In addition, about one-third of people with LD also have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). This makes it difficult to concentrate or stay focused on specific tasks. LD may also affect a person's social-emotional skills and behavior. But having LD does not mean you are lazy or that you have a behavioral disorder.
Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability in the areas of:
See the chart below for specific types of learning disabilities and related disorders.
What causes learning disabilities?
Experts aren't exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. In fact, there is often no apparent cause for LD. LD may be due to:
- Heredity. Often learning disabilities run in a family. People with LD may have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties.
- Problems during pregnancy and birth. An illness or injury during or before birth may cause an LD. Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen, and premature or prolonged labor may also lead to an LD.
- Incidents after birth. Head injuries, poor nutrition, and exposure to toxins such as lead can contribute to LD.
Learning disabilities are not caused by economic disadvantage or cultural differences. Exposure to harmful toxins such as lead, tobacco, or alcohol at early stages of development is more common in low-income communities. This, therefore, could be contributing to a higher prevalence of LD.
Are learning disabilities common?
Today, almost 2.5 million school-aged children in the U.S. have specific learning disabilities (SLD) and receive some kind of special education support.1 These numbers do not include children in private and religious schools or those who are home-schooled.
Studies show that LDs do not fall evenly across racial and ethnic groups. For instance, in 2001, 1% of white children and 2.6% of non-Hispanic black children were receiving LD-related special education services.2 The same studies suggest that this has something to do with economic status and not ethnic background.
What can you do about learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities are a lifelong challenge. Although they won't go away, they don't have to stop a person from achieving goals. A learning disability is not a disease, so there is no cure, but there are ways to overcome the challenges it poses through identification and accommodation.
If you suspect that someone has an LD, it is important to collect observations by parents, teachers, doctors, and others regularly in contact with that person. If there are signs of repeated struggle or frustration with learning over a period of time, the next step is to seek help from school or consult a learning specialist and seek an evaluation.
LD in Children
Early identification – the earlier, the better – is vital in helping a child to succeed academically and socially. Observe the way your child develops language, motor coordination, and social skills. Even preschoolers can show signs of risk for LD.
Do you think your child is displaying signs of a learning disability? Don't panic. Not all children who are slow to develop skills have LD. Regardless, share your concerns with classroom teachers and others who come in contact with your child.
If your child does have a learning disability, early intervention with specialized teaching strategies can help to overcome difficulties. Learn as much as you can and help your child understand that he or she is not alone: other children struggle, too, and adults are there to help.
LD in Adults
It is never too late to get help for a learning disability. Finding out about a learning disability can be a great relief to adults who could not explain the reason for their struggles in the past. Testing specialists and assistance are available for people of all ages. Taking the initiative to seek out support and services is the first step to coping with a learning disability and leading a more successful life.
Accommodations and Modifications
Once a learning disability is identified, different kinds of assistance can be provided. In addition to specialized, explicit types of instruction, children with LD are entitled to have accommodations (such as extended time, readers, and note-takers) or modifications (such as abbreviated tests or alternate assignments) as appropriate. These guarantees are afforded to children with LD by law.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, people of all ages with LD – children and adults – are protected against discrimination and have a right to different forms of assistance in the classroom and workplace.
Depending on your age and the type of learning disability and its severity, different kinds of assistance can be provided. Consider a variety of strategies when planning instruction and support. A person may benefit from help by both specialists and those who are closest to the person. Try different ideas and openly exchange thoughts on what works best.
|Disability||Area of difficulty||Symptoms include trouble with:||Example|
|Dyslexia||Processing language||Reading, writing, and spelling||Letters and words may be written or pronounced backwards|
|Dyscalculia||Math skills||Computation, remembering math facts, concepts of time and money||Difficulty learning to count by 2s, 3s, 4s|
|Dysgraphia||Written expression||Handwriting, spelling, composition||Illegible handwriting, difficulty organizing ideas|
|Dyspraxia||Fine motor skills||Coordination, manual dexterity||Trouble with scissors, buttons, drawing|
Information Processing Disorders
|Auditory Processing Disorder||Interpreting auditory information||Language development, reading||Difficulty anticipating how a speaker will end a sentence|
|Visual Processing Disorder||Interpreting visual information||Reading, writing, and math||Difficulty distinguishing letters like "h" and "n"|
Other Related Disorders
|Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)||Concentration and focus||Over-activity, distractibility, and impulsivity||Can't sit still, loses interest quickly|
1 Data Accountability Center. “Part B Child Count, 2008.” http://www.ideadata.org/PartBChildCount.asp (23 June 2010).
2 Executive Summary, National Research Council, 2001
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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