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Learning Disorders and Brain Organization

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 21, 2010

More than ever parents and schools are looking for ways to help children deal with learning problems, and the number of children diagnosed as having a learning disability (LD) has tripled in recent years. Definitions and criteria for learning disabilities and/or learning problems have been inconsistent. However, as advances in technology, such as brain scans, become more sophisticated, science is providing clues as to how learning actually occurs - .how information enters the brain, is processed, stored and then used in language or movement. Identification and teaching methods are also benefiting from new knowledge in the science of learning. Neuropsychologists, child psychiatrists, and other professionals are able to identify children at risk and to design targeted instruction. The importance of early intervention to forestall later learning and emotional problems is critical.

In this issue of the NYU Child Study Center Letter, we describe the symptoms associated with learning problems, how a neuropsychological learning evaluation examines the way in which brain functions affect the learning process, specifically in the domains of language, memory, executive functioning, visual skills and sensorimotor functioning. Also discussed are the ways in which this diagnostic information is used to construct a profile of a child's learning style and academic functioning, as well as classroom recommendations. AG/HSK

Introduction

Sometimes bright kids have trouble learning.

Matt, in 3rd grade, can't seem to spell simple words and often reverses letters and numbers. He had trouble in kindergarten learning to rhyme words and write his name.

Arnold, in 4th grade, can understand complex math problems, but can't seem to add 5 + 7 accurately. He can't tell time and confuses left and right.

Nicole, in 6th grade, can express her ideas well verbally, but can't organize and write them. She has trouble producing an outline for essays.

Jennifer, in 8th grade, reads quickly and accurately, but has difficulty getting the point of stories or comprehending her history and science texts. She can't remember the sequence of the events in the stories nor can she recall specific facts.

In addition, parents, teachers, psychologists and other school personnel have other concerns; they may report that a child

  •     is inconsistent in learning
  •     can't sustain his attention
  •     struggles with homework
  •     has uneven academic achievement
  •     has not mastered the specific skills expected by a certain age or grade
  •     has difficulty organizing or prioritizing assignments

Learning involves the integration of a complex set of tasks. In order to acquire and use new information, the brain has to receive, process, analyze and store this new information. Because of recent advances in technology, we now know more about how the brain works. When a bright kid, or any kid, has trouble learning, a neuropsychological evaluation, using both quantitative and qualitative observations, can investigate the child's abilities to process information of many different types and to make sense of that information. A neuropsychological evaluation can help parents, teachers, as well as the child, know more about how she learns and how she can improve learning.

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