Since difficulties with reading, writing and/or math are recognizable problems during the school years, the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are most often diagnosed during that time. However, some individuals do not receive an evaluation until they are in post-secondary education or adults in the workforce. Other individuals with learning disabilities may never receive an evaluation and go through life, never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their jobs or in relationships with family and friends.
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What is a learning disability?
Learning disability, learning disorder, or learning difficulty is a condition in the brain that causes difficulties comprehending or processing information and can be caused by several different factors. A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation and people with learning disabilities aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently and this difference affects how they receive and process information.
Simply put, people with learning disabilities see, hear, and understand things differently. This can lead to trouble with learning new information and skills, and putting them to use. The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking.
Common types of learning disorders
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities and disorders
Your child might have a learning disorder if he or she:
Doesn't master skills in reading, spelling, writing or math at or near expected age and grade levels
Has difficulty understanding and following instructions
Has trouble remembering what someone just told him or her
Lacks coordination in walking, sports or skills such as holding a pencil
Easily loses or misplaces homework, school books or other items
Has difficulty understanding the concept of time
Resists doing homework or activities that involve reading, writing or math, or consistently can't complete homework assignments without significant help
Acts out or shows defiance, hostility or excessive emotional reactions at school or while doing academic activities, such as homework or reading
Early intervention is essential because the problem can snowball. A child who doesn't learn to add in elementary school won't be able to tackle algebra in high school. Children who have learning disorders can also experience performance anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue or loss of motivation. Some children might act out to distract attention from their challenges at school.
While a child’s teacher or tutor may be able to screen for possible difficulties in any given academic area, it is important that the actual diagnostic process be undertaken by a specialist in the area. This involves a Psychologist in the identification of specific learning disorders. It is important that the diagnosis is made by a practitioner who is qualified to administer the range of standardised assessment tools required to make a clinical diagnosis. Depending on the assessment required, these tests may include standardised measures of: intellectual ability and cognitive skills; expressive and receptive language ability; underlying processing strengths and weaknesses; and, academic achievement across a range of domains; assessed under a range of conditions.
Your child's treatment plan will likely evolve over time. In the meantime, help your child understand in simple terms and focus on your child's strengths. Encourage your child to pursue interests that give him or her confidence.
Together, these interventions can improve your child's skills, help him or her develop coping strategies, and use his or her strengths to improve learning in and outside of school.