Every child learns and develops in their own unique way. Nevertheless, there are times when learning disabilities due to genetic or neurobiological factors can affect a child’s brain functions in a way that makes it hard for them to learn. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading and writing, or impede a child’s understanding of basic math. Some learning disabilities can potentially interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, attention span, abstract reasoning, and processing short or long-term memories.
Depending on severity, the longer learning differences go unrecognized or unaddressed, the more likely they are to affect the child’s academic performance as well as their quality of life. In many cases, the frustration the child experiences as a result of their learning disability can affect their ability to form healthy friendships and disrupt family relationships. If these learning differences are not addressed in childhood, the individual could struggle to find work and hold down a job as an adult.
The more parents know about learning disabilities and their potential signs, the easier it will be to catch them early. Knowledge can empower you to aid your child in achieving their highest possible academic outcomes, and support them in developing healthy interpersonal relationships with friends and family members.
When Do Learning Disabilities Start Showing Up?
Difficulty learning to read, write and display age-appropriate math skills are the most easily recognized learning problems, and are typically discovered during the early school years when these skills are challenged. Teachers suspicious of learning problems can refer students to a Child Study Team for further evaluation.
Testing for other developmental disabilities such as with language or behavior can be tested even earlier. Many school districts perform developmental screening between the ages of 3 to 5. Normal development of motor skills, expressive and receptive language, problem solving, and personal/social skills can be screened for as early as a few months of age by pediatricians and developmental specialists.
The goal of screening is to identify early signs and symptoms of learning disabilities in order to help the child and parents get the resources they need to optimize their child’s success. Whenever possible, it is best to make the diagnosis of learning disability early, as more help is available then and outcomes are improved. Children under three years can be referred to Early Intervention, a program run through the state that offers free testing and treatments such as speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling.
Is There A Difference Between Learning Disabilities & Learning Problems?
It’s important to understand that there is a difference between learning disabilities and learning problems. Most cases of learning problems are primarily related to:
- Vision problems
- Hearing problems
- Motor handicaps
- Emotional disturbance
- Environmental disturbance
- Cultural conflicts
- Economic disadvantages
- Physical health and well being
Individuals with learning disabilities can be of average or even above-average intelligence. Yet there is often some type of apparent gap between their academic or intellectual potential and their actual level of achievement or performance. Some disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities” because the child or young adult looks perfectly normal and seems bright and intelligent, yet is unable to demonstrate certain skills that are appropriate for their age or experience level.
It’s important to understand that a true learning disability cannot be “cured” or “repaired.” It is a trait that the individual will carry with them throughout life. Thankfully with appropriate support and intervention, many individuals with learning differences can achieve impressively high levels of success in school and at work, can form long-lasting healthy relationships, and can contribute greatly to their communities.
It’s important to note that the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA) is a Federal law that states the term “Specific Learning Disability” is recognized as 1 of 13 categories. This has helped to create an umbrella term that describes a wide range of recognized learning disabilities, which can open doors to help individuals and families find the support and resources they need to live the highest possible quality of life.
Some Recognized Learning Disabilities
The following are a sample of the recognized, common learning disabilities and some of the symptoms they present in children. If you suspect your child is displaying signs of a learning disability, the first step is to contact your pediatrician. The pediatrician can perform a thorough checkup to determine if there is a physical cause, such as hearing loss or vision issues. They can also refer your child to the best specialists in the field for further diagnosis and management.
This is a specific learning disability that affects a child’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. It often presents early in life as a child is learning to count and recognize and manipulate numbers.
This learning disability affects a child’s handwriting ability as well as other fine motor skills. It can be hard to catch early on; parents may mistake early signs of dysgraphia as a natural struggle with handwriting skills. Elementary school teachers typically look for signs of this learning disability and may share those concerns with you.
Children with dyslexia often struggle with early reading skills and related language-based processing skills. Dyslexia is commonly screened for in early childhood and often caught in the pre-k years.
Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities
This learning disability often presents as a child who struggles to interpret nonverbal cues and body languages such as facial expressions and posture. They might also struggle with poor coordination or gross motor skills that are below their age level.
Oral / Written Language Disorder and Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit
This disability often presents as early struggles with listening and reading comprehension. It can also affect the child’s ability to express themselves with spoken language.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a somewhat common learning disorder in which the child has difficulty paying attention and staying focused, or may have selective attention of only things they enjoy doing. Affected individuals often display impulsivity and hyperactivity, which is seen at home as well as in the classroom setting.
This disorder causes problems with movement and coordination, which also tends to present in a child that has difficulty with language and speech.