Learning Disabilities: An Overview
Defining learning disabilities. The term ‘learning disabilities’ refers to difficulties in acquiring the skills needed for success in school, such as listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, and/or math. Learning disabilities are neurological problems caused by differences in brain development that make it harder for a child to receive, process, store, or respond to certain kinds of information. Children with learning disabilities often have normal intelligence and some are very bright. The most common learning disability is Dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. For more information, see One Tough Job’s fact sheet on Dyslexia. While experts are not sure what factors cause learning disabilities, many are genetic (they are inherited and run in families), while some may be due to problems during pregnancy, birth, or incidents after birth. Insufficient or inappropriate learning, emotional challenges, sensory problems, and cultural or economic differences are not causes of learning disabilities.
Identifying learning disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6-10% of children ages 5-17 have been diagnosed with a learning disability. There are several different kinds of learning disabilities, so their symptoms can vary. For details on different kinds of learning disabilities, visit the Learning Disabilities Association. Common symptoms of learning disabilities can include trouble paying attention, difficulty remembering, poor hand-eye coordination, difficulty with letters and numbers, or being easily distracted. It is important that you discuss your child’s behavior and performance with his teacher beginning as early as preschool and communicate any concerns. If you suspect your child might have a learning disability, you should talk to the school about getting an evaluation. Evaluations are free of charge and are conducted by professionals. For more information on special education evaluation and services, see One Tough Job’s fact sheet on Special Education.
Learning disabilities will not go away, but your child can be given extra help through tutoring and/or special education services at the school so that her academic skills can improve. With appropriate identification and intervention, your child can achieve the same goals as her peers. Bright, hard-working, and motivated students with learning disabilities can graduate from high school and go to college and beyond, if they wish. For more information on learning disabilities, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities Parent Center.
This article has been reviewed by Dr. Betsy Busch, MD