Learning disabilities

Learning disabilities

Learning disabilities (LDs) affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information. People with LDs are of average or above average intelligence, but still must struggle to learn the skills needed in school, at home and in the workplace. LDs are lifelong, and the earlier they are identified, the sooner they can be dealt with. Having a LD is an exercise in frustration for anyone.

How to tell if an adolescent has a learning disability

The predominant sign of a learning disability is a pronounced gap between the expected level of achievement and the actual performance. LDs affect everyone differently and occur at various developmental stages. They range from mild to severe and some people can have more than one LD. A learning disability is often confused with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and although the two conditions have similarities such as lack of concentration and organizational skills, they are not the same condition. LDs are often mistaken for laziness, and the only way to a correct diagnosis is a thorough assessment with input from parents, educators, physicians and the patient themselves. People with LDs can learn strategies for coping with their disabilities.

LDs can affect a person’s ability in the following areas:

  • Listening

  • Speaking

  • Writing

  • Spelling

  • Reasoning

  • Mathematics

Some types of LDs include:

  • Dyslexia – confusing letter names and sounds, difficulty blending sounds into words, slow reader, difficulty retaining information

  • Dyscalculia – difficulty learning to count, poor mental math skills, problems with spatial directions

  • Dysgraphia – illegible handwriting, difficulty organizing ideas prior to writing

  • Dyspraxia – difficulty with scissors, buttons, drawing, sensitive to noise

  • Auditory processing disorder – difficulty anticipating how a speaker will end a sentence

  • Visual processing disorder – difficulty distinguishing letters

  • ADHD – inability to sit still, loss of interest and daydreaming

Interventions vary depending on the nature and extent of the disability. Help is provided by building on the child’s strengths and developing ways to compensate for the weaknesses. Children diagnosed with LDs can qualify for special education services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) requires that the public school system provide free special education supports to children with disabilities. In most states, each child is entitled to these services from the age of three until high school graduation. IDEA states that children must be taught in the least restrictive environments appropriate for them. This means the teaching environment should be designed to meet a child’s specific needs and skills and should minimize restrictions on the child’s access to typical learning experiences. A child who qualifies for special education services will receive a personalized IEP (Individualized Education Plan) which will:

  • List goals

  • Specify an educational plan

  • Lists the specialists who will work with the child

Interventions for specific LDs:

  • Dyslexia – special teaching techniques such as providing immediate feedback to improve word recognition. Allows extra time to finish tasks. Provides taped tests allowing the child to hear rather than read the questions. Provides books on tape or word processing with a spell-check feature

  • Dysgraphia – allows a child to videotape reports rather than write them. Teachers can provide notes, outlines and pre-printed study sheets

  • Dyscalculia – rhymes and music to encourage retention of math concepts. Computer use for drills and practice

  • Dyspraxia – providing a quiet place for reading. Advance warning about fire drills and assemblies

Children with LDs struggle with low self-esteem, frustration and other problems. Mental health professionals can help a child understand these feelings, develop coping skills and build healthy relationships. Some LDs can be improved by attending outpatient treatment and counseling. More severe cases will benefit from a therapeutic school in which longer term therapy takes place.

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