Learning Disorders

What is a learning disorder?

A learning disorder is defined as difficulty in an academic area (reading, mathematics, or written expression). The child's ability to achieve in the specific academic area is below what is expected for the child's age, educational level, and level of intelligence. The difficulty experienced by the child is severe enough to interfere with academic achievement or age-appropriate normal activities of daily living. About 2.7 million U.S. children in public schools are classified as having specific learning disabilities and receive some kind of special education support.

Learning disorders are sometimes called learning disabilities, or specific learning disabilities. Most children with learning disorders have normal intelligence. Types of learning disorders include the following:

  • Reading disorders (sometimes called dyslexia)

  • Mathematics disorder

  • Disorder of written expression

What causes learning disorders?

Learning disorders are believed to occur because of an abnormality in the nervous system, either in the structure of the brain or in the functioning of brain chemicals. The difference in the nervous system causes the child with a learning disorder to receive, process, or communicate information in a different way.

Who is affected by learning disorders?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 6 percent of children in U.S. public schools (kindergarten through grade 12) have some type of learning disorder. Mathematics disorder is estimated to affect 1 percent of school-aged children. Reading disorders are more common in children of parents who experienced a learning disorder. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a reading disorder than girls.

Genetic predisposition, problems during pregnancy, birth, or early infancy, as well as other general medical conditions may be associated with the cause of learning disorders.

What are the symptoms of learning disorders?

The following are the most common symptoms of learning disorders. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Reading disorder. A reading disorder is present when a child reads below the expected level given his/her age, grade in school, and intelligence. Children with a reading disorder read slowly and have difficulty understanding what they read. They may have difficulty with word recognition and confuse words that look similar. A reading disorder is sometimes called dyslexia.

  • Mathematics disorder. A mathematics disorder is present when a child has problems with skills related to numbers, such as counting, copying numbers correctly, adding and carrying numbers, learning multiplication tables, recognizing mathematical signs, and understanding mathematical operations.

  • Disorder of written expression. A disorder of written expression is present when a child has difficulty with writing skills, such as understanding grammar and punctuation, spelling, paragraph organization, or composing written information. Often these children also have poor handwriting skills.

How are learning disorders diagnosed?

The signs of learning disorders may be identified by parents or teachers when a child consistently has difficulty with any, or all, of the following:

  • Reading, spelling, writing, or completing math problems

  • Understanding or following directions

  • Distinguishing right from left

  • Reversing letters or numbers (confusing "b" and "d" or 12 and 21)

A comprehensive evaluation by educational and mental health professionals includes educational and psychological testing, as well as talking with the child and parents. A comprehensive evaluation identifies whether a child has a learning disorder as well as learning strengths and weaknesses. Results of the evaluation are used to determine educational needs, identify the best school placement, determine the possible need for medication to help with distractibility or hyperactivity, and determine the possible benefit of any additional therapies such as speech therapy or family psychotherapy to maximize the child's learning potential and quality of life.


Did You Know?

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