A learning disorder is defined as difficulty in an academic area, such as reading, writing or mathematics. When a learning disorder is present, the child's ability to achieve in a particular academic area is below what is expected for the child's age, education level and intelligence level.
When a learning disorder is present, the difficulty experienced by the child is severe enough to interfere with academic achievement and normal activities of daily living. About 8 percent of children are classified as having learning disabilities and receive educational support.
Causes and symptoms
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.
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.
Although each child may experience learning disorders differently, some of the most common signs are:
Reading disorder. A reading disorder is present when a child reads below the expected level for his or her age, grade 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.
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)
Diagnosis and treatment
To accurately diagnose a learning disorder, educational and mental health professionals will conduct educational and psychological testing. Such evaluations can identify whether a child has a learning disorder, in addition to specific strengths and weaknesses.
Results of the evaluation are used to determine:
- Educational needs
- Identify the best school placement
- Determine the possible need for medication
- Determine the possible benefit of any additional therapies, such as speech therapy or family psychotherapy
Learning disorders are treatable. A coordinated effort between parents, teachers, and mental health professionals provides the basis for individualized treatment strategies that may include individual or group remediation, and/or special classes or resources.