Learning disabilities can affect how a child learns to read, write, speak or calculate. Know the signs that a child may have one of these problems.
Even before a baby is born, parents begin to shape their hopes for the child. But sometimes, as a child grows, parents realize they will have to scale back their dreams. Facing the fact that a child has a learning disability can be especially hard.
Learning disabilities can affect how a child learns to read, write, speak or calculate. Learning disabilities do not affect intelligence. Children with learning disabilities may be very bright and creative. They may lag in one area, such as reading, but excel in another, such as science or art.
Learning disabilities can’t be cured. They are a lifelong problem. But with the right kind of help and support, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and live up to their potential.
What are some types of learning disabilities?
Some of the most common learning disabilities are:
- Reading disabilities (dyslexia). Children with reading disabilities have trouble with written language. They may read with difficulty, spell poorly and reverse the order of letters in words. Dyslexia is by far the most common learning disability.
- Language disabilities (aphasia or dysphasia). A child may have trouble understanding spoken language, trouble expressing himself and poor reading comprehension.
- Math disabilities (dyscalculia). A child will have trouble with basic math operations, word problems, and time concepts such as weeks and months.
- Writing disabilities (dysgraphia). This causes trouble with handwriting, spelling and putting thoughts down in writing.
- Nonverbal learning disabilities. A child with these problems has trouble understanding facial expressions and body language, is clumsy and has trouble with fine-motor skills such as tying shoes or using scissors.
Some children with learning disabilities also have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD makes it hard for a child to focus attention or control behavior.
What causes learning disabilities?
Researchers are still not sure what causes these disabilities. One idea is that they come from subtle differences in brain structure and function. The brain has trouble processing the information it receives through the senses.
Learning disabilities often seem to run in families, so they may be at least partly inherited.Yet many families of learning disabled children have no history of learning problems. Factors such as lead poisoning, poor nutrition, low birthweight and a mother’s drug or alcohol use during pregnancy may also play a part.
What are the signs of learning disabilities?
Parents are a child’s first and best teachers, and they are often the ones to spot the early warnings of learning disabilities. All children are different, but there are some common signs that may point to learning problems.
In preschool, a child with a learning disability may:
- Speak later than most children
- Have problems with pronunciation when he or she does start to speak
- Develop a vocabulary very slowly, and have trouble finding the correct word
- Have trouble learning the connection between letters and sounds
- Get distracted easily, be restless
- Have trouble following directions
- Be slow to develop fine motor skills
From kindergarten to fourth grade, a child may:
- Have trouble learning the alphabet, counting or naming the days of the week
- Not understand rhyming words (for example, that “tall” rhymes with “fall”)
- Find it hard to clap hands to the rhythm of a song
- Forget the names of places and people or the specific words for objects
- Have trouble with directions, such as right and left, up and down
- Make consistent spelling and reading errors
- Reverse, invert or transpose letters or numbers often
- Have trouble remembering facts and learning new skills
- Have trouble holding a pencil
- Have poor coordination and be accident-prone
From fifth through eighth grades, the child may:
- Have trouble reading and refuse to read aloud
- Have difficulty doing word problems
- Have poor handwriting and an awkward pencil grip
- Be slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, word roots and other spelling strategies
- Have trouble recalling facts
- Have low self-esteem
- Have extreme gaps in sections on IQ and other tests
What should I do if I think my child has a learning disability?
Having any of the signs above does not necessarily mean your child has a learning disability. Children gain academic skills such as reading, writing and math ability at different rates, and it’s common for young children to reverse letters when writing.
But if your child has several signs and they persist, talk to the child’s teacher or school counselor. A formal evaluation is the only way to confirm a learning disability. The evaluation will determine your child’s strengths and weak spots and help you and the school district find the best way to learn your child learn.