Learning disability is a general term describing specific kinds of learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble learning and using certain skills.
The skills most often affected are:
- Doing math
Learning disabilities (LD) vary from person to person. If your child has a LD he may not have the same kind of learning problems as another person with LD.
Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a persons brain works and how it processes information. Children with learning disabilities are not dumb or lazy. In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains simply process information differently.
There is no cure for learning disabilities; they are life-long.
However, children with learning disabilities can be high achievers and taught ways to get around the learning disability. With the right help, children with LD can and do learn successfully.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a learning disability as, …a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
However, learning disabilities do not include, …learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
Learning Disability Symptoms
There is no one sign that shows a person has a learning disability.
Experts look for a noticeable difference between how well a child does in school and how well he or she could do, given his or her intelligence or ability. There are also certain clues that may mean a child has a learning disability.
Most relate to elementary school tasks, because learning disabilities tend to be identified in elementary school. A child probably wont show all of these signs, or even most of them. However, if a child shows a number of these problems, then parents and the teacher should consider the possibility that the child has a learning disability.
When a child has a learning disability, he or she:
- May have trouble learning the alphabet, rhyming words, or connecting letters to their sounds
- May make many mistakes when reading aloud, and repeat and pause often
- May not understand what he or she reads
- May have real trouble with spelling
- May have very messy handwriting or hold a pencil awkwardly
- May struggle to express ideas in writing
- May learn language late and have a limited vocabulary
- May have trouble remembering the sounds that letters make or hearing slight differences between words
- May have trouble understanding jokes, comic strips, and sarcasm
- May have trouble following directions
- May mispronounce words or use a wrong word that sounds similar
- May have trouble organizing what he or she wants to say or not be able to think of the word he or she needs for writing or conversation
- May not follow the social rules of conversation, such as taking turns, and may stand too close to the listener
- May confuse math symbols and misread numbers
- May not be able to retell a story in order (what happened first, second, third)
- May not know where to begin a task or how to go on from there
- If a child has unexpected problems learning to read, write, listen, speak, or do math, then teachers and parents may want to investigate more. The same is true if the child is struggling to do any one of these skills. The child may need to be evaluated to see if he or she has a learning disability.
Tips for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities
- Learn about LD. The more you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. See the list of resources and organizations at the end of this publication. Praise your child when he or she does well. Children with LD are often very good at a variety of things. Find out what your child really enjoys doing, such as dancing, playing soccer, or working with computers. Give your child plenty of opportunities to pursue his or her strengths and talents.
- Find out the ways your child learns best. Does he or she learn by hands-on practice, looking, or listening? Help your child learn through his or her areas of strength.
- Let your child help with household chores. These can build self-confidence and concrete skills. Keep instructions simple, break down tasks into smaller steps, and reward your child’s efforts with praise.
- Make homework a priority. Read more about how to help your child be a success at homework. (See resource list at the end.)
- Pay attention to your child’s mental health (and your own!) Be open to counseling, which can help your child deal with frustration, feel better about himself, and learn more about social skills.
- Talk to other parents whose children have learning disabilities. Parents can share practical advice and emotional support. Call NICHCY (1-800-695-0285) and ask how to find parent groups near you. Also let us put you in touch with the parent training and information (PTI) center in your state.
- Meet with school personnel and help develop an educational plan to address your child’s needs. Plan what accommodations your child needs, and don’t forget to talk about assistive technology!
- Establish a positive working relationship with your child’s teacher. Through regular communication, exchange information about your child’s progress at home and at school.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD), The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
1110 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22201-5704.
International Dyslexia Association (formerly the Orton Dyslexia Society)
8600 LaSalle Road
Baltimore, MD 21286-2044.
Telephone: 800.222.3123; 410.296.0232.
National Center for Learning Disabilities
381 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
Telephone: 888.575.7373; 212.545.7510.
Learning Ally (Formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic)
20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540