“I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist, twirl across the page. When they settle, it is too late. The class has already moved on”.

Learning Disability is a condition that is quite prevalent in today’s times. Children are facing difficulties and since many people are either not aware or do not understand the condition, they label the child as being mischievous, naughty, troublesome, and blame the child for not doing well academically, not trying enough, and not putting in enough efforts. Learning disability is a condition that has to be recognized, diagnosed, understood, treated, and managed like any other condition.

Learning disorders aren’t the same as mental or physical disabilities and don’t reflect a child’s intelligence. Instead, learning disorders affect a child’s ability to complete a task or use certain skills, particularly in school.

Learning disabilities, also known as learning disorders or specific learning disability (SLD),  are disorders that affect one’s ability in the domains of spoken or written language, mathematical calculation, attention, or the coordination of movements. They can occur in children who are young but are usually not recognized until a child reaches school age.

Types of Learning  Disabilities

1. Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects how a child understands the language. Children with dyslexia have trouble with identifying speech sounds, reading, decoding letters and words. Although dyslexia affects the areas of the brain that process language, children or individuals who have dyslexia have normal intelligence and with the correct intervention, they can succeed in school. 

Individuals who have dyslexia may also have difficulty in conveying and expressing themselves and their thoughts verbally and they may even face difficulty during conversations, wherein, they are required to put their thoughts together.

2. Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a part of a learning disorder, wherein, the child’s or individual’s motor skills (is the coordination of small muscles, in movements—usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers—with the eyes) and movement is affected. The four main skills that are affected when it comes to dyspraxia are as follows:

  • Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists. 

  • Gross motor skills are abilities that allow people to do things that involve using the large muscles in the torso (upper half of the body), arms, and legs.

  • Motor planning is a skill that allows us to recognize and perform steps to make a movement happen.

  • Coordination means organizing the activities of two or more groups so that they work together efficiently.

A child who has dyspraxia has trouble with movement and coordination, he or she may have trouble holding things, tying their shoelaces and they may even tend to bump into things. The child may also have speech difficulties, he or she may also be sensitive to light, touch, taste, or smell and they may also have trouble with eye movements.

3. Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a child’s or an individual’s ability to do the math. Children who are young have difficulty in learning to count and recognizing numbers whereas, when a child gets older, the child may have trouble in solving basic math problems and equations. The following are the skills that are affected when it comes to dyscalculia:

  • Understanding how numbers work and relate to each other.

  • Calculating math problems.

  • Memorizing basic calculations.

  • Using math symbols.

  • Understanding word problems.

  • Organizing and recording information while solving a math problem.

4. Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that impacts a child’s written expression. 

When it comes to dysgraphia, a child’s writing abilities are affected wherein, they have trouble with spelling, poor handwriting (unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting often with different slants, shapes, upper- and lower-case letters, and cursive and print styles), trouble putting down their thoughts on paper and they also tend to write or copy things slowly. Dysgraphia is a problem related to the nervous system that impacts one’s fine motor skills that are required to write. Dysgraphia among children also makes it difficult for them to think and write simultaneously. The other signs and symptoms include:

  • Cramped grip, which may lead to a sore hand.

  • Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spatial planning).

  • Frequent erasing.

  • Inconsistency in letter and word spacing.

  • Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters.

  • Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing.

5. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Auditory Processing Disorder is also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which is the reduced or impaired ability to identify, comprehend and discriminate sounds even though the individual’s hearing is not impaired. The symptoms of APD are as follows:

  • Difficulty with learning to read.

  • Difficulty in distinguishing sounds from background noise.

  • The trouble with following spoken directions or instructions, particularly if there are multiple steps to the task.

  • Difficulty with telling the difference between similar-sounding words.

  • Trouble remembering things they have heard.

  • Trouble in following conversations.

  • Difficulty in knowing where a sound came from.

  • The trouble with listening to music.

  • Difficulty in understanding what people say, especially in a loud place or if more than one person is talking.

6. Visual Processing Disorder (VPD). Visual Processing Disorder is when a child or an individual has trouble interpreting visual information. He or she may have a hard time with reading or discriminating between objects that look similar. Individuals with a visual processing disorder may have trouble with hand-eye coordination.

7. Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD or NVLD). Nonverbal Learning Disorder involves difficulties that are present in visual-spatial skills (the ability to tell where objects are in space), visual-motor skills, and other skills necessary in social or academic functioning. The child has difficulty in receiving and interpreting nonverbal cues of communication like body language and expressions. The symptoms of NLD are as follows:

  • Interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues/clues in social interactions.

  • Using language appropriately in social situations.

  • Physical coordination.

  • Fine motor skills, such as writing.

  • Attention, planning, and organizing.

  • Higher-level reading comprehension or written expression, usually appearing in later grade school.

8. Apraxia of Speech. Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a disorder in which a child has difficulty making accurate movements when speaking and has difficulty in saying what he or she intends to say. When it comes to apraxia of speech, the speech muscles aren't weak, but they don't function normally as the brain has difficulty in directing and/or coordinating the movements. 

The symptoms include:

  • Difficulty moving smoothly from one sound, syllable (a part of a word that contains a single vowel sound and that is pronounced as a unit), or word to another.

  • Groping movements with the jaw, lips, or tongue to make the correct movement for speech sounds.

  • Vowel distortions, such as attempting to use the correct vowel, but saying it incorrectly.

  • Using the wrong stress in a word while pronouncing certain words.

  • Using the equal emphasis on all syllables. 

  • Separation of syllables, such as putting a pause or gap between syllables.

  • Inconsistency, such as making different errors when trying to say the same word a second time.

  • Difficulty imitating simple words.

  • Inconsistent voicing errors, such as saying "down" instead of "town".

Causes of Learning Disabilities 

1. Genetics. Genetics (a branch of biology concerned with the study of genes and heredity in organisms) can play a role when it comes to learning disabilities. Children/individuals are more likely to have a learning disorder if their first-degree relatives like a parent or a sibling also suffered from the same.

2. Psychological trauma. The risk of learning disability can be increased if one has experienced psychological trauma or abuse early in their childhood which may have a negative impact on the development of their brain.

3. Prenatal and Neonatal risks. Prenatal risks are a number of dangers that can pose a potential risk to the growing fetus (baby-to-be) during a pregnancy. Neonatal risks are those which can affect a newborn.

A complication during the prenatal or neonatal stage can increase the risk of learning disability. Exposure to substances like alcohol, drugs during pregnancy, premature birth, inadequate growth in the uterus, and low birth weight can increase the risk of learning disability in children.

Premature birth is a birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Pregnancy usually lasts for about 40 weeks. Low birth weight is when a baby is born weighing less than 2500 grams. Low birth weight is known to increase the risk for major disabilities and contribute to minor difficulties in motor skills and in thinking, learning, and memory (cognitive abilities).

5. Physical trauma. Physical trauma is defined as a body wound produced by sudden physical injury from impact, violence, or accident. Physical trauma can also increase the possibility of learning disability.

6. Exposure to toxic environments. If a child has been exposed to high levels of toxins like lead (a toxic, heavy metal), then it may play a role in the development of a learning disability. 

Symptoms of Learning Disabilities

A child with a learning disability can have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in reading, he or she may read inaccurately or slowly and with effort.

  • Understanding the meaning of what is read.

  • Difficulty in understanding and following instructions.

  • Has trouble with spelling.

  • Has trouble with math and mathematical reasoning.

  • Trouble remembering what someone just told him or her.

  • Has trouble with writing and in written expression.

  • Difficulty in doing or resisting homework or activities that consist of writing, reading, and/ or math.

  • Lacking coordination while walking, playing sports, or in certain skills.

  • Understanding numbers or calculation.

  • Difficulty in understanding the concept of time.

  • Easily loses or misplaces homework, school books, or other items.

  • Having emotional reactions, acting out in anger, or showing defiance while studying or engaging in any academic activity.

  • Difficulty in understanding and interpreting non-verbal cues and facial expressions.

  • Difficulty in paying attention, planning, and organizing.

Treatment and Management of Learning Disabilities

1. Help the child. A child who has a learning disability needs all the extra help he/she can manage to get. It is important to understand the child and where he/she is facing difficulties and depending on the area in which the child has trouble, effective aid can be provided with the help of teachers and specialists. 

Recognize the strengths of the child and use them to his/her advantage. For example, if the child is a visual learner, then teaching or helping them study with the help of visual cues would be the most fruitful method to help the child learn.

2. Certificate and Concession. Many boards across India offer certain concessions (a preferential allowance or rate given by an organization) to individuals who have learning disabilities. In order to avail of these concessions, it is essential to get the child tested and acquire a certificate for learning disability which is recognized by the government.

3. Individualized education program. An individualized education program (IEP) is set up by special educators for the child. By building a specialized plan for the child, he/she can work on their strengths so that they can flourish in school and he/she can also learn to make up for their shortcomings.

4. Therapy and therapeutic programs. When dealing with learning disabilities, the child needs to be provided with the right and effective therapy that can help the child to the best he/she can. Providing occupational therapy or seeking the help of a reading specialist or a speech therapist would be very helpful for the child. In case of any underlying psychological conditions like depression or anxiety, therapy with the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist would also prove to be helpful. 

Occupational therapy (OT) is a branch of health care that helps people of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. 

5. Medication. In certain children or individuals, there may be an underlying psychological condition that needs to be treated. Treating and managing an underlying condition like depression, anxiety, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) will be effective. If the individual has ADHD, prescribing medicines for improving concentration would prove to be useful.

6. Providing aid and accommodation. A child with a learning disability needs extra help, certain aids and accommodations to help the child to do better in school. Whether it is providing extra time to complete assignments or tests, seeking after school classes from the teacher so the child gets individualized attention, reducing the number of mathematical problems in tests and assignments, testing the child verbally if he/she has difficulty in writing, and providing audiotapes or audiobooks to help the child in reading.

Having a learning disability can be quite daunting for any child. He/she may want to study and do things but may not be able to do so because of the condition and this can prove to be frustrating for the child. In this case, understanding the child’s condition and properly diagnosing the child will not only prove helpful to the child but also to the parents who might also be clueless. Parents have to be patient and encourage the child to boost the child’s self-esteem and confidence. If you notice any sign and symptom of a learning disability that has recently developed in your child, it is advisable to consult your paediatrician for further guidance.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.