Your child will learn many things in life — how to listen, speak, read, write and do math. Some skills may be harder to learn than others. If your child is trying his best to learn certain skills but is not able to keep up with his peers, it’s important to find out why. Your child may have a learning disability (also known as LD). If your child has an LD, the sooner you know, the sooner you can get your child help.
What is an LD?
Learning disability is a term used to describe a range of learning problems. These problems have to do with the way the brain gets, uses, stores, and sends out information. As many as 15% of children have a LD. Children with LDs may have trouble with one or more of the following skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and math. The most common type of LD is a reading disorder.
A child is not considered to have an LD if the learning problems are due to another cause, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation), lack of instruction, or a hearing, vision, or motor problem. It’s important to understand, though, that some children may have an LD and one or more other conditions that can affect learning. Many children also have more than one LD.
What causes LDs?
There can be many possible causes. The causes aren’t always known, but in many cases children with LDs have a parent or relative with the same or similar learning difficulties. Other risk factors include low birth weight and prematurity, or an injury or illness during childhood (for example, head injury, lead poisoning, a childhood illness, etc).
How do I know if my child has an LD?
Learning disabilities aren’t always obvious. However, there are some signs that could mean your child needs help. Keep in mind that children develop and learn at different rates. Let your child’s psychologist know if your child shows any of the following signs:
Preschool children (who may later have LDs) may have:
- Delays in language development. By 3 years of age, your child should be able to talk in phrases or short sentences.
- Trouble with speech. By 3 years of age, your child should speak well enough so that adults can understand most of what she says.
- Trouble learning colors, shapes, letters, and numbers.
- Trouble rhyming words.
- Short attention spans. Between 3 to 5 years of age, your child should be able to sit still and listen to a short story. As your child gets older, she should be able to pay attention for a longer time.
School-aged children and teens with LDs may find it difficult to:
- Follow directions.
- Get and stay organized at home and school.
- Understand verbal directions.
- Learn facts and remember information.
- Read, spell, or sound out words.
- Write clearly (may have poor handwriting).
- Do math calculations or word problems.
- Focus on and finish schoolwork (may daydream a lot).
- Explain information clearly with speech or in writing.
Other learning problems
Some children with learning problems may not exactly fit the types of LDs previously mentioned. These learning problems may include the following:
- Nonverbal learning skills
- Speech and language delays
Is there a cure?
There is no single cure for LDs, but there are many things that can be done to help children overcome their LD and live successful lives. Be cautious of people and groups who claim to have simple answers or solutions. You may hear about eye exercises, body movements, special diets, vitamins, and nutritional supplements. There’s no good evidence that these work. If in doubt, talk with your child’s psychologist.
Who can help?
If you’re concerned about your child’s problems with learning or think your child may have an LD, talk with your child’s teacher and psychologist. Teachers and other education specialists can perform screening or evaluation tests to determine if there’s a problem.
Most children who have problems learning can reach their goals by developing different ways of learning. Special educational services to help children with LDs may be available in your area. These may include specialized instruction, non-timed tests, or sometimes changes in the classroom that are geared toward your child’s specific learning style.
Ways you can help your child
Focus on strengths. All children have special talents as well as weaknesses. Find your child’s strengths and help her learn to use them. Your child might be good at math, music, or sports. She could be skilled at art, working with tools, or caring for animals. Be sure to praise your child often when she does well or succeeds at a task.
Develop social and emotional skills. Learning disabilities combined with the challenges of growing up can make your child sad, angry, or withdrawn. Help your child by providing love and support while acknowledging that learning is hard because his brain learns in a different way. Try to find clubs, teams, and other activities that focus on friendship and fun. These activities should also build confidence. And remember, competition isn’t just about winning.
Plan for the future. Many parents of children with LDs worry about their child’s future. Remind your child that an LD isn’t tied to how smart she is. In fact, many people with LDs are very bright and grow up to be very successful in life. You can help your child plan for adulthood by encouraging her to consider her strengths and interests when making education and career choices. There are special career and vocational programs that help build confidence by teaching decision-making and job skills. Many colleges have programs designed for students with LDs.
Children with LDs can learn and succeed if they get the right help and support. The sooner you know, the sooner you can get your child help. Talk with your child’s psychologist if you have any concerns about your child’s learning.