Poor speech and writing skills, difficulty with numbers… if your child seems to be facing such problems with schoolwork, he/she could be suffering from a learning disability.
You learn the most in life during childhood. A child has to grasp the tricks of language and writing, as well as essential subjects, like math and science. What we learn in our childhood years, stays with us forever.
But what if the ability to learn is hindered during such formative years? Though assumed to be a problem starting from adulthood, the actual origin of learning difficulties is as a child.
What are Learning Disabilities in Children?
First understand, what is a learning disability is NOT. It is not a sign of less intelligence or brain capacity. It is not a mental condition or disability, like autism, mental retardation, or impairment in vision or hearing. It is not related to emotional or physical disorders in any way. Do not confuse it with attention disorders (ADHD), or slowness in learning a new language or subject.
A learning disorder (LD) is difficulty experienced in learning one or more subjects, in a typical fashion. The brain processes and receives information, in a manner different from how it should be learned. For e.g. 2+2 = 4, can be understood as addition by one child. But a child with a learning disability, might not understand the “+” sign or the “=” sign, and how 4 was created out of 2 and 2. The extent and style of the learning disability, varies from child to child. Children with average and above-average intelligence can be affected by different learning disabilities. A reading disorder in one child, can be present in another child, in a completely different manner.
The real danger behind such a disability, is the way it is treated. If ignored, learning disabilities have a “snowball” effect. Think about it. A child, who can’t read 1st grade material, is going to struggle with middle-school reading. And the difficulty will plague him all the way to college and beyond. The frustration at not being equal to the rest, and always struggling with the same issue, will eat at him, causing serious emotional scarring and self-esteem issues. The causes of learning disabilities, can be social and neurological. Learning disabilities can be inherited, and are found in both boys and girls. An approximate 4 million schoolchildren and teenagers suffer from a learning disability.
Areas Affected by Learning Disabilities
Reading: Here the disability can take many forms.
- The child might be unable to form words or sentences from letters.
- Comprehension might be a problem, where the meaning of words, paragraphs or a story is not understood.
- The speed and fluency of reading is slow.
- Recognition or matching of word to sound and vice versa, is absent.
Example: Mat is made up of letters “m”, “a”, “t”. With a reading disorder, a child could confuse “m” with “b”. Or will not
Writing: Dysgraphia is the term commonly used to denote writing disorders. Handwriting, spelling, forming sentences, grammar and composition are key problem areas.
Example: Using “a” instead of “an” before vowels. Does not use prepositions and pronouns in sentences. Cannot punctuate properly.
Speech: Difficulty in expressing one’s thoughts or ideas, retelling a story, fluency of speech are language related learning disabilities. Misunderstanding words and sentences, and poor response skills are other problems.
Example: At age 8, saying “thwin” instead of “thing”. Calling a ball, a bell. Speaking only in phrases.
Arithmetic: A math learning disability can show up as difficulty in remembering numbers and their sequence. Various operation signs, multiplication tables, how to perform certain operations (division) are some common forms. Difficulty in telling the time, is a slightly rarer problem. Such problems are called dyscalculia, a generic term for math learning disabilities.
Example: The number “62” and “26” look the same. 2 x 3 = 6 and 3 x 2 =6, why are they the same? How to divide 27 by 10? These are a few questions, an LD child might ask while practicing maths.
Symptoms of Learning Disabilities in Children
Here are some common signs to look out for:
- Difficulty in understanding and following instructions
- Poor motor skills
- Forgets or misplaces homework and objects
- Cannot remember what someone has just said
- Tendency to reverse letters and numbers
- Problems in communicating and speaking
- Avoids reading and writing tasks
- Is easily distracted and restless
- Slow in grasping or studying school subjects
Diagnosing learning disabilities in children involves both the parents and school. Ruling out any visual or mental impairments is the first step, followed by tests conducted by a trained child psychologist. Cooperate with school officials and teachers, as the assessment and confirmation of the disability is confirmed by the school itself. A harsh truth about learning disorders: they cannot be outgrown or cured. Alternative teaching and learning methods, where you work around the disability, can help the child in the long run. Be helpful instead of hurtful. Criticism just makes the situation worse, instead be positive and focus on your child’s strong points. With patience and understanding from all parties, do not allow a learning disorder to hamper your child’s development.