What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a disorder in understanding or using spoken or written language. Individuals with learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence, but experience problems with:

? writing
? listening
? mathematical calculations

Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that involves reading difficulties. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is often grouped with the learning disabilities, but it should be made very clear that no child should be ?labelled? as this often closes the door to other forms of evaluation or treatment from which the child may benefit.

The term learning disability does not apply to children that have learning problems caused by visual or hearing handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, economic or cultural disadvantage.

What causes a learning disability?
Learning disabilities are often inherited. In many cases however, the cause of a learning disability is not known.

Besides a family history of learning disabilities, other risk factors include low birth weight, stress before or after birth, infections of the central nervous system or severe head injuries.

There is little scientific evidence to show that poor vision, abnormal focusing, jerky eye movement and misaligned or cross eyes cause learning disabilities.

Instead research points to a brain's inability to interpret what is read. Normally, when we read, our brain relates to visual images to previous experiences and known information (such as the meaning of words.) A learning disability is a defect in these processes in the brain.

What are the signs of a learning disability?
Before a child begins school, parents are usually not aware that their child has a learning disability.

In school situations, the following signs may suggest a learning disability:
?difficulty or dislike of reading
? poor handwriting
?slow writing speed
?difficulty with maths
?difficulty putting information in order
? difficulty in understanding abstract concepts
?memory problems
? difficulty with language(for example: trouble following oral directions
or remembering words)

Parents should be aware that ?learning disabled? children may develop certain personality and behavioural problems.

A child with learning disabilities may become frustrated, lose interest in school work and soon try to avoid difficult tasks altogether.

Learning disabilities can also damage a child's developing self image and cause emotional problems such as withdrawal, anxiety, depression or aggression.

Do the eyes have anything to do with learning disabilities?
It may seem easy to blame reading problems on the eyes, but learning disabilities are caused by the brain, not the eyes. Children with learning disabilities do not have more visual problems than children without learning disabilities. It is important to know however, whether the child has a refractive error at an early age (at three months, three years and again before primary school).

Our eyes function like a camera. After the eye ?takes the picture?, the image is sent to our brains by the optic nerve.  Under-developed eye movements may slow the gathering of information down and is but one element in the reading process.

How are learning disabilities treated?
A child with learning disabilities needs to practice academic skills and learn helpful strategies with the aid of a trained specialist, just as an athlete needs to practice under the eye of a coach.

The motor basis of learning is well known and the child with learning difficulty should also be evaluated for her/his gross and fine motor development as well as the level of integration with the other senses.

The evaluation is multidisciplinary and handled by educators and typically involves educational and psychological testing.  Other evaluations may be conducted by a learning disabilities specialist, a speech pathologist, an audiologist, an educational psychologist, and occupational therapist, a physiotherapist or an optometrist with special interest in the field.

It is important that parents and teachers participate in this process and are involved when decisions about the child's educational needs are being made.

A learning disabled child needs understanding and emotional support, as well as opportunities to experience success in other activities. Allowing a child to ?burn off? tensions and frustrations through sports or artistic activities can be helpful.

Are there cures for learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities are complex problems. There are no quick fixes. Simple solutions such as a drug, diet, megavitamins, sugar restriction, spectacles or vision training, do not cure learning disabilities. They may only aid in the total remedial plan.

The approach to the problem should be one of a multidisciplinary team, co-ordinated by a learning disability specialist, which will focus on remedial educational programs rather than a single - discipline approach.

With the proper help, children with learning disabilities can become very successful.

Back Back to top