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Learning disabilities in children are not uncommon. Many people have overcome their learning disabilities to become successful in their chosen field. However, it is important that you intervene early so you can give your child the right tools to be able to work with the disabilities.
What is a Learning Disability?
Contrary to what was previously considered a fact, a learning disability does not mean that your child has lesser intellect. In fact, several prominent men like Winston Churchill and Walt Disney had learning disabilities.
A learning disability affects the brain’s ability to receive, analyze or store any new information. These disabilities make it harder for the person to be able to learn with the same ease as someone with no disability.
Types of Child Learning Disabilities
There are many types of learning disabilities that affect different aspects of the brain. Each one behaves differently and affects different areas of learning.
1. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
This disorder deals with the way in which the brain processes or interprets the auditory inputs going to the individual. The brain will not be able to distinguish between similar yet different sounds in words while also being unable to tell where the sound is coming from and which order. These individuals may find it hard to block background noise.
Dyscalculia affects the way in which the brain comprehends numbers and mathematical symbols. Individuals with this disorder will have trouble with learning the order of numbers, counting, as well as difficulty with telling time.
This disability affects the ability to write, and you will notice bad handwriting with disproportionate spacing between words. Dysgraphia affects the individual’s fine motor skills and will most likely affect space planning on paper, the ability to think and write at the same time, and spellings.
Dyslexia is a disorder that affects reading and language-related comprehension skills. It is in fact also known as Language Based Learning Disability. This disorder can affect reading, writing, reading comprehension, recall, spelling and even speech.
5. Language Processing Disorder
This disorder is a type of Auditory Processing Disorder. Here, the brain finds it tough to attach meaning to a set of sounds reaching the brain in sets that would constitute sentences, stories, and even words. This disorder affects only the comprehension of language.
6. Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities
In this disorder, the individual will usually display a high ability with verbal skills but weak motor skills, spatial understanding, and poor social skills. This disability affects the understanding of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language.
7. Visual Motor Deficit
This disorder is usually seen in individuals suffering from non-verbal learning disabilities or dysgraphia. The individual will have problems with discerning meaning from information that they see. It also affects their ability to draw or copy. Some other challenges include struggles with cutting, holding the pen or pencil too tightly, and finding it hard to notice subtle differences in shapes or printed letters.
Signs And Symptoms Of Learning Disabilities in Kids
There are many signs you can look out for to see if your child is having any difficulty with learning.
1. Pre-School Age
- You will notice that your child is having difficulty with zippers, buttons, and tying up shoelaces
- Difficulty with rhyming words
- Difficulty with pronunciation
- Finding it hard to find the correct word
- Trouble learning shapes, days of the week, the alphabet and numbers
- Difficulty in learning routines or directions
- Problems with handling scissors, crayons, and colouring within the lines
2. Ages 5-9
- Your child will face difficulty in merging sounds to make words
- Trouble telling time and the sequence of events
- Repeated issues with spellings
- Difficulty with math concepts
- Inability to identify basic words when reading
- Problems associating letters with their corresponding sounds
- Slowness when it comes to learning a new skill
3. Ages 10-13
- Your child will have difficulty with organization and will more than likely have a messy bedroom or desk
- Difficulty with questions that are open-ended, especially on tests
- Bad handwriting
- Different spellings for the same word on the same document
- Difficulty with reading out loud and a dislike for tests
- Trouble with comprehension of reading as well as math concepts
- Difficulty with following class discussion and poor class participation
While there is no consensus in the scientific fraternity on the exact cause of learning disabilities, there are certain factors that have been observed to be prevalent in individuals with learning disabilities. Please note that these theories have not been proved unilaterally and that more research is being made in these fields. Some of the common theories are as follows:
It has been observed that learning disabilities seem to run in families. If someone in your family has had a learning disability, then other children in the family might have them too. A counterclaim is that children might just be learning from the adults’ behaviour.
Development Of The Brain
A second theory proposes that learning disabilities can be linked to issues with brain development of the child before birth and after. Factors such as low oxygen supply, malnutrition during pregnancy, and even premature birth can affect the development of the brain. Even an injury to the head can cause brain development issues that can in turn cause learning disabilities.
Infants and children are particularly susceptible to environmental factors that range from toxins to nutrition. These factors could also influence the learning centres of the brain and cause learning disabilities.
Diagnosis and Tests
Most learning disabilities are diagnosed once the child begins to learn at a school. Educators will use the RTI process or the Response To Intervention process. This process includes:
- Keeping a check on the progress of the student in order to identify the disability type
- Helping the child on different tiers or levels
- Progressing through the tiers through assistance with learning
The child can also get evaluated individually which will determine:
- If the child has a learning disability
- Setting up an educational plan based on the diagnosis
- Establishing benchmarks in the education of the child
The evaluation will include testing or determination of a number of factors including:
- A full medical evaluation in order to rule out any other reasons for the signs and symptoms. This might include emotional disorders, intellectual disorders, and even problems with vision
- Determining the extent of the child’s social development as well as the performance at school
- Family history assessment
- Tests to evaluate academic levels along with physiological tests
While there is no cure for learning disabilities, there are plenty of methods to help your child cope with the disabilities. In fact, many individuals have worked their way along with their disabilities to lead successful and full lives. Some of the treatments include:
- Schools that specialize in teaching children with learning disabilities
- Expert-led programs in addition to the school that specifically cater to children with learning disabilities
- Special tutoring at home along with therapy in order to keep learning in a comfortable environment
- Some learning disabilities such as ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be relieved with medication
- Special equipment for learning that keeps the specific disability in mind. This includes audio tapes and laptops especially for children who have dyslexia or dysgraphia
Tips To Handle a Child With Learning Disorders
There are several ways you can help your child deal with their learning disability. Here are five tips that will help you handle learning difficulties in children.
1. Take Charge of your Child’s Education
Talk to your child’s school and ensure that they have educators who are trained in teaching or accommodating learning difficulties in child development. This includes developing an Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) that takes into consideration the disabilities and strengths of your child.
2. Identifying your Child’s Best Way to Study
Once you identify how your child learns, you can use it to your advantage. If your child has problems learning from a page but has excellent auditory memory, then you can read out the text or find audio versions of the book. This way, your child is using their strength in order to learn.
3. Rethink Success
Most of us are conditioned to believe that success in school will translate to success in life. However, learning key life skills will probably help your child more in the real world than getting good grades on standardized tests. Teach your child the importance of hard work, discipline and self-awareness. Your child has to learn that being proactive also involves responsibilities that will have a large payoff.
While this is true for everyone, a child with learning disabilities will find that once their physical health is at an optimum level, they will be able to concentrate and focus better. Teach them the importance of eating right, getting adequate exercise, and sleeping for the right amount of time every day.
This tip is meant for you as your physical and emotional health is extremely important for your child. Make sure that you make time for yourself so that you do not burn out.
Simple Ways for Teaching Kids about Disabilities
It is important to foster a sense of empathy in your child whether they have a disability or not. Here are a few tips on the same.
1. Being Different is not a Bad Thing
While most school children worry about fitting in, it is important that your children understand that what makes them different also makes them special. Children with disabilities have special needs that make them unique and in no way less than other children.
2. Equal Value
Just because someone might seem like they cannot do something doesn’t mean they cannot. To make the disability the identifying characteristics of the child is not fair. Teach your child to think of the similarities when thinking of abilities and value.
3. Disability Does not Equal Sickness
It is very important to emphasize to your child that disabilities are not a sickness that can be caught or transferred.
4. Words Count
When talking to your child about disabilities, avoid using certain words like ‘sick’ or ‘wrong’ and especially ‘normal’. Also, ensure that your child knows that teasing someone for their disability is unacceptable.
5. Ask Questions
Reassure your child that they must not hesitate to ask questions about aspects of the disability as long as they keep the above points in mind. That is, they need to ask the questions from a place of genuine curiosity and with empathy.
Having a child with learning disabilities is a challenge. However, in today’s environment, the disabilities should not come in the way of your child’s development and life. Be sure to consult with the right specialists on childhood learning disorders.