Having a child who has a learning disability doesn't mean he/she can't learn. But the child will need some help and he/she needs to work extra hard. If the child has a learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia (serious trouble with math), remember that he/she is not slow or dumb.
Learning disabilities happen because of the way a person's brain takes in and processes information. As a result, people learn differently. The trick will be figuring out how your child learns best.
There are people who know how to do just that. Parents and teachers can help the child and they can find a learning specialist or a school psychologist. These professionals can help figure out what a child’s learning problem is and come up with ideas to make it better.
What Are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities aren't contagious, but they can be genetic. That means they can be passed down in families through the genes, like many other traits we get from our parents and grandparents. Someone with a learning disability probably has other family members who have had some learning problems too.
Children with learning problems are sometimes surprised to find out that one of their parents had similar troubles when he or she was in school. But children today have an advantage over their parents. Learning experts now know a lot more about the brain and how learning takes place and it's easier for children to get the help they need.
Dyslexia (say: dis-lek-see-uh) is a learning disability whereby a child has a lot of trouble reading and writing. Children who have trouble with math may have dyscalculia (say: dis-kal-kyoo-lee-uh). And people who have trouble forming letters when they write may have dysgraphia (say: dis-graf-ee-uh). Other children may have language disorders, meaning they have trouble understanding language and understanding what they read.
It can be confusing though. What qualifies as "trouble" enough to be diagnosed as a learning disability? Reading, doing math, and writing letters may be tough for many children initially. But when those early troubles don't fade away, and it's really difficult to make any progress, then it is possible that the child has a learning disability.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is sometimes thought of as a learning disability but it's not usually considered as one. Why? Because most children with ADHD can learn in school without special assistance, even though they may be easily distracted or have trouble sitting still in class.
Although ADHD itself isn't a learning disability, researchers believe children with ADHD may be more likely to have learning disabilities.
It's very hard for a child to know if he or she has a learning disability. But children don't have to figure all this out on their own. What a child needs to do is tell someone. He/she can start with his/her class teacher and his/her parents.
Even if the child feels a little shy about it, the child needs to tell his/her parents what kinds of problems he/she is facing in school. Maybe the child reads a chapter for homework and then can't remember anything he/she read. Or maybe in class, everyone else seems to follow along easily, but the child gets stuck and don't know what page everyone is on. The child might open his/her book to do an assignment and have no idea where to start.
Children with a learning disability might also answer "yes" to many of these questions:
- Do you struggle in school?
- Do you think you should be doing better than you are in school?
- Is reading harder for you than it should be?
- Does your head think one thing but your hand writes something else?
- Is writing slow and really hard for you?
- Do you make spelling and other errors when you write?
- Are you having difficulty with math?
- Is it hard for you to keep your notebooks and papers organized? Do you end up losing or forgetting them?
But even if your child says “yes” to some of these questions, the parents won't know for sure until the child visits a school psychologist or a learning specialist. They can give the parents some tests to spot any learning problems the child might have. They'll also be able to identify what the child’s strengths are. In other words, what the child is good at! Once a psychologist or learning specialist figures out what the learning problem is, the parents and the child can start working on solutions.
The child might work with a tutor or specialist or even go to a special class. But often, children with learning disabilities can continue in their regular classrooms and there's no reason why they can't do normal things like participate in school activities and sports.
Although some children might feel shy about having a learning disability, it can be a relief to finally know what the problem is. Then, the child doesn't have to feel worried or upset about school because he or she will adopt new methods of learning. The psychologist or learning specialist might even give him/her a learning plan. Then he /she will know the strategy to learn. (They can see what the strategy is for helping the child learn.) (They can even offer help with organizational skills.) If he/she is not organized, it's hard to get any schoolwork done.
Finding out that one have a learning disability can be upsetting. They might feel different from everyone else. But the truth is that learning disabilities are pretty common. And if the learning specialist or psychologist has figured out which one the child is facing, then he/she is on the right track. Now, he/she can start getting the help the child needs to do better in school.
But for this special help to really work, the child needs to practice the new skills he/she is learning. It may take a great deal of effort every day. That can be a challenge, but it can be met. Soon, he/she will enjoy the results of all his/her hard work, more fun and success at school!
Reviewed by: David V. Sheslow, PhD