What are learning disabilities?

The term Learning disability is often used inter-changeably with “ Specific learning Disorder”.

Learning disability is a well recognised Neuro-developmental disorder, that alters the pattern of brain functioning in a manner that affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning. Thereby , presents as difficulties in one or more of the brain’s ability to acquire, retrieve and use information.

They can manifest during early school years and are not attributable to Intellectual disabilities or other neurological or motor disorders.

Types of Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities co-exist in group disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia affecting the overall brain ability. The types of learning difficulties are:

1. Dyslexia

It is a specific type of reading disorder characterised by poor phonological processing. The child , at an early age has difficulty to associate a sound to a letter and later on present as difficulties in reading fluently, recollection and understanding, in contrast to their overall intelligence.

2. Dysgraphia ( Writing disability)

It is a writing disability including problems with handwriting and visuo-spatial perception. They have difficulty in letter formation, slow and labor intensive writing, difficulty in putting thoughts into writing, grammatical and punctuation errors or disorganised text.

3. Dyscalculia

It is a mathematical disability including problems with number sense, understand the math language ,facts and word problems. Reversal of numbers is seen and it often co-exists with reading or writing difficulties.

  • Comorbid conditions : Children with one learning disability have a greater chance of acquiring other related learning disorders.

Other co-morbid conditions include:

  • Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Communication Disorders
  • Developmental Coordination Disorders/ Dyspraxia.

How to know whether my child has a learning disability/ disabilities?

The signs and symptoms of stage wise learning difficulties include

Preschool

The child may have difficulty in:

•   Pronouncing simple alphabets like a,b,c,d.

•   Difficulty remembering words in rhymes or songs.

•   Difficulty in concentrating on tasks.

•   Difficulty in following rules and directions.

•    Difficulty using fine/gross motor skills in doing tasks.

Primary School

The child may have difficulty in:

•   Recognizing similar sound letters such as Y & I.

•   Difficulty in reading, spelling, or writing.

•   Confusion recognizing “b” with “d,” “on” with “no,” “s” with “5”.

•   Difficulty doing maths problems.

•    Memorizing, organizing, and learning difficulty in concepts.

Middle School

The child may have difficulty in:

•   Comprehending similar words (sea/see, week/weak)

•   Tight grip while writing, slow writing speed.

•   Memorizing or recalling difficulty.

•    Excessive emotional, rebellious, or arrogant behaviour,

High School

The child may have difficulty in:

•   Reading and writing tasks

•   Comprehending and applying logical problem-solving.

•   Poor memory, problem in recalling

•   Issues in socializing and adapting to surroundings

•   Understanding abstract concepts

•     Focusing consistently

What causes learning disabilities in children?

Although there is no one particular reason why some children have learning disabilities, the following could be the potential factors.

  • Family history and Genetics : Family history of learning disabilities increases the risk of the child developing the same disorder.
  • Prenatal and Peri-natal risk factors: Severe fatal growth restriction, antenatal exposure to Alcohol consumption or drugs, premature birth, try low birth weight, An illness or injury during or after birth may cause learning disabilities.
  • Physical or psychological trauma: Had injuries, Nervous stem infections or severe psychological trauma may affect brain development and increase risk of learning disorders.
  • Environment: Increased exposure to toxins such as lead and arsenic      have been linked to increasing risk of learning disorders.

Diagnosis and treatment of Learning disabilities.

The diagnosis plays a vital role in analysing and providing adequate support to children with  learning disabilities.

The diagnosis of LD is primarily made by History and developmental/psychological assessments. They are often supported by examination, laboratory tests , hearing and vision assessment, specialised screening/referral when necessary. Psychometric tests help confirm the diagnosis and identify the appropriate modalities and targets for intervention.

An apt assessment helps in the following ways

  • Diagnose an exhaustive number of existing LDs
  • Choose the best treatment module
  • Encourage the child towards self-improvement.

A specialist developmental pediatrician will assess each child, including a detailed parental and teacher interview regarding the child’s development, abilities and challenges , information from the students educational history, in person class room observations and standardised psychometric measures. For an older child, a detailed interview with the child with self report questionnaires.

A first step of intervention approach focuses on :

  • Interpretation and detailed discussion of the evaluation reports
  • Identification of the co-morbidities
  • Description of the specific challenges and skill deficits

Due to its complex nature and the diverse areas of disadvantage posed to the child , a multi-disciplinary and individualised intervention modality is warranted. It includes a team of Developmental Pediatric evaluation, neurological, visual, Audiology , clinical psychology, Behavioural therapies, Occupational therapy and remedial education including family counselling.

While some children have learning disabilities, parents often compare them to their peers / siblings and it often tends to seed an inferiority complex in them.

On the contrary, parents must understand their challenges and abilities and work on their areas of interest and strengths !

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