What is a learning disorder?
A learning disorder is defined as difficulty in an academic area (reading, mathematics,
or written expression). The child's ability to achieve in the specific academic area
is below what is expected for the child's age, educational level, and level of intelligence.
The difficulty experienced by the child is severe enough to interfere with academic
achievement or age-appropriate normal activities of daily living. About 8% of children
in schools are classified as having specific learning disabilities and receive some
kind of special education support.
What causes learning disorders?
Learning disorders are believed to happen because of an abnormality in the nervous
system, either in the structure of the brain or in the functioning of brain chemicals.
The difference in the nervous system causes the child with a learning disorder to
receive, process, or communicate information in a different way.
Who is affected by learning disorders?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 5% of children in U.S. schools
(kindergarten through grade 12) have some type of learning disorder.
Genetic predisposition, problems during pregnancy, birth, or early infancy, as well
as other general medical conditions may be associated with the cause of learning disorders.
What are the symptoms of learning disorders?
The following are the most common symptoms of learning disorders. However, each child
may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Reading disorder. A reading disorder is present when a child reads below the expected level given his
or her age, grade in school, and intelligence. Children with a reading disorder read
slowly and have difficulty understanding what they read. They may have difficulty
with word recognition and confuse words that look similar. A reading disorder is sometimes
Mathematics disorder. A mathematics disorder is present when a child has problems with skills related to
numbers. Examples of this include counting, copying numbers correctly, adding and
carrying numbers, learning multiplication tables, recognizing mathematical signs,
and understanding mathematical operations.
Disorder of written expression. A disorder of written expression is present when a child has difficulty with writing
skills. Examples of this include understanding grammar and punctuation, spelling,
paragraph organization, or composing written information. Often these children also
have poor handwriting skills.
How are learning disorders diagnosed?
The signs of learning disorders may be identified by parents or teachers when a child
consistently has difficulty with any, or all, of the following:
Reading, spelling, writing, or completing math problems
Understanding or following directions
Distinguishing right from left
Reversing letters or numbers (confusing "b" and "d" or 12 and 21)
A comprehensive evaluation by educational and mental health professionals includes
educational and psychological testing, as well as talking with the child and parents.
A comprehensive evaluation identifies whether a child has a learning disorder. It
also identifies learning strengths and weaknesses. Results of the evaluation are used
to determine educational needs, identify the best school placement, and determine
the possible need for medicine to help with distractibility or hyperactivity. Results
can also determine the possible benefit of any additional therapies, such as speech
therapy or family psychotherapy, to maximize the child's learning potential and quality
Treatment for learning disorders
Specific treatment for learning disorders will be determined by the coordinated effort
of your child's healthcare provider and mental health and educational professionals
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the disorder
Type of disorder
Your child's tolerance for specific medicines or therapies
Expectations for the course of the disorder
Your opinion or preference
Learning disorders are treatable. A coordinated effort between parents, teachers,
and mental health professionals provides the basis for individualized treatment strategies.
These may include individual or group remediation, and/or special classes or resources.
Prevention of learning disorders
Preventive measures to reduce how often learning disorders happen are not known at
this time. However, discovering learning disorders and doing something about them
early on can reduce their severity. This will also improve the quality of life experienced
by children with learning disorders.