Understanding Learning Disabilities

October 4, 2007 at 7:31 pm (all, Autism, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, Gifted, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, Pedagogy, personal, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

Learning Disabilities: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies

   

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.

Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help:

Dyslexia
A language and reading disability

Dyscalculia
Problems with arithmetic and math concepts

Dysgraphia
A writing disorder resulting in illegibility

Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)
Problems with motor coordination

Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks

Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
Trouble with nonverbal cues, e.g., body language; poor coordination, clumsy

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Reverses letters; cannot copy accurately; eyes hurt and itch; loses place; struggles with cutting

Language Disorders (Aphasia/Dysphasia)
Trouble understanding spoken language; poor reading comprehension

Symptoms of Learning Disabilities

   

The symptoms of learning disabilities are a diverse set of characteristics which affect development and achievement. Some of these symptoms can be found in all children at some time during their development. However, a person with learning disabilities has a cluster of these symptoms which do not disappear as s/he grows older.

Most frequently displayed symptoms:

  • Short attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds
  • Poor reading and/or writing ability
  • Eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated
  • Difficulties with sequencing
  • Disorganization and other sensory difficulties

Other characteristics that may be present:

  • Performs differently from day to day
  • Responds inappropriately in many instances
  • Distractible, restless, impulsive
  • Says one thing, means another
  • Difficult to discipline
  • Doesn’t adjust well to change
  • Difficulty listening and remembering
  • Difficulty telling time and knowing right from left
  • Difficulty sounding out words
  • Reverses letters
  • Places letters in incorrect sequence
  • Difficulty understanding words or concepts
  • Delayed speech development; immature speech
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1 Comment

  1. cityteacher said,

    Thank you for this excellent post! I do keep an eye on these characteristics and if there’s a red flag, I fill out the appropriate referral form.

    However, the training that we receive as teachers are still not sufficient for detection.

    For example, I have a student who is low academically, but not drastically low as some other students, and is a big behavior problem, but with plenty of problems at home to account for it. He displays some of the characteristics, but speaking with his previous teachers, they only suspect his home problems as the cause of his academic troubles. Our special ed assistant principal came in one day to observe and happen to sit down with him to do a few math problems. She stood up ten minutes later and whispered to me that he has a processing problem, please refer him.

    He could have slid through school without the assistance he needs simply because his teachers, including me, did not have enough training to suspect that he has a learning disability. I will be looking very closely at all my students now, even the ones who are not academically low.

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