What are learning disabilities?

chld-in-schoolPrematurity can cause problems during infancy, childhood and well into adulthood. The long lasting effects of premature birth can cause delays in understanding, reasoning, speaking and learning. One consequence of preterm birth may be learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LD) do not only occur in babies born prematurely – they may occur in many babies who are born full term. It is important to learn about LD so that if your child is affected, you will know what to do.

There are different kinds of LD

At some point in your child’s life, he may have trouble with listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning or doing math. But when it becomes more than a temporary or minor struggle, it could be the sign of a learning disability. A learning disability is a problem with acquiring and processing information. It is also called a Specific Learning Disorder. There are different kinds of LD and they can vary from mild to severe.

By definition, an LD child is bright. In fact, he has at least average intelligence, and often well above average, but somehow learning is extra hard for him. An LD child is not lazy or undisciplined – he learns differently. However, without specialized instruction in “learning how to learn,” he can quickly fall behind his peers due to the additional time and effort it requires for him to make strides and stay on track. The amount of effort required to accomplish tasks that his peers can do is off kilter. As a result, your child may become frustrated and exhausted, and if he does not receive intervention, the problem may continue to worsen.

The most common forms are grouped into the following areas:

Dyslexia – difficulty processing language- trouble with reading, spelling and writing
Dysgraphia – difficulty with handwriting
Dyscalculia – difficulty learning math –arithmetic, telling time and word problems

Other forms of LD or related disorders include CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), nonverbal learning disability, visual and motor disabilities, dyspraxia, apraxia and aphasia. A child can have a learning disability in more than one area. Click here to learn more.

A learning disability usually becomes evident when a child is in elementary school, as this is the time when he is required to learn to read, spell, write and do math. In other words, there are suddenly hard expectations put on your child, and his difficulties become much more noticeable. However, the early signs or symptoms of LD may have been present in the preschool years (such as difficulty with counting or rhyming, fine motor skills or listening) so suddenly all those difficult behaviors you noticed back then make sense now.

What should you do?

If you suspect that your child is not learning as he should, speak to your child’s health care provider. Also, check out the National Institute of Health’s discussion on LD to see the possible signs of LD and learn what to do to have your child’s school (or another professional) test him. If your child has a learning disability, beginning intervention (usually through specialized teaching), is critical in helping your child learn how to learn and start catching up. It is also important for self-confidence and overall happiness.

Your child is in good company

Individuals with LD have gone on to become incredibly successful in every walk of life. It is said that the following famous people (along with hundreds of other famous people) suffer from dyslexia or another type of learning disability.

Director Steven Spielberg
Actors Henry Winkler, Whoopie Goldberg, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Emma Thompson and Tom Cruise
Comedian Jay Leno
Entertainer Cher
Olympian Bruce Jenner
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy

I urge you to do your own internet search as you will be amazed by how many accomplished individuals have a learning disability. You can start your search here.

On a personal note

My daughter’s journey includes learning disabilities. (She was born at 38.2 weeks.) She will be the first to tell you that without her specialized schooling she would not be the young adult she is today. Even though she had all 3 of the D’s as well as CAPD, she grew up loving to read and write. (OK, so she still hates and struggles with math…you can’t win them all!) She acted in plays in high school and continues to act in Community Theater productions. She is working on writing a collection of stories for “tweens.”  Her day job is in a preschool as an assistant teacher. The kid that hated school (reading, writing and math), overcame much of her disability to become successful. The key was getting her help early.

Bottom line

There is no “cure” for LD. But, if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, don’t despair. With the right services and supports, your child with LD can learn. In time, the focus will shift from his disabilities to his abilities. Just get help for him as soon as possible.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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2 Responses to “What are learning disabilities?”

  1. heather Says:

    Hello. My son was born 27.6 weeks. Overall he is great. Weighing just 2lbs he required room air oxygen. No major set backs. Was in the NICU 68 days. He is going on 21 months. He isn’t talking real well. He says very limited words. But for the most parts just babbles. I call it Braydenese. The language of his people. Lol. He starts early intervention for it soon. Is that a form of a disability. Him not speaking at his age. Thank you.

  2. Barbara Says:

    Hi Heather,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to learn your son was born so early but glad to hear that he is doing well overall. I will send you a separate an email addressing your question.

    Barbara
    March of Dimes

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