Special Needs: Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

Brain function

Learning disabilities are usually tested for and diagnosed when a child’s achievement in school is significantly below expectations based upon age, educational experience and level of intelligence. Low achievement does not necessarily indicate a learning disability. Below-average academic performance can result from a lack of motivation on the child’s part, a lack of educational experience or instruction, or environmental factors such as allergies. Poor hearing or vision often contributes to below-average scores.

The Florida Department of Education defines a specific learning disability as a disorder in one or more of the basic learning processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest in significant difficulties affecting the ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematics. Therefore, to ensure a child is receiving a proper education, the state provides educational options for these students.

Learning disabilities cover a wide range of problems including short-term memory, organization, attention, and the ability to retrieve information that has been learned.

Early detection is key in overcoming learning disabilities. Research has shown that when parents implement practical strategies at home, significant improvement can be seen in the classroom. Seeking professional therapy through the public school system or in a private setting improves performance even more.

Learning disabilities

Dr. Mary Travis, a nationally certified school psychologist based in Winter Park, says, “Undiagnosed learning disabilities may cause a child to give up not only on school, but on himself. Often the greatest enemy of learning is frustration and repeated failure experienced by children. This can lead to a young person with learning or attention difficulties becoming anxious, discouraged, and depressed. Early detection is key in overcoming learning disabilities.”

PRESCHOOL: The following learning disability symptoms can appear at the preschool level:

•  Speaking late, often with pronunciation problems
•  Slow vocabulary growth
•  Difficulty learning numbers, letters, colors and shapes
•  Difficulty rhyming words
•  Trouble interacting with peers
Difficulty following directions
•  Difficulty following directions or routines
•  Fine motor skills slower to develop

ELEMENTERY SCHOOL: These signs of a learning disability can arise in elementary school:

•  Inability to remember telephone number by the end of kindergarten
•  Confusing basic sight words
•  Frequent reading and spelling errors such as letter reversals or substitutions
•  Awkward or unstable pencil grip
•  Transposing number sequences and signs (+, -, /, =)
•  Impulsiveness
•  Poor coordination
•  Difficulty learning letter sounds or learning to write letters and numbers in first grade
•  Seeming to learn something one day and forgetting it the next
•  Low frustration tolerance (crumpling papers, crying, and not wanting to go to school)

The greatest enemy children have is frustration and repeated failure. These two things undermine motivation and the ability to persevere with challenging problems. Without some success, it’s easy for a child to begin to feel that is impossible to learn. Ultimately, the child gives up trying to learn academic subjects, which causes them to give up trying to learn anything, whether in school or not. This is called Learned Helplessness, a concept that describes what happens when people become conditioned to believe a situation is unchangeable or inescapable.

By middle school or high school, a young person with learning difficulties can become anxious, discouraged, and depressed. In some cases, the student may choose to act out and display behavioral problems. In some students’ minds, the stigma of a learning disability is too much to bear, resulting in a feeling that it is better to be thought of as “bad” or a “troublemaker” than to be thought of as “stupid.”

MIDDLE SCHOOL: Undiagnosed learning disabilities may manifest in these ways during the middle school years:

•  Confusing a sequence of letters, such as left/felt
Interpreting facial expressions
•  Difficulty interpreting facial expressions or body language
•  Poor handwriting
•  Difficulty recalling facts
•  Social difficulties
•  Problems learning spelling strategies
•  Avoidance of writing assignments
•  Difficulty with analytical skills like word problems
•  Fear of reading aloud in class or even at home

HIGH SCHOOL: These signs of an undiagnosed learning disability may manifest in high school:

•  Difficulty adjusting to new settings
Bad Memory
•  Poor memory skills
•  Problems with open-ended questions, inferential thinking
•  Avoidance of reading and writing assignments
•  Misreading information
•  Poor grasp of abstract concepts
•  Working slowly
•  Difficulty summarizing and organizing information—either overlooking important details or getting bogged down in attention to detail
•  Spelling problems, such as spelling the same word differently in a single composition

road to success

Diagnosing and treating learning disabilities can relieve students’ academic pressures and put them on a path to success.