What is a Learning Disability ?Signs, Causes and Difference

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I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist and twirl across the page. When they settle, it is too late. The class has already moved on. I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them then blow gently, and watch them float right out of my hands. – Jacqueline Woodson

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What is a Learning Disability?

It is a neurological disorder that affects the ability to understand, use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, and direct attention. People with learning disabilities usually take a longer time to learn, need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people. 

Approximately 4 million children and teenagers have a learning disability, and mostly all cope with more than one type of difficulty. 

Learning difficulties are the indication that they should be taught in an alternative method. Some may face mild, and others may have a severe impact on their academic performances, behavioral changes, and adapting to different environments.

There are generally three core criteria for learning disability and includes the lower intellectual ability (usually an IQ lower than 70), significant impairment of social or adaptive functioning, and onset in childhood.

What Causes Learning Disability?

The cause of a learning disability remains unknown. Experts have mentioned some factors that influence a learning disability including

  • Heredity:  It might be passed on from the parents who already had a learning disability, so the child is also likely to develop the same disorder. 
  • Illness during and after birth: An illness or injury during or after birth causes a learning disability. Meanwhile, other factors like consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, physical trauma, poor growth in the uterus, low birth weight, and premature or prolonged labor also cause a learning disability.
  • Stress during infancy: Sometimes the stressful incident after birth such as high fever, head injury, or poor nutrition can lead to a learning disability. 
  • Environment: Increased exposure to toxins like lead can cause a learning disability. 
  • Comorbidity: Mostly children with a learning disability have a higher than average risk for attention problems or disruptive behavior disorders.

Classification of Learning Disability

WHO categorizes the severity of learning disability as 

  • Mild: The IQ ranges from 50 to 69 and the adults have a mental age from 9 to 12 years. They tend to have poor academic performance in school but adults can lead a life without needing any assistance from others.
  • Moderate: The IQ ranges from 35 to 49 and the adults have a mental age of 6 to under 9 years. During childhood, they face developmental delays but they can learn some degrees of self-care and communication skills. Although adults require support to live and work in the community.
  • Severe: The IQ ranges between 20 to 34 and in adults the mental age varies from 3 to 6 years. The person needs continuous support.
  • Profound: The IQ ranges under 20, particularly in adults the mental age will be below 3 years. So it results in severe limitations in self-care, continence, communication, and mobility.

This is just the partial information provided based on the intellectual impairment of the person’s social, educational, and personal needs. But in general, it is always important to treat each person as an individual based on their specific strengths and their needs.

What are the Different Types of Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities can be verbal (which affects a child’s ability to read, write or process spoken or written words) or nonverbal (it makes it harder for the child to process visual information).  Following are the disorders of learning disability. 

  • Dyslexia: It is a language processing disorder where a child faces difficulty in reading, writing, and comprehension.  Besides they may exhibit difficulty in decoding the words or with phonemic awareness, identifying individual sounds within words. 
  • Dysgraphia: If the child has trouble converting their thoughts into writing or drawing with poor handwriting, this is probably the problem. The child faces difficulty in translating their thoughts into words, in the form of spelling, grammar, critical thinking, or memory-related errors.  They do have trouble forming letter shapes; difficulty in following a line or staying within margins, difficulty in organizing or articulating thoughts on paper, and they face trouble with sentence structure when writing but not during speaking.  
  • Dyscalculia: The disability is mainly in performing mathematical calculations.  The child faces problems with math concepts, numbers, and reasoning. They may even face difficulty to read clocks to tell time, counting money, identifying patterns, and solving mental math
  • Dyspraxia: The child with this condition has a problem planning and executing tasks ranging from waving goodbye to getting dressed. They have abnormal posture, balance and movement issues, gait abnormalities, and poor hand-eye coordination. 
  • Auditory processing disorder: The child with this disorder faces problems in recognizing the sounds and separating sounds from background noise. 
  • Language processing disorder: The child has difficulty in giving meaning to sound groups to form words and sentences. 
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities: It mainly refers to the child’s inability to speak, and difficulty to decode nonverbal behaviors or social cues. Sometimes they struggle to understand body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

Visual processing disorder:  Such people struggle to see the differences between similar letters, numbers, objects, colors, shapes, and patterns.

Co-morbid Disorders:

  • ADHD: It is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood and the conditions make learning extremely challenging. It makes the child to lose control of their behavior and pay less attention as they lose focus on tasks easily. ADHD is of two types
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD: where the child faces trouble controlling their temper, non-stop talking, and constant fidgeting. 
  • Inattentive ADHD: They struggle in paying attention to a task at hand. They daydream a lot, process information slowly, become bored easily, and are poorly organized.
  • Executive Dysfunction: The child struggles with planning, problem-solving, organization, and time management. They even face difficulties in organizing, regulating emotions, and sticking with tasks. 
  • Autism: It is not a learning disability but the symptoms of it can seem similar. It causes sensory processing disorders, motor skill problems, clumsiness, poor handwriting, nonverbal learning disabilities, etc. 
  • Schizophrenia: It generally results in learning disability with learning deficits in different areas such as decreased attention, poor abstract thinking, poor planning, and problem-solving, poor memory, decreased verbal skills, and poor organizational skills.
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD): It is a lifelong condition that makes it difficult to learn motor skills and coordination. It is not considered a learning disorder but it can impact learning.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Learning Disability?

In order to overcome this disorder the first step to be followed is to identify it. The child has several related signs and it persists over time. Even the signs of learning disability vary from person to person. Following are the common signs

  • Difficulty with reading or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems with staying organized. 

Apart from this, the child with a learning disability will have one or more of the following

  • Difficulty staying on task (easily distracted)
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Immature way of speaking
  • Difficulty listening well
  • Problems dealing with new things in life.

Can Therapy Help to Resolve Learning Disabilities?

LD is a chronic condition and there is no medication or therapy whCoping with the challenges of learning can be difficult which in turn makes them more angry, frustrated, anxious, or stressed. For example, getting low scores, difficulty understanding the assignment, and other circumstances cause mental health issues to them.  As a result, emotional issues worsen the situation. So undergoing therapy will help to understand and manage the learning disability. Following are the therapies –

  • Occupational Therapy:  In this therapy, the therapist establishes effective routines and processes the information in an easy way for better understanding. They help to develop new skills for the child to actively participate in daily activities. 
  • Skills Training: This therapy is a combination of many other therapies or may be a part of an education plan at school. It mainly provides the child with certain strategies to manage the learning disability and participate in other activities. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: If the child is having a learning disability then CBT can help change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. It also provides solutions for anxiety or depression.
  • Family Therapy: If the family members understand and support the person with a learning disability, then it becomes easy for them to cope with their disability. 
  • Creative Arts Therapy: Exposure tomusic or art therapy can help a child to explore and express themselves nonverbally. 
  • Mindfulness Practices: If one practices mindfulness it can help the child with a learning disability as well as their parents to control their stress levels.
  • Client-Centred Therapy: This therapy can help the child or adult with any developmental disability including learning disabilities. 
  • Therapy groups/ Support groups: It can help children to learn interaction skills, which they might be lacking in the presence of a learning difficulty.

Learning disability means the child or adult may struggle to learn certain life skills. It is difficult to accept the child or adult having a learning disability. Since the parents don’t want their child to suffer, they are more worried about the child’s future or worry about their academic performance, etc.  

But the most important thing to note here is that a child with learning disabilities is as smart as everyone else, just that their brains are wired differently and this difference affects the way they receive and process information. They should be handled in their unique ways of learning styles which in turn pave the way for success at school and beyond.ich can increase the IQ of your child or an adult. However, there are different types of therapies that can be helpful in managing the symptoms.


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