Learning about Learning Disabilities

Learning About Learning Disabilities



Dyslexia represents the most diagnosed and common learning disabilities. In the United States, NIH research has shown that dyslexia affects 20%, or 1 in every 5 people. 1 Some people may have more mild forms, while others may experience it more severely. Dyslexia is one of the most common cause of reading difficulties in elementary school children because only 1 in 10 dyslexics will qualify for an IEP and special education that will allow them to get the help in reading that they need. Professionals such as speech-language pathologists who have in-depth training can accurately diagnose dyslexia as early as age 5. 2 While dyslexia is a lifelong learning disability, early and effective intervention can help a student keep-up and retain his grade level in school, as well as minimize the negative effects dyslexia can have such as low self-esteem. 3


Dyscalculia refers to a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math. There is no single type of math disability. Dyscalculia can vary from person to person, and it affects people differently at different stages of life. Work-around strategies and accommodations help lessen the obstacles that dyscalculia presents. And just like in the area of reading, math LD is not a prescription for failure. 4 The prevalence of developmental dyscalculia is 5 to 6% in the school-aged population and is as common in girls as in boys. Dyscalculia can occur as a consequence of prematurity and low birthweight and is frequently encountered in a variety of neurologic disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental language disorder, epilepsy, and fragile X syndrome. 5


Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting, and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia might have trouble organizing letters, numbers, and words on a line or page. 6 In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite thorough instruction. Children with the disorder may have other learning disabilities. Treatment for dysgraphia varies and may include treatment for motor disorders to help control writing movements. Other treatments may address impaired memory or other neurological problems and individuals with dysgraphia use computers to avoid the problems of handwriting. 7


Executive Functioning is something that many people with LD struggle with, which can make activities like planning, organizing, strategizing, remembering details, and managing time and space difficult. Problems with executive function — a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action — can be seen at any age and often contribute to the challenges individuals with LD face in academic learning. 8


AD/HD and LD are not the same thing, but AD/HD certainly can interfere with learning and behavior. About one-third of people with LD have AD/HD. 9 People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. Although ADHD can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed and some symptoms may improve as the child ages. In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. No single treatment is the answer for every child and good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way. 10


Kids with NLD are very verbal, and may not have academic problems until they get into the upper grades in school.  Often their biggest problem is with social skills.
NLD is very like Asperger Syndrome (AS).  AS and NLD are generally thought to describe pretty much the same kind of disorder, but to differ in severity—with AS describing more severe symptoms. 11 Nonverbal learning disabilities can be tricky to recognize and diagnose. Children with this disorder are unable to recognize and translate nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions or tone of voice, into meaningful information. Because of this, these children are sometimes mislabeled as emotionally disturbed because of their inappropriate responses to nonverbal stimuli. 12


It is important to emphasize that APD is an auditory deficit that is not the result of other higher-order cognitive, language, or related disorder. Children with APD may exhibit a variety of listening and related complaints. For example, they may have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions, and discriminating (or telling the difference between) similar-sounding speech sounds. Sometimes they may behave as if a hearing loss is present, often asking for repetition or clarification. In school, children with APD may have difficulty with spelling, reading, and understanding information presented verbally in the classroom. Often their performance in classes that don’t rely heavily on listening is much better, and they typically are able to complete a task independently once they know what is expected of them. APD cannot be diagnosed from a symptoms checklist. No matter how many symptoms of APD a child may have, only careful and accurate diagnostics can determine the underlying cause. It is important to understand that there is not one, sure-fire, cure-all method of treating APD. Treatment of APD generally focuses on three primary areas: changing the learning or communication environment, recruiting higher-order skills to help compensate for the disorder, and remediation of the auditory deficit itself. 13


The diagnostic category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) refers to a group of disorders characterized by delays in the development of socialization and communication skills. Parents may note symptoms as early as infancy, although the typical age of onset is before 3 years of age. Symptoms may include problems with using and understanding language; difficulty relating to people, objects, and events; unusual play with toys and other objects; difficulty with changes in routine or familiar surroundings, and repetitive body movements or behavior patterns. Medications are used to address specific behavioral problems; therapy for children with PDD should be specialized according to need. Some children with PDD benefit from specialized classrooms in which the class size is small and instruction is given on a one-to-one basis. Others function well in standard special education classes or regular classes with additional support. Early intervention including appropriate and specialized educational programs and support services plays a critical role in improving the outcome of individuals with PDD. 14


  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dyslexia/dyslexia.htm
  2. University of Michigan | http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/dyslexics/learn-about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/debunking-common-myths-about-dyslexia
  3. University of Michigan | http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/dyslexics/learn-about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/debunking-common-myths-about-dyslexia
  4. National Center for Learning Disabilities | http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia
  5. J Child Neurol, “Developmental Dyscalculia”, PubMed (2004):765-761 | http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15559892
  6. National Center for Learning Disabilities | http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia
  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dysgraphia/dysgraphia.htm
  8. National Center for Learning Disabilities | http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/executive-function-disorders
  9. National Center for Learning Disabilities | http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/adhd-related-issues/adhd
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/
  11. University of Michigan Health System | http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/nld.htm
  12. LD Online | http://www.ldonline.org/indepth/nonverbal
  13. Teri James Bellis, PhD, CCC-A, “Understanding Auditory Processing Disorders in Children”,American Speech-Language-Hearing Association | http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Understanding-Auditory-Processing-Disorders-in-Children/
  14. National Institue of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/pdd/pdd.htm