Learning disabilities comprise various forms of neurological disorders that affect the processing of information. There are multiple symptoms and signs that differ from one disorder to another, and usually affect learning writing, math, and reading. An individual may also have difficulty with time planning, attention, abstract reasoning, organization, and short and long-term memory.
Learning disabilities can be diagnosed at any point along a student’s academic path, from kindergarten to college and beyond. They can impact relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Learning disabilities are often called “hidden” disabilities because those affected are usually of average or above average intelligence, and appear to be intellectually normal despite their inability to keep pace with their age mates.
Learning disabilities are neurological and include
Dyslexia is characterized by difficulty in decoding and spelling. Although there are differences in severity, symptoms usually include problems with decoding, spelling, reading fluency, and writing. Many students with dyslexia have difficulty sustaining attention while reading, and can exhibit problems with expressive language skills.
This is the formal name for difficulties in learning and understanding math and numerical facts (informally known as math learning disability). Individuals have severe difficulties understanding arithmetical calculations, sequencing information, concepts of place value, quantity, number lines, positive and negative value, carrying and borrowing, and word problems.
The ability to understand non-verbal cues such as body language is important for social as well as academic reasons. Students with nonverbal learning disability–sometimes accompanied by poor coordination–tend to be relatively strong in understanding auditory/receptive language, but can have problems processing visual symbols, including letters and numbers. When such processing isn’t automatic, reading, writing, and mathematical learning become far more challenging.
Language is first mastered orally/expressively and auditorily. Literacy is learned and developed once oral/expressive and receptive/auditory language are mastered. Language-based learning issues can be traced back to foundational cracks in either the individual’s expressive, receptive, reading, and/or written development, and almost always manifest themselves through uneven literacy development.
When an individual, eight years or older, is unable to distinguish sounds or words from background noise, auditory processing disorder is a likely diagnosis. However, an examination by an audiologist, along with a neuropsychological and speech-language evaluation must be performed to rule in or out attentional difficulties and/or language disorder (sometimes referred to as “language processing disorder”).
Dysgraphia impairs fine motor skills and the ability to write as well as one’s peers. Symptoms include illegible handwriting, poor spelling, inconsistent spatial planning on paper, and difficulty thinking and writing simultaneously. Students with dysgraphia need more time, and use more mental energy, when producing written work.
Learning disabilities are lifelong problems that are best managed through the collective efforts of the child, parents, teachers, family, friends, and colleagues. These disorders demand timely support and interventions customized to the individual. As her or she ages, and their learning environment changes, this dynamic process must be well understood by everyone involved.