What is a learning disability?
Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities / Treatment of learning disabilities
Learning is an essential part of childhood development. However, some children struggle to learn for a variety of reasons: poor concentration, difficulty remembering things, difficulty communicating or reasoning. Learning disabilities, also called learning disorders or learning difficulties, are a group of disorders that lead to significant difficulties in listening, speaking, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities, which are not reflective of the child’s general ability.
In Australia, it is estimated that 2-3 children in every classroom have a learning disability. Learning disabilities differ from developmental disabilities where physical or intellectual functioning is impaired. Learning disabilities are when the difficulty in learning cannot be explained by intelligence, lack of schooling opportunities or physical impairment. Often a child will have a specific learning disability and only one area is affected (e.g. difficulty learning maths, but reading and writing are developmentally normal).
Children with learning disabilities receive and process sensory information differently than other children, which affects their ability to learn. Research indicates there is no one cause of learning disorders, however, it is not caused by parenting style.
Signs and symptoms of a learning disability
Learning disabilities are not as obvious as physical disabilities and most are not diagnosed until the child starts school. In some children, parents may notice that their child is delayed in meeting early milestones and/or a paediatrician may see signs of minor neurological damage. However, for most children with a learning disorder, it is not noticed until they are at school and have consistent difficulties with reading, writing or maths at school.
This doesn’t mean parents should panic at the first sign that a developmental milestone is delayed. Some children do develop more slowly than others do. However, if a milestone is already long delayed and there is a history of learning disabilities in the family, or if the child seems delayed in several areas, then you should seek professional help. A child psychologist or psychiatrist uses psychological tests to assess for a learning disability and eliminate any other causes of the developmental delay or learning difficulty.
If you think your child has a learning disability, you need to seek professional help. Select Counsellors can help you find a child psychologist who is the best fit for you and your child
What causes learning disabilities?
There are many theories as to the cause of learning disabilities. Learning disabilities run in families, however, it is not always the specific learning disability (e.g. reading disability), but rather a genetic tendency towards developing a learning disability. It is also unclear what the influence of genetics versus shared familial environment is on the development of a learning disorder.
Some researchers proposed that disruption during the final stages of foetal brain development when the parts of the brain are becoming specialised may cause learning disabilities. Toxins such as drugs (e.g. tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs) or environmental toxins (e.g. lead or cadmium) have also been found to cause learning disabilities.
Effects of learning disabilities
The main effect of a learning disability if it is not diagnosed and treated is delays in learning. For some this can mean not learning to read, write or simply maths. If this remains undiagnosed, this can lead to academic failure, disruptive behaviours at school, school drop-out, and unemployment and social problems in adulthood. The potentially isolating effect of learning disability can lead to increase depression. The families of a child with a learning disorder are also affected by increased stress levels in the household and difficulties understanding or communicating with their child.
Treatment of learning disabilities
Children with a learning disability do have a capacity to learn despite the disability. Most treatments for learning disabilities involve changes to the environment the child learns in or to the way information is conveyed to the child:
Provide a quiet, distraction free area for learning
Present information in small units, adjusting the timeframes to enable the child to read at their own pace
Phonics training, where sounds are linked to the letters
Reward learning and develop other non-academic areas (e.g. sport or art)
For those with visual distortion symptoms, the use of coloured overlays can significantly improve reading and comprehension
Helping your child with a learning disability
While learning disabilities are a lifelong condition, with appropriate treatment and intervention most can achieve academically and go on to successful jobs in adulthood. However, early diagnosis and treatment is essential for a better outcome.Appropriate diagnosis is the first step towards helping your child. If you believe your child may have a learning disability seek help from a professional.
Did you realise research has shown that the relationship between your child and their therapist is one of the most important elements for a successful outcome? How do you know if the therapist you find will be the best fit for you and your child?
Select Counsellors provides a unique client counsellor matching service to ensure you see the right therapist for your child, first time. We have a pool of highly trained Sydney based counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists and will match you with the right therapist based on important information collected in a personalised assessment about your child and their needs. At Select Counsellors our key priority is Finding you the One. To book an assessment click here or call on 1300 123 680 to speak in person with a Select Counsellor.
Click on the links below to find out more information on child behaviour and development:
The Helpful Guide