Learning Disorders in Children

What is a learning disorder in children?

A learning disorder is when a child
has trouble learning in certain school subjects. Your child may have problems with
reading, math, or writing. His or her skill is below what is expected for the child’s
age, grade level, and intelligence. The problem is bad enough to interfere with school
or everyday activities.

What causes a learning disorder in a child?

Experts believe a learning disorder
happens because of a problem in the nervous system. The problem may be in the brain’s
structure. Or the chemicals in the brain may not work right. As a result, a child with a
learning disorder receives, processes, or communicates information in a different
way.

Which children are at risk for a learning disorder?

Learning disorders may run in families. They may also be linked to:

  • Problems during pregnancy
  • Problems during birth or early infancy
  • Other health conditions, such as ADHD
    (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)

What are the symptoms of a learning disorder in a child?

Each child’s symptoms may vary. Common symptoms are:

  • Reading disorder. A child reads below the expected level given his or her age, grade in school, and intelligence. Children with this problem read slowly and have trouble understanding what they read. They may have trouble with word recognition. They may confuse words that look alike. This disorder is sometimes called dyslexia.
  • Mathematics disorder. A child has problems with numbers. He or she may have trouble counting, copying numbers the right way, adding and carrying numbers, learning multiplication tables, and recognizing math symbols.
  • Disorder of written expression. A child has trouble with writing skills. He or she struggles with grammar and punctuation, spelling, paragraph organization, or written composition.

How is a learning disorder diagnosed in a child?

Parents or teachers may first spot
the signs of a learning disorder in a child. The child may often have trouble with:

  • Reading, spelling, writing, or doing
    math problems
  • Understanding or following
    directions
  • Telling right from left
  • Reversing letters or numbers. Examples
    are confusing b and d, or 12 and 21.

Before a mental health referral is
made, your child’s healthcare provider will want to rule out any other health problems.
Once this is done, a mental health provider can diagnose a learning disorder. This may
be a child psychiatrist or other mental health provider. He or she will talk with
parents and teachers. The child will also need educational and mental health
testing.

Public schools have a duty to check
children with certain learning problems. When it is appropriate, these schools must also
offer treatment. Check with your school to find out how to request an evaluation. An
evaluation identifies if your child has a learning disorder. It also finds learning
strengths and weaknesses. The results help decide on your child’s educational needs and
best placement at school.

A learning disability may greatly interfere with your child’s ability
to succeed in school. If so, then he or she may be eligible for certain protections and
reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504
of the Civil Rights Act. Talk with your child’s teacher or principal about how to get
more information.