Learning about learning disabilities

With so many kids in remote school, parents are now the on-site eyes and ears of the teachers.

When it comes to how we learn, teachers are often the first to notice a learning difference. As parents who oversee remote school activities, you may be the first to notice that your child is having difficulty with a particular assignment. You may see tears of frustration when presented with a task that other classmates seem to manage easily. Sometimes it’s just a matter of learning something new. But if you see the same problem across different assignments, it may be a learning disability.

Every child is different and they all seem to have their own way of picking up new skills. Some learn better when they hear the information then put it into practice, others must see the information and then hear it again for reinforcement, and still others are very hands on learners. One child may easily pick up the idea of addition by playing with blocks while the child next to him needs to see the numbers and how they relate on paper to understand. This is completely normal.

Learning disabilities are problems that kids may have reading, writing, doing math or understanding directions. With a learning disability, a child has a different way of seeing, hearing or understanding. This makes reading, focusing and studying a challenge.

There are four main types of learning disabilities:

  • Dyspraxia which refers to motor skills. If your child has problems with writing or eye movements when reading they may have this disorder. Children with dyspraxia also may have a sensitivity to light, touch, taste or smell.
  • Dyslexia which refers to how language is processed. This makes reading and writing difficult and causes problems with grammar and comprehension. Children with this disorder may also have problems putting thoughts together when speaking or coming up with the right word.
  • Dysgraphia refers to a neurological learning disorder that affects handwriting and spelling. Children with dysgraphia also have problems putting thoughts on paper.
  • Dyscalculia refers to problems with math. Beyond the usual complaints, children with dyscalculia have difficulty counting and recognizing numbers. This turns into problems solving math problems and memorizing multiplication tables.

Some of the first signs of a learning disability appear in preschool. When small children have problems learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, colors or shapes, it could be a sign that they are struggling with a disability. In addition, a preschool child might have difficulty finding the right word or rhyming words together. They may struggle to control pencils, crayons or scissors. They may also have problems buttoning, zipping or typing. And while very young children all struggle in these areas, when there is a learning disability the other children begin to do better while the child who struggles is left behind. This causes problems getting along with the other children.

A learning disability looks like a child has a gap between what they can do and what they are doing. You may hear a parent or teacher say, “He has so much potential, I don’t understand why his grades are so poor.” Even though they may have problems in certain areas, research has found that people with learning disabilities actually have average or above average intelligence. They are perfectly capable of learning the same information, just in a different way.

If you think your child may have a learning disability, you may want to ask your teacher for a referral for your child to be tested. Children with learning disabilities will test well on an intelligence test (IQ) but will have lower scores on a standard achievement test for math, reading or writing. For example, your child might get a 115 on an IQ test but only score an 85 on a reading test. That difference in scores is a clue that a learning disability may be present.

Once the learning disability is confirmed, you’ll want to find ways to help your child learn differently. Ask your school for special education support with the disability. Schools are required to help your child at no additional cost. In some cases you may want to have an individual education plan (IEP) to help your child with learning situations that present challenges. For example, your child may need extra time taking a test due to reading difficulties.

Many people in all walks of life have learning disabilities. Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, suffers from dyspraxia and Orlando Bloom is dyslexic. People can learn to live with the disability and go on to greatness just like Albert Einstein, who was reported to have dyscalculia and dysgraphia. The sooner you, or a teacher, identify that there is a learning disability, the better for your child. Early intervention will help your child develop coping skills that will help her learn and make school work a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

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