Facts about learning disabilities
- Fifteen percent of the U.S. population, or one in seven Americans, has some type of learning disability, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Difficulty with basic reading and language skills are the most common learning disabilities. As many as 80% of students with learning disabilities have reading problems.
- Learning disabilities often run in families.
- Learning disabilities should not be confused with other disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, deafness, blindness, and behavioral disorders. None of these conditions are learning disabilities. In addition, they should not be confused with lack of educational opportunities like frequent changes of schools or attendance problems. Also, children who are learning English do not necessarily have a learning disability.
- Attention disorders, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities often occur at the same time, but the two disorders are not the same.
Common Signs of Learning Disabilities
The good news about learning disabilities is that scientists are learning more every day. Their research provides hope and direction.
If parents, teachers, and other professionals discover a child's learning disability early and provide the right kind of help, it can give the child a chance to develop skills needed to lead a successful and productive life. A recent National Institutes of Health study showed that 67 percent of young students who were at risk for reading difficulties became average or above average readers after receiving help in the early grades.
Parents are often the first to notice that "something doesn't seem right." If you are aware of the common signs of learning disabilities, you will be able to recognize potential problems early. The following is a checklist of characteristics that may point to a learning disability. Most people will, from time to time, see one or more of these warning signs in their children. This is normal. If, however, you see several of these characteristics over a long period of time, consider the possibility of a learning disability.
- Speaks later than most children
- Pronunciation problems
- Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word
- Difficulty rhyming words
- Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
- Extremely restless and easily distracted
- Trouble interacting with peers
- Difficulty following directions or routines
- Fine motor skills slow to develop
- Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
- Confuses basic words (run, eat, want)
- Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
- Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
- Slow to remember facts
- Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
- Impulsive, difficulty planning
- Unstable pencil grip
- Trouble learning about time
- Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents
- Reverses letter sequences (soiled/solid, left/felt)
- Slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies
- Avoids reading aloud
- Trouble with word problems
- Difficulty with handwriting
- Awkward, fist-like, or tight pencil grip
- Avoids writing assignments
- Slow or poor recall of facts
- Difficulty making friends
- Trouble understanding body language and facial expressions
High School Students and Adults
- Continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells the same word differently in a single piece of writing
- Avoids reading and writing tasks
- Trouble summarizing
- Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
- Weak memory skills
- Difficulty adjusting to new settings
- Works slowly
- Poor grasp of abstract concepts
- Either pays too little attention to details or focuses on them too much
- Misreads information
Get Help Early
It is scary to admit that your child is struggling to learn. Research tells us that parents fear that their child may be “labeled for life” if he or she is identified as having a learning disability. Please know that you are not alone. Consider that at least 2.7 million children are receiving help in school because of a learning disability. The National Institutes of Health even estimate that one of every seven Americans (15 percent) has some degree of learning disability.
It is very important that you seek help as soon as you realize your child is having difficulty learning. Seeking help – and certainly recognizing the early signs of a learning disability – can mean the difference between success and failure for your child in school.
Most learning disabilities affect reading and language skills. In fact, a significant majority of students with a learning disability have problems with reading. If these children receive appropriate help in the early grades, most of them will become skilled, independent readers. When help is delayed, it becomes harder and harder for children to catch up.
Perhaps the most important reason to seek help early is to spare children the frustration and failure they experience when they don’t do well in school and don’t know why. You must help your child understand that he or she simply learns differently.
Why get help immediately?
- 80% of students with a learning disability have trouble reading.
- 90% percent will read normally if they receive help by the first grade.
- 75% percent of children who receive help after the age of nine will have some difficulty throughout life.
What should I do first?
- Trust your intuition! No one knows your child better than you, so if you suspect a real problem, speak to teachers and other school personnel, seek information and expert opinions, and do not be afraid to have him or her evaluated right away.
- Meet with your child’s teacher and guidance counselor. They can tell you how well your child interacts with his or her peers, as well as help to arrange a full evaluation of how well your child is performing in school.
- Know your legal rights and responsibilities. Learn about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If you prefer to have information shared in a language other than English, be sure to ask for a summary of your rights and evaluations in your native language.
- Observe your child’s strengths and interests. Encourage him or her at school and at play, and reward your child for the many things he or she does well.
- Realize that you are not alone and that experienced people and groups have information and help for you right now.
- Learn as much as you can. The more you know about learning disabilities, the more you can help your child.
Talk to your child about learning disabilities
Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently. It is not easy to talk with your child about a disability that you do not fully understand. Be informed. It is important to be honest and optimistic-explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn.
Focus on your child's talents and strengths. Tell them you are confident that with effort and the right help they will be able to meet the challenge and succeed!