A learning disorder is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to acquire and use academic skills, such as reading and calculating. Learning disorders aren’t the same as mental or physical disabilities, and don’t reflect a child’s intelligence. Instead, learning disorders affect a child’s ability to complete a task or use certain skills, particularly in school.
The most common learning disorders include:
- Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading, spelling and recalling known words.
- Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder related to math concepts. Signs include difficulty solving even simple math problems or sequencing information or events.
- Nonverbal learning disability. This learning disorder is characterized by difficulty with nonverbal cues, such as coordination and body language.
- Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty with handwriting, spelling, and thinking and writing at the same time.
Some children might have more than one learning disorder.
What Causes Learning Disorder
Factors that might influence the development of learning disorders include:
- Genetics. Some learning disorders, such as reading and math disorders, are hereditary.
- Medical conditions. Poor growth in the uterus (severe intrauterine growth restriction), exposure to alcohol or drugs before being born, and very-low birthweight are risk factors that have been linked with learning disorders. Head injuries might also play a role in the development of learning disorders.
- Environmental exposure. Exposure to high levels of lead has been linked to an increased risk of learning disorders.
Identifying Learning Disorder
Identifying a learning disorder can be difficult. Your child might have a learning disorder if he or she:
- Has difficulty understanding and following instructions
- Has trouble remembering what someone just told him or her
- Lacks coordination in walking, sports or skills such as holding a pencil
- Easily loses or misplaces homework, school books or other items
- Has difficulty understanding the concept of time
- Resists doing homework or activities that involve reading, writing or math, or consistently can’t complete homework assignments without significant help
- Acts out or shows defiance, hostility or excessive emotional reactions at school or while doing academic activities, such as homework or reading
If your child has a learning disorder, your child’s doctor or school might recommend:
- Extra help. A reading specialist, math tutor or other trained professional can teach your child techniques to improve his or her academic skills. Tutors can also teach children organizational and study skills.
- Individualized education program (IEP). Your child’s school might develop an IEP for your child to create a plan for how he or she can best learn in school. Find out if your state has legislation regarding IEPs.
- Therapy. Depending on the learning disorder, some children might benefit from therapy. For example, speech therapy can help children who have language disabilities. Occupational therapy might help improve the motor skills of a child who has writing problems.
- Medication. Your child’s doctor might recommend medication to lessen the toll of a learning disorder. If your child has depression or severe anxiety, certain medications might help. Talk to your child’s doctor about the risks and benefits.
- Complementary and alternative medicine. Some research shows that complementary and alternative treatments, such as music therapy, can benefit children who have learning disorders. Further research is needed, however.