When a new school year starts, many parents jump for joy over the fact that summer ends and their children go back to the classroom. But some other parents experience feelings of trepidation. For them, the school year can be a struggle because their kids have learning disabilities.
In the United States there are over four million children who have one or more learning disorders, and almost three million of them take part in special education services at their school. These valuable services help kids who feel overwhelmed in a regular classroom by implementing specialized teaching methods that not only help them learn successfully but also boost their self-esteem.
When children are young and just starting school, it’s not always easy to recognize that they have a learning disability, and it’s not uncommon for these kids to be labeled as underachievers or lazy. That’s why it’s important for parents and teachers to recognize the signals of learning disorders and have children tested so they can get the assistance they need early in life.
Fortunately, these days educators, medical professionals, and parents are working together to tackle the stigma surrounding learning disabilities. By recognizing common learning difficulties, helping the kids who are experiencing them, and giving them the attention they need to do better in school, the classroom can be a better experience for all the students, the teachers, and the parents.
What is a learning disability?
“Learning disability” is a broad term that encompasses many different types of learning difficulties, disorders, or disabilities.
People with learning disabilities typically have a different way of seeing, hearing, and understanding language or written information than others. This may be due to a dysfunction in the way their brain receives, processes, remembers and communicates information.
These brain dysfunctions often cause problems when children are trying to learn new information and skills – like everything that’s going on at school! Depending on the type of learning disability, they may have trouble reading, writing, solving math problems, thinking logically, listening, or speaking. In other words, they’re probably having a tough time keeping up with their fellow students in a conventional classroom.
Different age groups may have different signs of learning disabilities. For example, a preschool child might have trouble learning the alphabet, colors, or shapes; or they can’t button a shirt or zip their pants. A child in elementary school might not be able to spell or tell time well. And kids who are in their early teens often have trouble with reading comprehension, poor handwriting, or can’t follow a classroom discussion.
When parents and teachers learn more about some common learning disabilities, they can get help for a child or student before they fall behind or lose self-confidence in the classroom.
Probably the most well-known type of learning disability is dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. In fact, the word “dyslexia” comes from the Greek words “dys” meaning difficulty, and “lexia” which means wording.
In the United States, statistics show that one out of every five students has a learning disability that is language-based, and 20 percent of elementary students struggle with reading.
People who are dyslexic typically have a dysfunction in the part of the brain that processes language. They often have issues with reading because they find it difficult to identify speech sounds and understand their relation to letters and words – a process called decoding.
Some typical symptoms of dyslexia in school-aged children include:
- Delayed speech
- Below-average reading levels
- Trouble with spelling
- Taking a long time to do reading and/or writing assignments
- Difficulty learning a foreign language
While no one has found a cure for dyslexia yet, if children are assessed and helped early, they do well in school and go on to have successful lives and careers.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause a child to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and/or more socially dysfunctional depending on the type of ADHD they have.
No one knows what the exact cause of this common disorder is, but medical professionals recognize that there are some factors like genetics, environment, and developmental problems that can trigger ADHD.
It’s very common for children with unrecognized ADHD to be disciplined in school for misbehaving. However, if parents or teachers recognize the common symptoms of ADHD, children can get the care they need to overcome the symptoms caused by the condition.
Some common signs of ADHD in children and teens are:
- The inability to sit still and/or difficulty staying quiet and paying attention
- A lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Easily distracted
- Taking risks
- Difficulty sticking to or finishing a task
- Poor organizational skills
- Emotional outbursts
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, your physician can recommend treatment like behavioral therapy or medication to manage the symptoms.
Dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dysphasia
Again, thanks to the ancient Greeks we have names for four more common learning disabilities:
Dyscalculia means difficulty with calculating. Kids with this type of learning disorder usually have trouble doing mathematics problems, reading a clock, understanding time, and using money.
Dysgraphia means difficulty with writing. Children who have dysgraphia often have trouble with their handwriting, spelling, and organizing skills.
Dyspraxia means difficulty with fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination, balance, and dexterity. It is also known as Sensory Integration Disorder.
Dysphasia means difficulty with language. With this type of learning disorder, children often have a hard time understanding spoken English and have difficulty with reading comprehension.
Where to look for help
Even if your child has symptoms of a learning disability, it doesn’t make it so. It’s vital to meet with a qualified professional who can evaluate them and make a diagnosis. Some specialists who test and diagnose learning disabilities are:
- Clinical, School, Child, Educational, and Developmental psychologists
- Occupational therapists
- Speech and language therapists
If a specialist reaches a diagnosis of a learning disability, you should work closely with educational professionals and your child’s school. Most schools today offer special education classes that help children learn successfully.
If you have a child or are the teacher of a child with a learning disability, your support and encouragement as their teacher or parent are priceless gifts. To help them in school and at home, do research about the learning disability they have, discover what treatments and services are available, and acknowledge the child’s strengths and interests to boost their self-confidence during their school years and throughout life.
The film I Can’t Do This, but I Can Do That on DIRECTV STREAM depicts children talking about their experiences living and dealing with learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder, and auditory processing disorder. Films like these prove how kids may struggle in school and life before their diagnosis but, with the help and support of teachers and families, they can succeed and flourish.