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Mental Health

Identifying Signs Of Learning Disability And Getting A Diagnosis

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By Geetika Kumar
11 Mar'22  10 min read
Identifying Signs Of Learning Disability And Getting A Diagnosis

Every child can have problems learning from time to time, and parents are often the first to notice. Some learning problems come and go. But if they seem to persist, it’s important for parents to communicate with their child’s teachers and other caregivers about their learning difficulties. More information is always good to have when preparing to make important decisions that help children succeed across all areas of learning and behaviour. This article will help you identify signs and symptoms of learning disorders and different types of learning disabilities and how to deal with them.

Read more
Identifying Signs Of Learning Disability And Getting A Diagnosis

Every child can have problems learning from time to time, and parents are often the first to notice. Some learning problems come and go. But if they seem to persist, it’s important for parents to communicate with their child’s teachers and other caregivers about their learning difficulties. More information is always good to have when preparing to make important decisions that help children succeed across all areas of learning and behaviour. This article will help you identify signs and symptoms of learning disorders and different types of learning disabilities and how to deal with them.

Read more

As a millennial, I remember that the disregard for reading and writing, the hate for solving maths problems, the haste in finishing writing pieces, and the apparently carefree attitude of not wanting to comprehend and execute multiple instructions, was often dealt with a stick. However, less was known then about learning difficulties. and scientific studies pointed out that the inability to do those particular tasks was somehow, somewhere related to our inability to executive functions.

Learning Disability (LD), often referred to as hidden disability, is a neurological disorder resulting from the differences in the way a person’s brain is wired. Individuals usually are assessed as being learning disabled after they start having problems in school. These individuals face difficulties in reading, writing, reasoning and recalling. In fact, they often find it difficult to focus on one activity because they may be attention deficit, hyperactive and easily distractible. They have language processing difficulties and find it challenging to understand and interpret oral and visual messages. They often reverse similar-looking numbers and alphabets. The different types of disability can cause these individuals to have an average level of fine motor coordination, lacking organisational skills and an unclear sense of left-right and up-down orientation. Struggling to cope with multiple issues on a daily basis, children with learning disabilities suffer from a lot of pain at emotional, social and behavioural levels. This often interferes with their academic performance and has psychosocial repercussions.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is a mixed bag of disorders causing impairment in cognitive processing. SLD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has biological foundations and manifests in the absence of intellectual disability, neurological flaws or environmental deficiency. SLD usually manifests in the early years of life, though in later years, it often shows up as a common problem when academic performance demands hard work. For SLD to be diagnosed, impairment should be present in personal history, school report and psychological assessment, and symptoms of learning disability should be persistent for at least six months as per the criteria.

Effects Of Specific Learning Disorder

Specific learning disorders can have negative functional consequences across different phases in life. This may include poor grades, not completing high school education, not getting enrolled in postsecondary education, going through psychological distress and compromised mental health, unemployment and lower incomes. School dropout along with comorbid depressive symptoms leads to higher chances for poor mental health outcomes, including suicidality, whereas high levels of social or emotional support predict better mental health outcomes.

The First Line Of Action

The onset, recognition, and diagnosis of the Specific Learning Disorder usually occur during the elementary school years when children are required to learn to read, spell, write and learn. Specific Learning Disorder endures for a lifetime, but its growth and clinical appearance are variable, in few ways dependent on the interactions between the tasks demanded by the environment, the particular types of learning disabilities, the individual’s learning abilities, the level and severity of the individual’s learning difficulties, comorbidities, and the available support systems, safety nets and intervention. However, problems with reading, writing and number skills in everyday life continue into adulthood.

Consult with the class teacher and other subject teachers if they find similar red flags in the child’s performance and behaviour. Make sure that the school your child is studying in has a qualified counsellor and special educator who can help you to figure out a further course of action, which includes taking the child through some psychological assessments, diagnosing, and the treatment of learning disability along with other comorbidities.

Advantages Of Early Checks And Intervention

Academic: Early screening can lead to in-time acknowledgement of learning difficulties and characteristics that might indicate a risk for a disorder of learning and/or attention. In young children, neural pathways for information processing are still being formed, which means that early experiences, interventions, and treatment of learning disability can have a huge influence on students when they are younger. Early screening can result in children getting required coaching sooner, and preventing them from lagging behind.

Social and emotional: Early screening is the most powerful tool for an accurate diagnosis. It gives a rational explanation if the child has a learning disability or not. The concerned problems can then be managed accordingly along with a psychoeducation and management plan.

Early screening may prevent children from being wrongly identified as having a learning disability or rather, being labelled. Early identification and addressing of needs gives the children enough time to progress at their own pace, and yet not lag behind. Unluckily, the stigma that is associated with being tagged as having a learning disability might lead to substance abuse, anxiety, depression and bullying in some cases.

Economic: The benefits of early screening outweigh their cost. Effective early screening gives you an advantage economically, given the high costs associated with remediation and the treatment of learning disability, as well as psychological or medical and psychiatric problems (e.g. depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic conditions related to academic stress) that can result from a delay in addressing the students’ needs early. In some cases, the stigma tied to having an LD causes the children to indulge in anti-social behaviours, thereby further giving rise to unemployment.

The presence of a learning disability requires intervention. Intervention needs to be specialised and individualised for each child, and co-morbidities need to be treated medically. A multidisciplinary approach for the treatment of learning disabilities is needed and should encompass various professionals including developmental paediatric, child psychologist, psychiatrist, paediatric neurologist, occupational therapist and social worker. The involvement of school and family in the care is unquestionable. Psychoeducation of the family is of utmost importance and has proven to be helpful when integrated with a management plan. Including technological assistance like various educational apps and word processors aid in the learning process for individuals with different types of learning disabilities.

Some Help For Parents And Educators

We can use a simple approach to explain LD using words and examples that children understand and remember. The language that an educator and/or a parent uses to talk to their children about LD is important. Metaphors are used to describe complicated brain operations so that children understand what an LD is, how it makes learning difficult, and how they can help themselves to function well in all aspects.

First Step: Teaching How Learning Takes Place

Explain to the child that all learning happens in the brain. Everything we know now and will learn in the future happens by absorbing the information around us. Information is brought into the brain through elaborate systems of particular mechanisms travelling on pathways throughout the brain.

Instead of using the specific terms for these real systems, talk about them as vehicles on roads. “The brain is made up of millions of imaginary roads with millions of pretend vehicles travelling at high speed. These vehicles transport information to different parts of the brain. You know what your father's voice sounds like because that information was sent in a car to a distinct place in your brain that keeps that information whenever it is needed.

There are compartments in your brain and each compartment holds different kinds of information. We can call these areas in the brain ‘garages’. There are garages for information on comprehension, computation, and so much more. When new things are learnt, it is like the information travels inside cars on highways, heading toward specific garages. In the same way, when one wants to get the information one learned a while ago, it's like a car goes to that specific garage, picks up the appropriate information, and drives it on highways to transport it to the areas you need it.

types of learning disabilities, learning disorders, learning disability symptoms, signs of learning disabilityNote- Image is for representational purposes only

These cars run at the fastest pace because there are no impediments like speed bumps or stop signs to get in their way. It can take a car less time to pick up information from a garage and carry the information to where it needs to go. This takes less time than blinking your eyes!

Second Step: What Is Learning Disability Like

“When one has a learning disability some of the highways in your brain have traffic jams. Only certain highways that are affected by learning disability have traffic jams.

When vehicles wait in traffic jams, the time taken to reach home is unknown. Many times the traffic moves quickly, while sometimes it takes too long a time!

When one has an LD, being stuck in traffic on your roads to the reading, writing or maths garages can feel very annoying. Recall being stuck in a real traffic jam while going to school or for a birthday party. Was it an enjoyable experience to sit in traffic? Were you irritated? Fuming? Tired? Upset? Bothered? Or you just didn't care? You undoubtedly got to where you needed to go, but it just took a longer time.

Many problems can be caused by traffic jams. When you try to do maths, different mathematical operations might confuse you, multiplying numbers instead of adding them up, or arranging the numbers for subtraction problems in a specific order, which would otherwise lead to incorrect answers. When you have a reading LD, attempts to pronounce the letters of a story can take a while. It is because the traffic is blocking the roads going to the reading garage (memory storage for words), and the vehicles are moving slowly. Sometimes there might be confusion of sounds for some letters like p and q, and you might make up wrong sounds or you might give up completely, either because you get uncomfortable, or are too tired to stretch it. Even storytelling can be a problem because of the sequencing causing the traffic jams. Sometimes, one says things like "um," "one second," "that thing," or "I know it" because one can't find the right words to explain oneself.”

Third Step: Helping The Child Understand Their Potential

There are countless trials when one has LD. The good news is that there are behaviours and actions that special education teachers or tutors can teach you to make learning easier and faster. We can call these tricks, ‘footpaths'. “Using footpaths helps your cars get to where they need to get quicker.

A thing worth remembering is that these side roads are impulsive and irregular; sometimes they are the fastest to get to where they need to go, and sometimes they take a longer time than usual because of obstacles like animals, slow-moving vehicles and speed bumps. One just never knows what will happen on the footpath. That means that even if you use a footpath when you are calculating a sum, you may still make mistakes. But taking a footpath is always quicker than getting stuck in traffic.

Constant use of footpaths over and over again means that the tasks that were difficult to carry out, like calculations, get much easier and fewer mistakes are made. Using footpaths inspires one to find newer ways. Maybe that's why so many successful people in creative and sports fields have learning disabilities.

Everything that makes you smart is in your brain. All parts are intact. The only difference between a brain that has LD and one that doesn't have an LD is that an LD brain gets traffic jams on a few highways. This means that it takes your car longer to travel to information garages. But, they do get there eventually.

As parents and facilitators, the first thing we need to do is accept the problems these children face and then provide them with the right intervention and support. Do not hesitate in seeking help from a professional if you or your child needs support.

Geetika Kumar is a Counselling and Rehabilitation psychologist accredited with the Rehabilitation Council of India. She specialises in child psychology and has extensive experience working with special children with intellectual disability, ADHD, autism and other related issues.

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