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Introduction to Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities affect a person's ability to interpret what they see and hear. Scroll down to learn more about learning disabilities, the lifelong challenge, the importance of early intervention, and what a parent can do.

What is a Learning Disability?

Learning disabilities affect a person's ability to interpret what they see and hear. The eyes and ears function correctly, but the brain cannot process the information effectively to understand it. Studies estimate that between 5 and 20 percent of the general population has some form of learning disability.

In every classroom of 30 students, between one and six students may not learn as easily as their peers. We're not talking about students with below average intelligence, students who are immature or lazy, or those with problems at home that distract them from learning. Rather, these are students who find the very task of learning to be a challenge comparable to climbing Mount Everest.

Learning disabilities can be compounded by an inability to pay attention to a particular task or assignment. This condition is known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADD often pay attention to everything at once, instead of focusing on a specific task.

Learning disabilities may also be masked by areas of gifted ability. A child may be able to do algebra problems at the 8th or 9th grade level, yet be at the 2nd grade level in reading skill. Or, the student may be a talented artist but have totally illegible handwriting.

A Life-Long Challenge that CAN Be Won

Current research indicates that both ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities are lifelong, neurologically-based differences which can range from mild to severe.The difference in achievement among individuals with learning disabilities depends on the severity of the disability, the effectiveness of early intervention, and attitude of the family toward overcoming or compensating for the disability.

Early Intervention is Important

Like all disabilities, learning disabilities have a profound effect on the family. These families go through the same loss and grieving process as families who discover they have a child with a physical challenge.

Parents of children with learning disabilities want their children to be normal. Because learning disabilities are usually not visible physically, it is easy to deny the existence of a problem and just wait for the child to mature.

However, new studies show that the earlier the intervention begins, the more quickly a child learns to read and write. In addition, if a learning disability is addressed early, the student may avoid the social, emotional, and educational problems caused by repeated failure. (Foorman,

What Should Parents Do?

What should you do if your child is falling behind in school and you suspect your child has a learning disability?
  • Don't wait !
  • Seek medical advice from your pediatrician, speech therapist, or child psychologist.
  • Learn all you can about your child's disability.
  • Request an evaluation by the teachers at your child's school.
  • If your child has a learning disability, ask for the appropriate special services for your child. For example, research shows that multisensory systematic phonics is most effective for reading disabilities.
  • Learn about special education law and advocacy.

References cited:

Foorman, B.R., Francis, D.J., Fletcher, J.M., Schatschneider, C., and Mehta, P. (1998). "The Role of Instruction inm Learning to Read: Preventing Reading Failure in At-Risk Children." Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 1, pages 37-55.

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