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What is a Learning Disability?         

What Are Learning Disabilities?

For many people, the term “learning disability”, can seem scary at first. But a learning disability has little to do, if anything, with a person's intelligence. Did you know that successful icons such as  Walt Disney, Alexander Graham Bell, and Winston Churchill all had learning disabilities?  Nearly four million school-age children and teens have learning disabilities, and at least 20% of them have a type of disorder that makes it difficult to focus. Learn more about famous icons with learning disabilities (a short video).

LD Resources:

http://ldaamerica.org/support/new-to-ld/

http://www.smartkidswithld.org

http://www.fldoe.org

There are many kinds of learning disabilities. Most students affected by learning disabilities have more than one kind. Certain kinds of learning disabilities can interfere with a person's ability to concentrate or focus and can cause someone's mind to wander too much. Other learning disabilities can make it difficult for a student to read, write, spell, or solve math problems.

What Are the Signs of Learning Disabilities?

You can't tell by looking that a person has a learning disability, which can make learning disabilities hard to diagnose. Learning disabilities typically first show up when a person has difficulty speaking, reading, writing, figuring out a math problem, communicating with a parent, or paying attention in class. Some kids' learning disabilities are diagnosed in grade school when a parent or a teacher notices a kid can't follow directions for a game or is struggling to do work he or she should be able to do easily. But other kids develop sophisticated ways of covering up their learning issues, so learning disabilities don't show up until the teen years when schoolwork - and life - gets more complicated.

The most common and best-known verbal learning disability is dyslexia, which causes people to have trouble recognizing or processing letters and the sounds associated with them. For this reason, people with dyslexia have trouble with reading and writing tasks or assignments.

A behavioral condition called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often associated with learning disabilities because people with ADHD may also have a hard time focusing enough to learn and study. Students with ADHD are often easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. They may also be excessively active or have trouble controlling their impulses.

What Causes Them?

No one's exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. But researchers do have some theories as to why they develop. They include:

  • Genetic influences. Experts have noticed that learning disabilities tend to run in families and they think that heredity may play a role. However, researchers are still debating whether learning disabilities are, in fact, genetic, or if they show up in families because kids learn and model what their parents do.
  • Brain development. Some experts think that learning disabilities can be traced to brain development, both before and after birth. For this reason, problems such as low birth weight, lack of oxygen, or premature birth may have something to do with learning disabilities. Young children who receive head injuries may also be at risk of developing learning disabilities.
  • Environmental impacts. Infants and young children are susceptible to environmental toxins (poisons). For example, you may have heard how lead (which may be found in some old homes in the form of lead paint or lead water pipes) is sometimes thought to contribute to learning disabilities. Poor nutrition early in life may also lead to learning disabilities later in life.

How Do You Know If You Have a Learning Disability?

Just because you have trouble studying for a test doesn't mean you have a learning disability. There are as many learning styles as there are individuals. For example, some people learn by doing and practicing, others learn by listening (such as in class), and others prefer to read material. Some people are just naturally slower readers or learners than others, but they still perform well for their age and abilities. Sometimes, what seems to be a learning disability is simply a delay in development; the person will eventually catch up with - and perhaps even surpass - his or her peers.

The first step in diagnosing a learning disability is ruling out physical impairments, such as vision or hearing problems. Then a student may be refereed to a school psychologist for testing and diagnosing. Testing can help pinpoint that student's learning strengths and weaknesses in addition to revealing a particular learning disability. Click here for a consultation.

Treatments for Learning Disabilities

Some students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability qualify for special accommodations and services through an IEP (Individualized Education Program) which helps define a person's learning strengths and weaknesses and make a plan for the learning activities that will help the student succeed in school. A student's IEP might include some regular time with a tutor or in a specialized classroom for a certain subject, or the use of some special equipment to help with learning, such as books on tape or laptop computers for students who have dyslexia.  Learn more about exceptional student education, programs and eligibility criteria. 

Medication is often prescribed to help students with ADHD. There are several medicines on the market today to help improve a student's attention span and ability to focus and to help control impulses and other hyperactive behavior.

There's no cure for a learning disability it it can't be outgrown. However, many people with LD's become quite successful! An LD is not an excuse or obstacle to living a happy, fulfilling and productive life. 

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