When a Child Has Too Much Trouble Learning, Find Out Why

The man who wrote The Ugly Duckling could not read it. Hans Christian Andersen had a learning disability. So did Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Nelson Rockefeller, and General Patton. So do Bruce Jenner, Lindsay Wagner, and 8 million others in this country alone.

LD - The invisible handicap.

Learning disabilities have been called the invisible handicap. They are complex and permanent disorders that interfer with the ability of normally intelligent people to understand and to perform in the world around them. Learning disabilities do not come and go. Although they are life-long handicaps, compensatory training can help the learning disabled to achieve their full potential, to let their intelligence and creativity
shine through.

Be aware.

Even if you are not the one in six families affected by learning disabilities, take the time to understand what having a learning disability means. People without awareness do a good job of making the learning disabled feel stupid and inferior and they are neither. The cause or causes of learning disabilities have yet to be clearly defined. The symptoms however are very real.

Know what to look for.

As a parent, you may be the first to suspect that something is not quite right. Most learning disabilities are noticed during the early school years. Teachers are often the first ones to realize that a child is having too much trouble with a basic academic subject, such as reading, math, spelling, or writing. If a parent is aware of other signs, the child has a better chance for early diagnosis.

Pay attention if a young child:

  • Is slow to develop the ability to speak, understand stories, or follow directions.
  • Starts or stops talking in mid sentence.
  • Cannot vocalize a word until someone says it.
  • Pronounces certain words in odd ways (e.g., "hopsitals", "emenies").
  • Persistently reads "no" for "on", "14" for "41", unable to distinguish between words like "chop" and "shop".
  • Can add and subtract but not multiply and divide, or can calculate in their head but not on paper.
  • Has poor eye-hand coordination and is a messy writer.

Pay attention if a school age child:

  • Often seems lost in time and space.
  • Does not know what time, day, year, or season it is.
  • Has trouble understanding "yesterday", "today", and "tomorrow."
  • Has trouble understanding concepts such as up/down, above/below, top/bottom, over/under.

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Pay attention if an older child:

  • Has always been awkward and clumsy
  • Is frequently off-balance
  • Never learned to tie shoes.
  • Breaks things and is accident prone.
  • Is hyperactive and fidgety or underactive and tired most of the time.
  • Has difficulty sitting still and concentrating for even short periods of time when it is required, but can focus for long periods of time on something he is very interested in, ignoring everything else.

When you look for signs, remember that no single symptom characterizes every child and not every learning disabled child has every symptom. Children without learning disabilities show some of these traits but not as many and not so persistently.

Learning disabilities do not go away.
If you suspect a problem, get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Without a diagnosis, your child will not get the help he or she needs. Early diagnosis prevents failures for the child and saves the child from such labels as "lazy, rebellious, stupid."

Self-esteem is a major concern for these children.
Start by talking with your child's teacher. The teacher may explain why certain "disabilities" are normal for your child's age. Do not stop, however, until you are satisfied.

If you feel that your child should be evaluated, current law states that the public school must provide one without charge and to your satisfaction.

After testing:

  • You should expect a copy of the results, an interpretation, and a thorough explanation.
  • Once your child is diagnosed as learning disabled, you must become that child's advocate.
  • You must be prepared to take some of the initiative for getting a comprehensive diagnosis, establishing and reviewing a treatment program, and obtaining the services to which your child is entitled by law.

Be an Expert on Your Child

You can help your child at home if you know what to do. This is not a simple task. If you have a learning disabled child, you need support and information. Find out what your legal rights are.

next: Summer with the Kids

Last Updated: 28 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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