For a parent, there are fewer moments of greater frustration than realizing your child is struggling to learn. Maybe your son or daughter has hit a roadblock in reading, or is having trouble speaking or completing math problems.
Whatever the specifics of your child’s situation, you are no doubt determined to find the tools that will see your child to developmental success. A learning disability is a disorder of one or more of the neurological processing centers relating to language, math, organizational skills, memory and attention. A key component to a learning disability is the element of unexpected underachievement.
People with an LD experience problems with speaking, listening, reading, writing, performing math, organizing, remembering and paying attention in ways that do not correspond with their potential and access to learning. In fact, most people with an LD have average or above average intelligence. A big take away about LDs is that they are not signs of a lack of intelligence or a desire to learn. Children with LDs may even realize the incongruence between their intelligence and ability to execute certain tasks, making their disability all the more disheartening to them and their parents.
The silver lining for children with LDs is getting an accurate diagnosis. This allows for the formulation of a holistic treatment plan. This typically centers on specialized educational tools that strengthen learning weaknesses and improve overall academic performance.
Learning Disabilities Statistics
A Center for Disease Control report found that approximately 5% of children in the United States had learning disabilities, and about 4% had an LD and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development points to even higher estimates, with as many as 20% of the American population having an LD, and about 4.6 million school kids in the U.S. having an LD diagnosis.
What About Vision and Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities intersect with the world of eye care mainly in the area of diagnosis. Vision problems and LDs can have overlapping symptoms, namely in creating obstacles to your child’s learning.
Pediatric eye exams are crucial to identifying problems or potential problems that interfere with your child’s ability to grow. Be sure to see your pediatric eye doctor on the exam schedule as recommended by The American Optometric Association (AOA), and to make an appointment if your child is experiencing learning difficulties or visual irregularities.
Determining if your child is suffering from vision irregularities or LD (or both) is the first step in laying the groundwork for treatment that will help them throughout their lives.
Dyslexia is probably the most well known LD and the most frequently diagnosed, It affects about 80% of all people diagnosed with an LD, according to government statistics. This language-based learning disability is probably best known for compromising reading abilities, but it can also create developmental shortfalls in writing and pronunciation.
Dyslexia is a lifelong LD that can morph through the course of one’s life. Most people are diagnosed as children, although adults can be diagnosed too. An early diagnosis is the best chance a child has at getting phonics-based reading instruction and other learning assistance needed to excel in school.
What Causes Dyslexia?
Although the exact cause of dyslexia remains unknown, in recent years academics and specialists have pointed to a deficiency in phonological processing as the basis for the condition.
“Phonological processing” is the scientific way to describe how we recognize phonemes, or the smallest sound units of speech that distinguish one word from another. There are 44 phonemes in English. For example, the words “cat”, “hat”, and “bat” differ only by their initial phonemes ”c”, “h” and “b.”
The problem dyslexics have is distinguishing and manipulating these basic sound units. Having a problem at the phonological level has a ripple effect in how you understand language. Not being able to distinguish phonemes makes it difficult to then decode and identify words, which are collections of phonemes.
So although phonological processing is a lower-level linguistic function, it is one of the first steps in the sequence of language processing. Without phonological processing, a child cannot easily move onto higher-level linguistic processing, like gaining meaning from text.
Dyslexia’s impact on your child will depend on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of instructional intervention. Some dyslexic children gain early reading and spelling skills with no problem, but later experience hindrances with complex language proficiencies, like writing book reports, grasping grammar rules or comprehending textbook material.
Treatment for dyslexia relies on specific educational approaches and techniques tailored for your child. The sooner intervention begins, the better chance your child has shoring up on reading and other language-based tasks.
Dyslexia and Vision
The crucial part vision plays in dyslexia (and other LDs) is in securing an accurate diagnosis. If a child is having difficulty reading, for example, it will not be apparent if this is due to a problem with sight or with the language processing centers in the brain. A vision test with a pediatric ophthalmologist will be needed to determine if vision irregularities are the root cause, or if language processing deficiencies are to blame.
The medical community did not always make this clear division between people’s visual and linguistic processes. For decades some doctors tried to treat dyslexia with behavioral vision therapy. This method attempted to improve reading problems with eye coordination and training techniques. Sometimes this involved colored overlays or lenses to alter contrast.
The vision therapy approach was based on the idea that children’s visual perceptual motor abilities influence other cognitive processes, such as reading and linguistic functions. The thinking went that by fine tuning eye coordination, cognitive abilities would also be improved.
Recent studies have refuted behavioral vision therapy as an effective means to combat dyslexia. As a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics states:
Scientific evidence does not support the claims that visual training, muscle exercises, ocular pursuit-and-tracking exercises, behavioral/perceptual vision therapy, “training” glasses, prisms, and colored lenses and filters are effective direct or indirect treatments for learning disabilities.
Other Types of Learning Disabilities
The human mind is amazingly complex and nuanced, lending to glitches in virtually any neurological process. From not being able to discern the location of a sound to having trouble telling time, LD symptoms are widespread. Below are common LDs that might be affecting your child:
This is a numbers and mathematical disability whereby an individual struggles to understand math facts, symbols, concepts, or organizing numbers and telling time.
This is a condition of impaired fine motor skills and handwriting. Illegible handwriting, poor spelling, poor spatial planning (on paper), and difficulty writing and thinking at once are classic signs.
- Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
Sometimes known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, this is a condition that makes it difficult for people to recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, the order of sounds, the origin of sounds, or to ignore background noise.
- Language Processing Disorder (LPD)
This is a type of APD. Where APD poses problems in interpreting all sounds coming into the brain, LPD is limited to language and its sounds. This can affect the way language is expressed, received, or both. Individuals will have trouble connecting meaning to the different sound groups that form words and sentences.
- Executive Functioning
This is a deficiency in the cognitive management systems, hindering a number of neuropsychological processes. It is not a learning disability per se, but weakness in executive functioning is virtually universal to kids and adults with LD. Symptoms involve struggling with organization, planning, strategizing, managing time and space, and absorbing and recalling details.
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders (ADHD)
These are disorders that make it difficult to pay attention, stay focused, manage behavior, and in some cases involves hyperactivity. ADD and ADHD are not learning disabilities, but at least 50% of people with an LD also have ADHD, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America. The coexistence of LD and ADD/ADHD can render learning, especially in traditional classroom environments, very challenging.
Treating Learning Disabilities
LDs cannot be cured, but children and adults with an LD can learn coping strategies for their disabilities. As we keep emphasizing, the sooner assistance is sought, the more likely it is for success in school and after. When LDs remain untreated, a child may fall behind academically. This can create a vicious cycle of poor school performance, frustration and lowered self-esteem.
Most LDs are treated with an intervention. This involves an education expert developing a program specifically for your child that compensates for your child’s deficiencies, while also building up their strengths. The nature and extent of the intervention will entirely depend on the type, manifestations and severity of your child’s LD.
Intervention programs may involve:
- Specialized teaching techniques
Child with LDs, particularly dyslexia, may learn better through multi-sensory experiences, rather than traditional teacher to classroom instruction.
- Classroom modifications and specialized tools
Kids with dyslexia may see improved grades when given oral exams or video reports, rather than written ones.
- Visual techniques
Kids with an LD may benefit from drawn pictures of word or math problems and then using highlighters to break down and differentiate the steps of a problem.
- Harnessing technology
Children with dyslexia may benefit from word-processing programs or audiobooks. Children with other LDs may practice task specific drills on a computer.
- Relying on memory aids
Most of us remember well through music and rhyme. The power of rhythmical memory – for example via song – can be used to help kids struggling with grammar or mathematical concepts.
Learning disabilities can be frustrating for the whole family. An easy way to reduce pressure and make progress is to rule out vision problems. Schedule an appointment today or simply send us a message with any questions.