What are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities are disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention. Although learning disabilities occur in very young children, the disorders are usually not recognized until the child reaches school age. Research shows that 8 to 10 percent of American children under 18 years of age have some type of learning disability.
“Learning disabilities” is not the only term used to describe these difficulties. Others include:
- dyslexia—which refers to difficulties in reading;
- dysgraphia—which refers to difficulties in writing; and
- dyscalcula—which refers to difficulties in math.
All of these are considered learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities (LD) vary from person to person. One person with LD may not have the same kind of learning problems as another person with LD. Sara, in our example above, has trouble with reading and writing. Another person with LD may have problems with understanding math. Still another person may have trouble in both of these areas, as well as with understanding what people are saying.
Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person’s brain works and how it processes information. Children with learning disabilities are not “dumb” or “lazy.” In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently.
Is there any treatment?
The most common treatment for learning disabilities is special education. Specially trained educators may perform a diagnostic educational evaluation assessing the child’s academic and intellectual potential and level of academic performance. Once the evaluation is complete, the basic approach is to teach learning skills by building on the child’s abilities and strengths while correcting and compensating for disabilities and weaknesses. Other professionals such as speech and language therapists also may be involved. Some medications may be effective in helping the child learn by enhancing attention and concentration. Psychological therapies may also be used.
What is the prognosis?
Learning disabilities can be lifelong conditions. In some people, several overlapping learning disabilities may be apparent. Other people may have a single, isolated learning problem that has little impact on their lives.
Is there any research being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other Institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) support research learning disabilities through grants to major research institutions across the country. Current research avenues focus on developing techniques to diagnose and treat learning disabilities and increase understanding of their biological basis.