A learning disorder is a disorder that affects a person's ability to acquire and use academic skills, such as reading and calculating. Learning disorders aren't the same as mental or physical disabilities, and don't reflect a child's intelligence. Instead, learning disorders affect a child's ability to complete a task or use certain skills, particularly in school.
The most common learning disorders include:
Dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading, spelling and recalling known words.
Some children might have more than one learning disorder.
Factors that might influence the development of learning disorders include:
Genetics. Some learning disorders, such as reading and math disorders, are hereditary.
What are the signs of learning disorders?
Identifying a learning disorder can be difficult. Your child might have a learning disorder if he or she:
Experiences a delay in achieving a developmental milestone, while most other aspects of his or her development are normal
Seeking help for learning disorders
Early intervention is essential for a child who has a learning disorder. Learning disorders can snowball. For example, a child who doesn't learn to add in elementary school won't be able to tackle algebra in high school. Children who have learning disorders can experience performance anxiety, depression and low self-esteem — and lose motivation. Some children also might act out in an effort to distract attention from the real issue.
If you or your child's teacher thinks your child might have a learning disorder, consider having him or her evaluated by a child psychologist or neuropsychologist. Many schools also offer tests to identify learning disorders.
First, your child will likely undergo tests to rule out vision or hearing problems or other medical conditions. A psychologist or learning specialist will then use tests, as well as talk with you and your child and look at your child's school history, to determine if your child has a learning disorder. In many cases, further assessment is needed to make a diagnosis.
Keep in mind that some children are naturally slower learners and might need time to develop reading, writing and math skills. Others, however, have disorders that affect their ability to learn.
If your child has a learning disorder, your child's doctor or school might recommend:
Extra help. A reading specialist, math tutor or other trained professional can teach your child techniques to improve his or her academic skills. Tutors can also teach children organizational and study skills.
Before your child's treatment begins, you and your child's doctor, teachers or therapists will set goals for your child. If, over time, little progress is made, your child's diagnosis or treatment plans might need to be reconsidered.
While learning disorders can cause long-term problems, there's hope. Early intervention and treatment can fully remediate some learning disorders. Family and teachers can also help children who have persistent difficulties achieve success in school, as well as in other areas of life.