Children with learning disorders have difficulty learning in spite of having average intelligence and putting effort into their school work. There are different kinds of learning disorders that affect children in different ways. There may be academic difficulties that affect reading, writing, spelling, or solving math problems. Some kids have learning disorders that affect their cognitive processing skills like executive functioning skills, organization, attention, or memory. Some have sensory processing difficulties that can affect motor skills and interfere with their interactions at school.
Most learning disorders are identified when a child starts to struggle in school.
Because learning disorders can affect kids at all intelligence levels, the school needs to determine if there is a gap between the child’s actual performance in the classroom and the expected level of performance for their age and grade before steps can be taken to offer special resources.
What Are the Causes of Learning Disorders
Learning disorders are caused by a weakness in one or more of the processing systems that are needed for learning. Some parents realize that something is causing their child to have difficulties but are not sure what the exact problem could be.
For many kids who struggle with learning, the causes are unforeseen. Their learning struggles come as a ‘surprise’ when they first begin to struggle in school.
For some kids, learning struggles may be caused by known factors like:
- prenatal exposure to certain drugs, alcohol, or environmental toxins like lead
- previous history of abuse
- head injuries
Academic Learning Disorders
Learning disorders can affect different academic areas. Reading disorders are often described as ‘dyslexia’ and can include difficulties with decoding and word recognition like learning the sounds letters make, problems memorizing sight words, and difficulty reading whole sentences fluently. Reading disorders can also include language comprehension difficulties like poor understanding of the information and problems making inferences.
Spelling difficulties are caused by problems with encoding the sounds of a word into letters. This can become more complicated when a child must memorize sight words and word patterns that are commonly needed for spelling words correctly.
Writing disorders are often referred to as ‘dysgraphia’ and can include the kinds of difficulties children experience with holding the pencil and shaping the letters or they can be difficulties with clearly expressing ideas in writing.
Math disorders are often referred to as ‘dyscalculia’ and can include difficulties understanding math concepts like quantity and number value as well as difficulty learning basic arithmetic skills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, percents, and decimals before moving on to higher level math like algebra.
Math concepts can become more difficult for some students when they are combined with language skills needed for solving word problems.
Cognitive and Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
Learning disorders can affect cognitive processing skills and non-verbal functioning as well as academic performance.
Common areas of difficulties are sensory processing, language processing, attention, visual/auditory/spatial processing, perceptual-motor processing, and difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
What are the Signs to Look For?
When learning becomes hard, many parents notice changes in their child’s behavior. Some children start having behavior difficulties at school. Some kids resist doing homework and parents notice their child has difficulty cooperating when asked to do homework or chores. Some children are cooperative but are unable to follow their parent’s directions accurately or they consistently forget to do one of the tasks a parent has given them to do. Some children continue to try hard but need nightly help to manage the skills they need to learn in class.
Often, teachers inform parents that their child isn’t keeping up with grade level work at a parent/teacher conference or on a report card.
You may notice signs that cause you to wonder if your child is having learning difficulties when you work on school work or learning activities that you do together. You may have seen lists of difficulties to help you spot potential learning disorders like squinting or headaches when your child reads, problems remembering information after studying it, difficulty focusing and paying attention during school tasks, or problems sitting still during class that indicate your child may be struggling. Once you have decided that your child may have a learning disorder, it is time to learn more about the exact problems so you can start to narrow down the potential causes.
When to Get Help
Learning disorders are caused by a weakness in one or more of the processing systems needed for learning that develop over time as your child grows. The best outcome for resolving learning challenges is to discover them early in the child’s life and to pinpoint the underlying cause so specific steps can be taken to correct the weaknesses.
Consult Your Child’s Teacher
If your child is in school, begin by asking the teacher how far your child is behind, which subjects or behaviors are involved, and to describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses so you can understand the struggles your child is experiencing in school.
Screenings are very helpful tools for narrowing down the causes of learning disabilities so you can take the appropriate steps to help your child. Different screenings can be done to assess the likelihood of different processing weaknesses so you will know when to seek professional help if there are reasons for concern.
Ask the school resource teacher if there are screenings for visual processing, auditory processing, and sensory processing that can be done with your child to determine if there could be processing weaknesses involved in your child’s difficulties.
The results from these kinds of screening tests can give you an idea if more testing from a professional will be needed to pinpoint the causes of your child’s difficulties so programs can be started immediately that can improve the weaknesses.
If your school doesn’t offer these kinds of screenings, Hardy Brain Training includes them in our assessment process so you will know if specific kinds of professional help may be required for your child to overcome the difficulties.