What is Learning Disability?
Learning disability is a general term that refers to a mixed group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities.
These disorders may be caused by dysfunction of the central nervous system. Difficulties in self regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning difficulties.
It is assumed that children with LD have normal or near normal intelligence. Most children with learning disabilities will not have all the characteristics mentioned above. Research states that around 15 % have difficulty with motor learning and coordination. More than 75 % have difficulty learning and using symbols.The latter population of children are said to have language learning disability.
What are the features of Learning Disability?
The characteristics of children with LD are many and varied. These are divided into the following six categories.
Motor – These difficulties usually involve hyperactivity, a condition of excess activity where children are in constant motion. Approximately 5 % of all kids have hyperactivity, but the condition is nine times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Not all children with hyperactivity have LD, nor do all children with LD have hyperactivity. Children with hyperactivity have difficulty in attending and concentrating for even short periods of time. Other motor difficulties include poor sense of body movement, poor handedness, poor eye hand coordination, and poorly defined concepts of space and time.
Attention – Attentional difficulties encompass short attention span and inattentiveness. Children with LD get easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli. They even get easily overstimulated. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is associated by overactivity and an inability to attend for more than a very short period. ADHD is most likely an impairment in the excessive function of the brain that regulates behavior, specially impulsivity.These children have difficulty employing language for social and educational reasons. Their language deficits are difficult to measure with standardized tests. Research shows that the number of cases being reported with ADHD is increasing rapidly. This might be a reflection on our sedentary lifestyles, addiction to junk food, overworked and stressed parents and educators.
Perception – Perception difficulties are interpretational difficulties. These occur after the stimulus is received. Children with LD may confuse similar sounds, and words and similar printed letters and words. These kids might have trouble in figure ground perception. Figure Ground perception is the ability to separate the background while attending to the fore stimulus. For e/g – Listening to what the teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.
Symbol – These can be grouped under language difficulties. Usually all aspects of symbol recognition – spoken and written are affected to some extent in kids with LD.
Memory – Memory difficulties include short term and long term storageand retrieval. Children with LD may have difficulty remembering names, sequences and directions. Word finding issues are commonly seen.
Emotion – Emotional issues may be associated with LD. These are basically reactions to the frustrating times which these children find them in. Children with LD may be impulsive, aggressive, withdrawn, unpredictable and impatient. Some may have unusual fears and weak judgment skills.
What are the causes of Learning Disability?
Several causal factors may contribute to Learning Disability.
Biological Factors – Learning disabilities happen more in families which have a history of language delays or of the disorder and following a premature or complicated birth. Children who have parents with dyslexia, and those with a history of late talking are at a higher risk for language impairment. These along with impairments of the central nervous system link up to the biological conncetion of the disorder.
The use of neurostimulants, such as Ritalin, to facilitate some hyperactive kids to concentrate and attend further has also been a cause.
Researches show that a crash happens along the neural pathways connecting the mid brain to the frontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for attention, regulation and planning.
A gene for dyslexia has been doubted. But a possibility of around seven chromosomes being involved in causing the disorder has been warranted. MRI studies show malformations in the left hemisphere language processing areas . Also imaging studies have revealed lower activation of left occipitotemporal region in children with dyslexia.
Social- Environmental Factors – The language the child is exposed to and how well he is interacted in his childhood also can contribute to the severity of LD and the quality of his development.
These children go through very frustrating times especially for being misunderstood as being lazy and stupid. They often have very poor self images and might be scared to try anything new.
Processing factors – Children with LD don’t seem to function as well as their intellectual levels. They appear unable to use strategies to utilize information stored in their memory.
Children with LD have poor Attentional selectivity, they concentrate on inappropriate inputs. They have difficulty deciding on the appropriate information to which to focus on, in both oral and written communications.
Children with LD also have poor discrimination skills.
Armed with poor attention and poor discrimination, children with LD are poorly organized too. They can organize information in their head but not in an apt way of restoring it later for use.
Memory is related to storage, and retrieval. Children with LD have slower retrieval skills.
These problems of interpreting information by using strategies to organize persist throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
What are the intervention options for children with Learning Disability?
A host of professionals, in collaboration with families and caregivers, is involved in the selection and delivery of services and supports. Collectively, the professionals possessing the knowledge of typical and atypical patterns of development in the domains of cognition, communication, emergent literacy, pre-academic interventions, and motor, sensory, and social–emotional functioning, as well as the capacity to collaborate effectively.
The following is a list of the roles of some of the professionals in addition to the child’s pediatrician who typically are involved with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:
Audiologist—specializes in the nonmedical management of hearing and related problems(e.g., balance)
Early childhood general and special education teachers—plan and provide educationally relevant interventions
Occupational therapist— helps children improve their ability to perform fine motor skills and daily activities and to achieve independence
Physical therapist— help s children develop gross motor skills and coordination; they also provide services aimed at preventing or slowing the progression of conditions resulting from injury, disease, and other causes
School psychologist—collaborates with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home and school
Speech -language pathologist—assesses, diagnoses, and provides intervention services and supports for individuals with speech, language, literacy, cognitive-communication, social communication, and swallowing problems