Psychologist » Learning Difficulties

Learning Difficulties


Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities, technically known as specific learning disabilities, affect least 1 in 10 schoolchildren.  It is believed that learning disorders are caused by a difficulty with the nervous system that affect receiving, processing, communicating information.  They may also run in families.  Some children with learning disorders are also hyperactive; unable to sit still, easily distract, and have a short attention span. 

Common Signs of a Learning Disability: 

Frequent signals of a specific learning disability that parents should watch for in their child include the following: 
  • difficulty understanding and following instructions 
  • trouble remembering what someone just told him or her
  • fails to master reader, spelling, writing, and/or math skills, and thus fails
  • difficulty distinguishing right from left; difficulty identifying words or a tendency to reverse letters, words, or numbers; (for example, confusing 25 with 52, "b" with "d", or  "on" with "no"). 
  • lacks coordination in walking, sports, or small activities such as holding a pencil or tying a shoelace. 
  • easily loses or misplaces homework, schoolbooks, or other items. 
  • difficulty understanding the concept of time; is confused by "yesterday, today, tomorrow". 


What If a Learning Disability is Suspected? 

If your child is having difficulty learning in school compared to other children, it is best to discuss it with school personnel when this first becomes apparent.  Often, teachers or other school professionals will already be aware of these difficulties.  The school will first try instructional and/or behavioral strategies that can be implemented in the child's regular classroom and possibly supplemented by opportunities for remedial instruction or additional practice.  The practice of providing quality instruction, plus additional, timely assistance as needed in general education and monitoring the effectiveness of these efforts to determine if more intensive assistance is needed, is known as Response to Intervention (RTI).  Educators and researchers are in general agreement that RTI when properly implemented, produces better outcomes for children than more traditional approaches and uses school resources effectively.  

If noticeable improvement with general education supports and strategies is seen fairly quickly (within, say, 6-12 weeks), this suggests that the child should remain in the general education program and does not require special education services.  (It should be noted that a child may have a learning disability but not qualify for special education services, if the curriculum and instruction provided in the general education program meet the child's needs.)  However, if the child is not catching up to classmates despite faithful implementation of RTI or other general education interventions, valuable information has been obtained" (a)s the child requires more, or a different type, of support, and b) a referral for special education evaluation should be considered. 


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Does your child have trouble sitting still?  Act without thinking first?  Or often start but not finish things?  Do these things cause problems for your child at school or at home?  If the answer is "yes" your child might have a common childhood medical condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 

What is ADHD? 

ADHD is a common childhood disorder that can be treated. It is a health condition involving biologically active substances in the brain.  Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand others' actions, and control our impulses. 

Symptoms & Prevalence

All children show inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity at times, but the child with ADHD shows these symptoms and behaviors more frequently and severely than other children of the same age or developmental level.  ADHD occurs in 3-5% of school age children.  ADHD must begin before the age of seven and it can continue into adulthood.  ADHD runs in families with about 25% of biological parents also have this medical condition.  

A child with ADHD often shows some of the following: 

  • trouble paying attention
  • inattention to details and makes careless mistakes
  • easily districted
  • loses school supplies, forgets to turn in homework
  • trouble finishing classwork and homework 
  • trouble listening
  • trouble following multiple adult commands
  • bursts out answers 
  • impatience
  • fidgets or squirms
  • leaves seat and runs about or climbs excessively
  • seems "on the go" 
  • talks too much and has difficulty playing quietly
  • interrupts or intrudes on others


What Can You Do? 

Many children have restless behaviors that are typical of ADHD.  When fidgeting, poor concentration, or impulsiveness begin disrupting performance in school, at home, or in relationships with other children, that cause might be ADHD.  Or, there might be a different cause.  Seeing your child's doctor and getting the right diagnosis and treatment can help your child do better in the classroom, on the playground, and at home.  

Research shows that medication can help improve attention, focus, goal directed behavior, and organization skills.  Other treatment approaches can include cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, parent education, and modification to the child's education program.