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Learning Disorders

What is a learning disorder?

A learning disorder is defined as difficulty in an academic area (reading, mathematics, or written expression). The child's ability to achieve in the specific academic area is below what is expected for the child's age, educational level, and level of intelligence. The difficulty experienced by the child is severe enough to interfere with academic achievement or age-appropriate normal activities of daily living. About 2.9 million US children in public schools are classified as having specific learning disabilities and receive some kind of special education support.

Learning disorders are sometimes called learning disabilities, or specific learning disabilities. Most children with learning disorders have normal intelligence. Types of learning disorders include the following:

What causes learning disorders?

Learning disorders are believed to occur because of an abnormality in the nervous system, either in the structure of the brain or in the functioning of brain chemicals. The difference in the nervous system causes the child with a learning disorder to receive, process, or communicate information in a different way.

Who is affected by learning disorders?

Four percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 have learning disorders. Reading disorders are more common in children of parents who experienced a learning disorder.

Genetic predisposition, problems during pregnancy, birth, or early infancy, as well as other general medical conditions may be associated with the cause of learning disorders.

What are the symptoms of learning disorders?

The following are the most common symptoms of learning disorders. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

How are learning disorders diagnosed?

The signs of learning disorders may be identified by parents or teachers when a child consistently has difficulty with any, or all, of the following:

A comprehensive evaluation by educational and mental health professionals includes educational and psychological testing, as well as talking with the child and parents. A comprehensive evaluation identifies whether a child has a learning disorder as well as learning strengths and weaknesses. Results of the evaluation are used to determine educational needs, identify the best school placement, determine the possible need for medication to help with distractibility or hyperactivity, and determine the possible benefit of any additional therapies such as speech therapy or family psychotherapy to maximize the child's learning potential and quality of life.

Treatment for learning disorders:

Specific treatment for learning disorders will be determined by the coordinated effort of your child's physician, and mental health and educational professionals based on:

Learning disorders are treatable. A coordinated effort between parents, teachers, and mental health professionals provides the basis for individualized treatment strategies that may include individual or group remediation, and/or special classes or resources.

Prevention of learning disorders:

Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of learning disorders are not known at this time. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of academic difficulties and improve the quality of life experienced by children with learning disorders.

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