Learning disabilities — caused by problems in the way a child’s brain functions — are not as obvious as physical or mental handicaps. For reasons medical experts and educators can’t fully explain, the child’s brain doesn’t work correctly all the time. The child has trouble learning. A host of other problems often result — mostly caused by the emotional pain of the child’s low self-esteem.
But learning disabilities can be treated, coped with, adjusted to, and integrated into a normal life. The child can go on to achievements like those of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Bruce Jenner and countless other productive citizens with learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities are a problem with brain function. The brain may mix up letters or numbers, making it hard for the child to read, write, spell or do math problems. Or the brain may “misfire,” causing the child to be easily distracted and excitable — which makes it hard to sit still and pay attention in school.
An estimated 10 percent of school-aged children have a learning disability. Just what causes these problems isn’t known. But experts do know that boys are 10 times more likely than girls to have learning disabilities, and it does seem to run in families. Low birth weight and stress to the baby before or shortly after birth also have been linked to the development of learning disabilities. Severe head injuries and central nervous system infections, such as encephalitis, also may cause learning disabilities. Children who have been treated for cancer or leukemia have been known to develop learning disabilities.
Learning disorders, such as dyslexia, affect the learning center of the brain.
Co-existing problems include such disorders as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety and Depression.
These associated disorders can affect the attention/arousal center of the brain. Learning problems result from the child’s inability to sit still or pay attention. These children are easily distracted and have difficulty with concentration. It is common for children with ADHD to also have a learning disability.
Recognizing a learning disability early is crucial. The child may feel “different” — somehow less worthy than others — and may act out frustration with aggression or withdrawal.
Diagnosis may be difficult. Learning disabilities are easy to confuse with normal overactivity (the “Dennis the Menace” child), vision or hearing problems, or anxiety.
Your child’s physician can recommend tests to determine if a problem exists. Other professionals may be called in for special tests, such as a language assessment or hearing evaluation.
Here are some common developmental signposts to look for:
If testing determines that your son has a learning disability, don’t despair. There are simple steps you can take to help him cope. Working closely with his teachers and school can ensure that he reaches his full potential.
Coordination with other professional helpers for your child — including physicians, teachers, school officials and psychologists — is a must.
Work closely with your child’s teachers and other school officials. Proper placement in school is very important to your child’s success. Talk to teachers about these ideas:
The frustrations of having a learning disability can lead to outbursts of temper and some children may be labeled bullies as their frustrations are pounded out on their playmates.
The child with a learning disability knows he’s different. Like any kid, he wants to be popular, to fit in — but it may be harder.
Talk with your son about these pressures and find ways to avoid them. Make sure his playmates (and their parents) understand the situation. Involve him in sports, such as swimming, where he can be with other kids and work at his own pace.
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