Learning Disabilities are neurologically-based processing conditions that interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and math. They can also interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, including time planning and abstract reasoning.
These disabilities are distinct from overall intellectual functioning and are not related to factors such as cultural differences or inadequate instruction. They can affect all areas of a person’s life from childhood to adulthood.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about learning disabilities, which can lead to stigma and misunderstanding. These misconceptions include the idea that people with learning disabilities are lazy or unintelligent, which is not the case. Extremely high IQ children may also present with learning disabilities.
Common Types of Learning Disabilities
The term 'Learning Disabilities' covers a broad spectrum of challenges, including auditory processing disorders, visual perception disorders like dyslexia or dyscalculia, executive function disorders and many more.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
Auditory Processing Disorder is a condition that affects the ability to understand spoken language. It's not due to hearing impairment or a lack of intelligence, but rather a dysfunction in the brain's ability to process auditory information.
Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. A characteristic of this type of learning disability is difficulty with hand-eye coordination.
Memory Disorders can affect a person's ability to store and recall information. This can make it difficult for a person to learn new information or skills, or to carry out tasks that involve a sequence of steps, like cooking a recipe or solving a math problem. These disorders are not due to a lack of intelligence or a lack of desire to learn, but rather a dysfunction in the brain's ability to process, store and retrieve information. Casually dismissing forgetfullness may be overlooking a true disorder.
Dyslexia is a language-based disability that affects reading. Individuals with dyslexia typically experience difficulties with spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.People with dyslexia, as with many of these other disabilities, may not recognize they have it, as that is all they have ever known. Some people make it to adulthood before ever being diagnosed.
Dyscalculia is a mathematical disability where an individual has a problematic understanding of numbers, difficulty learning how to manipulate numbers and learning mathematical facts.
Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities
Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities are characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. It's a condition that affects the right hemisphere of the brain, making it hard to recognize and interpret nonverbal cues like body language, facial expression, and the nuances of conversation.
Executive function Disorders
Executive Function Disorders refer to difficulties with high-level cognitive processes, such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details and managing time. These skills are essential for learning and development, and disruption of these processes can have a significant impact on a person's ability to perform academically and in other areas of life. Children may be reprimanded because their actions may be misread as forgetful, not paying attention or daydreaming in class. It is important to remember that this is a neurological condition out of their control. Similarly, Slow Processing Speed can affect a child's ability to keep up with the pace of instruction, complete assignments and participate in classroom and social activities. This is not due to a lack of intelligence or a lack of understanding, but rather a delay in the speed at which the child is able to absorb, then process, then respond to and transfer information.
Identifying Learning Disabilities
Early identification of a learning disability can improve a child's chance of success. It's important to look for ongoing signs of trouble in school, including consistent problems with homework or learning new skills, which may suggest a learning disability.
Impact on Mental Health
Learning disabilities can impact mental health in both children and adults. These impacts can include low self-esteem, anxiety, and other mental health issues, so it’s important to address these issues along with the learning disability itself.
Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities
There are many ways to support individuals with learning disabilities, including specialized education plans and accommodations, therapy and support from families and communities. Again, early recognition and intervention is important.
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans provide accommodations and modifications that help students with learning disabilities access the same education as their peers.  Teacher’s are often the first to recognize some of these disabilities as a student’s difficulties may go unrecognized until they stand out when compared to a classroom of peers. Certain types of therapy, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy, can help students with learning disabilities develop skills. Social skills training can also be beneficial.
Family and Community Support
The support of families and communities can greatly benefit individuals with learning disabilities. This can involve advocating for the individual's needs, providing emotional support and helping with organizing and planning. A lack of support can increase stress levels and exacerbate problems, while teaching children coping skills early can be carried through adulthood.
Intelligence and Learning Disabilities
Individuals with learning disabilities are not less intelligent than their peers. In fact, these individuals often have average to above-average intelligence.
Persistence of Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities are lifelong conditions. While they can be managed, they do not simply disappear over time or with increased maturity.
Advancements in neuroscience and educational research have provided promising strategies to accommodate learning disabilities. Intensive and individualized interventions have been developed, and with the increasing use of technology in education, there are more resources available than ever for students with learning disabilities.
While presenting a unique set of challenges, learning disabilities do not define an individual's potential for success. With early identification, appropriate accommodations and comprehensive support, individuals with learning disabilities can lead fulfilling and successful lives. Understanding and acceptance are also essential components in nurturing growth and development.