Learning disabilities are disorders of the complex mechanisms in the brain that are responsible for processing written or spoken material. Nearly 3 million children in public schools (about five per cent) have been classified as having learning disabilities and receive some type of special education.

Children with learning disabilities have normal or above-average intelligence yet have significant problems with one or more of the following activities: reading, writing, listening, speaking, concentration or performing mathematical computations. (This does not mean that all children with problems in a particular subject area have a learning disability.)

In most cases, the reason for a learning disability is unknown. Heredity may play a role. However, these difficulties are sometimes associated with prematurity, exposure to toxins (such as alcohol or illicit drugs) prior to birth, infections of the central nervous system or head injuries. Another contributing factor can be a lack of appropriate stimulation during the early years, resulting from extremely impoverished or chaotic conditions at home.

Specific testing required

A child’s medical history might provide clues to the origin of a learning disability, but risk factors and early signs of trouble typically remain undetected during routine physical exams. While a physician’s evaluation can be helpful in ruling out other problems, the diagnosis of a learning disability usually requires specific educational and neuro-developmental testing.

Once the problem is identified, treatment could involve a variety of approaches, including new learning strategies, speech therapy, specialized instruction and curriculum modifications. Coping with a learning disability will require ongoing effort by the child and coaching by professionals and parents for many months or possibly years.

Learning to cope

Alternative or unconventional solutions such as dietary modification, mega vitamins, special eyeglasses, eye exercises or "vision training" have failed to pass scientific muster.

Resorting to such methods that offer the tantalizing hope of a cure for the learning disability will only delay the assistance the child truly needs.

In general, parents of a child who is having difficulty in school will need to protect him from ridicule, praise the things he does well and provide ongoing encouragement. Having a learning disability does not mean that a child can’t be challenged to work on his basic skills and, in so doing, improve his prospects for the future.

Taken from Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care, © 2007 Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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