Learning Difficulties

What are Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory and attention.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, children with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention (such as remediation with a learning specialists, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy) children with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

Types of Learning Disabilities

The most common types of learning disabilities are the following:

Dyslexia

It is the most commonly diagnosed specific learning disorder. There are two types of Dyslexia (learning disabilities in reading). Basic reading problems occur when there is difficulty understanding the relationship between sounds, letters and words. Reading comprehension problems occur when there is an inability to grasp the meaning of words, phrases, and paragraphs.

Dyscalculia

It is a specific learning disability that affects a child’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. Individuals with this type of learning disability may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.

Dysgraphia

It is a specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Problems may include illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.

Dyspraxia

It is a motor difficulty that refers to problems with movement and coordination whether it is with fine motor skills (cutting, writing) or gross motor skills (running, jumping). Signs that a child might have a motor coordination disability include problems with physical abilities that require hand-eye coordination, like holding a pencil or buttoning a shirt.

ADHD

It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging. Read more about ADHD here.

Diagnosing a learning disability is a process

It involves testing such as a full psycho-educational assessment, history taking of developmental, medical, educational, environmental circumstances, and clinical observation at school and during the testing process by a trained specialist.

Sometimes several professionals such as a child psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, speech and language therapist, or occupational therapist coordinate services as a team to obtain an accurate diagnosis and to put in place a treatment plan.

A multi-disciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating symptoms of learning difficulties help a young person recover and adapt to their learning environment.

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