Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
When a person has a learning disability, he or she is unable to
obtain or express knowledge appropriately. Learning disabilities may also
involve mental processes used in understanding or using written or spoken
What is going on in the body?
It is generally believed that the brain functions differently in a person with a learning disability. A person with a learning disability has average to above-average intelligence when measured by standardized testing. However, the person's reading, math, or written expression is much lower than expected for age, schooling, and environment. Learning disorders may affect a person's ability to read, write, spell, speak, or perform math problems.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The exact causes of a learning disability are unknown. The way a person's brain works may cause learning disabilities. Certain biological, genetic, or environmental factors are linked with learning disabilities. Boys are affected 4 to 5 times more than girls. Learning disabilities can run in families. The following factors may contribute to the cause of learning disability:
injury to the fetus
medical problems the mother had during pregnancy
prenatal exposure to drugs,
alcohol, nicotine, or other toxic substances
premature birth, low birth
weight, or birth trauma
poor nutrition, either the child's or the mother's when she was pregnant
certain medical problems, such as asthma, allergies, or diabetes
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Learning disability is a broad term that includes many types of disorders. A person with a learning disability may have trouble with:
orientation to time and space
Symptoms vary, depending upon the type of learning disability. The person may:
have low self esteem
have social problems
drop out of school
have attention deficit disorder
have conduct disorder
have poor memory
be impulsive, restless, or distractible
be unable to read, listen, or organize thoughts
have a lot of problems speaking, writing, spelling, or doing math
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
A complete evaluation is done to determine if a child has a learning
disability. The evaluation includes testing, teacher input, parental input, and observing the child.
Tests are done to see if the child's learning problems are due to vision impairments, hearing impairments, allergies, or any other medical issues. A child's mental capacity,
school performance, eyesight, hearing, emotional status, and general
neurological function may be checked. Often several different types of
professionals will assess the child. These may include an audiologist,
psychologist, doctor, and a speech and language pathologist.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
While there is no known way to prevent all learning disabilities, it is clear
that a woman who has good prenatal care gives her child a good start. It is
important to avoid pregnancy risk
factors such as alcohol or drugs. Also, eating a healthy diet, especially during infancy and early childhood, can help minimize learning disabilities.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
If a child with an learning disability is not effectively treated, academic, social, and interpersonal problems are likely to develop. Children who are not doing well in school are more likely to have low self-esteem and lose motivation. They may eventually withdraw from the demands of the people around them.
Children with untreated learning disabilities are at a much higher risk
for dropping out of school. Socially, they are often teased and rejected,
causing more problems with self-esteem. If left untreated, learning
disabilities may cause a lifetime of problems.
What are the risks to others?
Learning disabilities are not contagious. However, the learning disability may be genetic and can be passed on to offspring.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment is aimed at helping the child learn ways to lessen the effects of the learning disability. The child needs to learn how to learn. Specific treatments are available with certain disorders.
After the correct learning disorder is diagnosed, the special education
services at the child's school will design an individualized educational plan, called an IEP. This will specify who and what services will be provided to the child.
The child may need counseling in order to overcome his or her self-esteem
problems. He or she needs to feel supported and accepted. Counseling will help the child understand the problem and teach him or her ways to cope.
The child's home life needs to support his or her educational goals. An
organized, quiet study area is needed. A balance between diet, rest, play, and study should be maintained. Solid discipline coupled with nurturing and
consistent, fair expectations are very important for children with learning
Sometimes medications may be suggested, depending on the type of the learning disability. Medication can be effective in minimizing hyperactivity, distractibility, or poor attention span.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness and allergic reactions.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
Depending on the type of learning disability, treatment may be lifelong, but in varying degrees. A caregiver may need to carefully watch the child to see if more treatment or a different type of treatment is needed.
How is the condition monitored?
Monitoring a learning disability may also be lifelong. Treatment may need to be adjusted based on a person's needs.