A brief look at learning disabilities.
MY little boy is in kindergarten for the first time, and he has difficulty reading. He is four years old. We never really thought it was a problem until the teachers suggested he might have a learning disability. What is a learning disability?
A learning disability (also called LD) is a neurological disorder. Your brain's ability to receive, process, store or respond to information is impaired.
Note that this is not IQ - you can be as intelligent the next person and still have a learning disability.
Unfortunately, learning skills are important to get by in life in the modern world, and so a person with a learning disability is likely to struggle in school or work.
Learning disabilities are not a single disorder but rather a group of disorders.
What type of learning disabilities are there? My boy has difficulty reading but I don't believe he has anything else impaired.
Learning disabilities can affect your ability to:
- Listen (auditory processing disorder)
- Speak (articulation and phonographic disorders)
- Read (dyslexia)
- Write (dysgraphia)
- Do mathematics (dyscalculia)
- Pay attention (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- Complete simple tasks and coordinate simple muscle movements (dyspraxia)
Does dysgraphia mean having poor handwriting?
No, not at all. Poor handwriting does not equate dysgraphia, or a lot of doctors will fall into that category!
In dysgraphia, your writing is distorted and incorrect. In children, dysgraphia usually starts when they begin writing for the very first time.
The alphabets may be of different sizes in a single word or inappropriately spaced. They may keep on writing the wrong words or get their spelling incorrect despite you teaching them the same thing many times.
Sometimes, different words are substituted for each other. (For example, "boy" for "child".)
The cause of dysgraphia is unknown, though adults may sometimes get it after a head injury.
I am extremely poor at mathematics. I used to fail it all the time in school. Does it mean I have dyscalculia?
Again, not necessarily. You, like me, may just be bad at math. Dyscalculia covers a wide range of disabilities involving maths. Children with this may have difficulty learning what numbers mean, or recognising different groups of objects or patterns, or even being unable to tell the difference between small and big or tall and short.
They may also have difficulty counting and matching numbers with actual amounts.
When the children go to school, they have difficulty doing basic sums with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They may not retain timetables and have difficulty doing problem solving with maths.
Some children may even have difficulty understanding what's written on the blackboard or in the textbook.
When you get older, you may have difficulty remembering schedules. You may chronically be late because you can't tell time. You find it difficult to estimate the cost of groceries and you might not even be able to count the days in a calendar.
You might find it difficult to play chess or other strategy games or role-playing video games.
How do I know my child has a learning disability or is just slow?
There are some warning signs you can look out for in your young child. For example:
By two and a half years old, your child should be able to put sentences together
By three years old, you should be able to understand what your child is saying most of the time
By five years old (pre-kindergarten) your child should be able to do his own buttons, tie his own shoelaces and skip
Between three and five years old, your child should be able to pay attention and sit still while you read him a short story
If your child has any of these problems, it does not 100% mean he has a learning disability, but if you are concerned, you should take him to see a doctor.
What causes my child to have a learning disability? Is it because I'm a bad mother? Because I didn't pay attention to him while he was growing up? Or is it because I did not take care of myself during pregnancy? I remember having terrible morning sickness.
To this day, no one is completely sure what causes learning disabilities. But certain theories have been put forward.
Learning disabilities may be inherited. It tends to run in families.
If you had an illness or trauma during or before the birth of your child, learning disabilities could indeed arise. For example, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, premature or prolonged labour.
If your child has had a head injury, nutritional deficiencies or exposure to toxic substances (like lead), this can also arise.
But learning disabilities are not caused by being poor, being in impoverished countries or being in different cultures.
Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
This story was first published in The Star on June 8, 2008.