10-20% of American schoolchildren do not learn efficiently. That is, there is one (and sometimes more than one) obstacle to learning that exists somewhere in between their sensory organs (mostly eyes and ears collecting incoming information) and their motor output (speech, fine motor, and behavioral expressions in the outgoing direction). Very often it is the brain’s translation of what comes in — through cognitive and executive (organizational) functions — that interferes with the desired academic and social output most parents and teachers hope for.
Children with learning disorders (LD) learn differently (LD) because of their learning disabilities (LD). Of the three terms, “learning differences” is now favored for a few reasons, not least of which is the fact that most children diagnosed with learning differences can learn very well if they are taught… differently. And “learning disorder” makes LD sound like a rare diagnosis when it is, in fact, quite common; 10-20% of the population almost makes LD a variant of “normal”. Finally, it’s hard to define LD as a true disability when teachers and students can detour obstacles to efficient learning by using effective teaching strategies and technologies. Pediatricians David Childers, Jr. and Eric Tridas define LD accurately:
An LD is an unexpected difficulty in a child with at least average cognitive abilities who is being instructed appropriately. These neurologically based disorders usually are heritable and can lead to deficits in reading (dyslexia), math (dyscalculia), writing (dysgraphia) and physical movement (dyspraxia).
Unless they are identified early and children receive evidence-based interventions, LDs can result in lower school performance, decreased earning potential and an altered life outcome.
The first point the doctors make is the most important: most children diagnosed with LD have normal intelligence! Because children are judged on their expressive performances by their teachers and mentors in school, at home, in every learning environment (assessed through speech, movement, memory, following directions, behavior, etc.), it is natural that intelligence would be suspect when the product (by expression) comes out garbled. This mistaken perception — that LD is associated with lesser intelligence — is unfortunately all too common and can lead to other worrisome symptoms in children, some of which are heartbreaking:
Common symptoms of LDs include somatic complaints such as stomachaches; avoidant behaviors at school and home, particularly around homework completion; and the inability to understand instructions and write out answers.
In addition, getting in trouble at school is prevalent as many students would rather be seen as “bad than dumb.” Studies have shown that half of children with LDs have had detentions or suspensions.
I would add anxiety and depression to the list of symptoms common in children, teenagers, and adults with LDs.
Schools have the responsibility to identify students who have LDs. 10-20% of any student body is a lot of students! It’s important for parents to voice any concerns they may have about their child’s learning with teachers, and vice versa. Pediatricians should also be consulted for all learning difficulties and concerns. The interesting video below gives you the idea of what a LD evaluation by a trained and empathetic professional school psychologist looks like. Such an evaluation is a critical first step that will allow your student the opportunity to learn better, to learn more efficiently — to learn differently.