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What Parents Need to Know about Learning Disabilities and ADHD

Approximately 10% of American school-age children suffer from a learning disability (LD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control. It’s estimated that 4% of children have both. But, for many children, these disorders go undetected despite ongoing struggles with school work and behavior issues that often accompany LDs and ADHD.

One thing parents and kids should realize is that those with LDs are often average or above average in intelligence. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a child with a learning disability to excel in one subject, while struggling in another. Or perhaps a child does well under certain conditions while having great difficulty in other situations.Though depending on the LD and severity of it, a child might struggle in all areas.

Forms of Learning Disabilities

There are several forms of LDs. Some pose input problems, which means a child struggles with either sound or visual input. Information isn’t processed correctly or gets stored incorrectly in the brain. This can pose problems with retrieval as well as short or long-term memory.

An LD can also cause output problems.This can sometimes be seen in motor skills such as handwriting difficulties. Another common problem is verbal output. This is usually evident in that the child has trouble organizing thoughts either in writing or orally. Punctuation, grammar and spelling also often suffer.

students with learning disabilities can get additional support
photo credit: Education International

Dyscalculia is a math learning disability. With this disorder, children have may have difficulty learning to tell time, counting money or counting in general, learning math facts, calculating, understanding measurement or performing mental math.

Dyslexia is a reading disability, though the symptoms are not exclusive to reading. Children with this disorder may have difficulty with spelling, vocabulary or comprehension. They may read slow, have trouble learning left from right, or have organizational problems both with written and spoken language.

Dysgraphia is a writing disability. Poor handwriting and often an awkward style of holding a pencil or even contorting the body while writing are hallmarks. A child may also have trouble drawing lines. With dysgraphia, children can often better express their understanding of material through speech than in writing.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a problem with input. It isn’t a problem with hearing but rather the brain has difficulty processing sounds. As a result, kids with APD may be distracted by loud noise or have difficulty following conversations. It tends to be especially problematic when there’s a lot of background noise which makes it difficult to distinguish sounds.

Visual Processing Disorders (VPD) are also a problem with input. Similarly, they aren’t a vision problem. Rather, VPD is a problem with the brain processing what the eyes see. It can result in a child bumping into things or not being able to distinguish the shapes they see. It can also pose difficulty in identifying letters or numbers or result in problems with visual sequencing among other symptoms.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) is similar to Asperger Syndrome and shows up as difficulties with social skills. Academic problems are sometimes present as well but often don’t show up until kids reach higher grade levels. Those with NLD may be afraid of new situations, struggle to make friends, lack commonsense and experience social withdrawal. Academic problems can include reading comprehension and working out math story problems.

ADHD is marked by attention problems and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Girls often have only attention issues while boys are more commonly impulsive or hyperactive. Symptoms can include difficulty staying on task or paying attention yet often hyperfocusing on stimulating activity. Children with ADHD may fidget or have trouble staying seated, interrupt and act without thinking.

The symptoms listed above for each of the LDs aren’t exhaustive. To learn more about symptoms, visit Learning Disabilities Association of America.

some students have learning disabilities and ADHD
photo credit:

What to do if you suspect your child has an LD or ADHD

The first step is to talk with your child’s teacher, and find out what the teacher has observed. Then talk to the school principal and request an evaluation. Public schools are required by law to provide an evaluation. This should include an IQ test, assessments of math, reading and writing, and testing processing skills. If your child is in a private school and the private school doesn’t offer this service, you can request it through your public school district.

Once your child has received a diagnosis, your school psychologist should be able to recommend and help you set up services or accommodations for your child. Depending on the specific learning disability, your child may qualify for special education services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Bear in mind, you are your child’s best advocate. So read books and articles on your child’s LD and learn how you and your school can help. Talk to your child’s teacher about additional ways the he/she can assist your child. Most teachers are eager to help, though depending on student ratio and school resources, it’s sometimes challenging for educators to do as much as they’d like because they likely have other children with special needs in the classroom as well. If you feel your child isn’t getting the help he/she needs, talk to the school administrator.

Feature image credit: Rowan University

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