March 31, 2011

How learning disabilities are first identified?

The first step in solving any problem is realizing there is one. When a baby is born, the parents eagerly wait for the baby's first step, first word, a myriad of other "firsts." During routine checkups, the pediatrician, too, watches for more subtle signs of development. The parents and doctor are watching for the child to achieve developmental milestones. 
Parents are usually the first to notice obvious delays in their child reaching early milestones. The pediatrician may observe more subtle signs of minor neurological damage, such as a lack of coordination. But the classroom teacher, in fact, may be the first to notice the child's persistent difficulties in reading, writing, or arithmetic. As school tasks become more complex, a child with a learning disability may have problems mentally juggling more information.

The learning problems of children who are quiet and polite in school may go unnoticed. Children with above average intelligence, who manage to maintain passing grades despite their disability, are even less likely to be identified. Children with hyperactivity, on the other hand, will be identified quickly by their impulsive behaviour and excessive movement. Hyperactivity usually begins before age 4 but may not be recognized until the child enters school.

What should parents, doctors, and teachers do if critical developmental milestones haven't appeared by the usual age? Sometimes it's best to allow a little more time, simply for the brain to mature a bit. But if a milestone is already long delayed, if there's a history of learning disabilities in the family, or if there are several delayed skills, the child should be professionally evaluated as soon as possible. An educator or a doctor who treats children can suggest where to go for help.

What are the "warning signs" of learning disabilities?
Children with learning disabilities exhibit a wide range of symptoms. These include problems with reading, mathematics, comprehension, writing, spoken language, or reasoning abilities. Hyperactivity, inattention and perceptual coordination may also be associated with learning disabilities but are not learning disabilities themselves. The primary characteristic of a learning disability is a significant difference between a child's achievement in some areas and his or her overall intelligence. Learning disabilities typically affect five general areas:
  1. Spoken language: delays, disorders, and deviations in listening and speaking.
  2. Written language: difficulties with reading, writing and spelling.
  3. Arithmetic: difficulty in performing arithmetic operations or in understanding basic concepts.
  4. Reasoning: difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts.
  5. Memory: difficulty in remembering information and instructions.
It is important to keep in mind that the behaviours listed below must persist over time to be considered warning signs.

  • Slow development in speaking words or sentences 
  • Pronunciation problems 
  • Difficulty learning new words 
  • Difficulty following simple directions 
  • Difficulty understanding questions 
  • Difficulty expressing wants and desires 
  • Difficulty rhyming words 
  • Lack of interest in story telling 
Motor Skills 
  • Clumsiness 
  • Poor balance 
  • Difficulty manipulating small objects 
  • Awkwardness with running, jumping, or climbing 
  • Trouble learning to tie shoes, button shirts, or perform other self-help activities 
  • Avoidance of drawing or tracing 
  • Trouble memorizing the alphabet or days of the week 
  • Poor memory for what should be routine (everyday) procedures 
  • Difficulty with cause and effect, sequencing, and counting 
  • Difficulty with basic concepts such as size, shape, colour 
  • High distractibility 
  • Impulsive behavior 
  • Unusual restlessness (hyperactivity) 
  • Difficulty staying on task 
  • Difficulty changing activities 
  • Constant repetition of an idea, inability to move on to a new idea (perseveration) 
 Social Behavior 
  • Trouble interacting with others, playing alone 
  • Prone to sudden and extreme mood changes 
  • Easily frustrated 
  • Hard to manage, has temper tantrums 
When considering these symptoms, it is important to remain mindful of the following:
  • No one will have all these symptoms.
  • Among LD populations, some symptoms are more common than others.
  • All people have at least two or three of these problems to some degree.
  • The number of symptoms seen in a particular child does not give an indication as whether the disability is mild or severe. It is important to consider if the behaviours are chronic and appear in clusters.

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