Learning about Learning Disorders – Part Two
If you missed Part One of this series, you’ll find it (and other articles) on the blog of Integrated Learning Therapy’s website – www.ilt.co.za.
In this article, some answers are given to some of the most often asked questions that parents pose about learning disabilities and difficulties.
- What is a learning problem?
Typically a learning problem is defined as a difficulty acquiring academic skills such as reading or maths. Some children show very subtle problems which are hardly noticeable. Other problems are very severe and make it virtually impossible for the child to progress in a certain academic area.
Learning problems can be rooted in emotional factors, such as fears, a highly stressful environment, family troubles and so on. It can be based on a mismatch between the child and her environment – for example, a school that is too unstructured for her her. It could be biological – and due to irregularities in brain development and functioning. If fairly severe, the term commonly used is ‘learning disability’. If not, ‘learning difficulty’ would be appropriate. Either way, it would be unwise to ignore it and hope it will go away. Better to have a comprehensive evaluation to try and determine the root causes underlying the learning problem. A learning disability, on the other hand, cannot be due to emotional problems. See below for more about this.
- What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is usually understood to be a learning problem that is severe enough to impact negatively on a child’s academic progress and that can be attributed to some or other inefficient brain functions. It is NOT the result of lower intelligence, severe emotional disturbance or a physical challenge such as sight or hearing impairment. Some learners are incorrectly labelled as ‘slow’ learners, suggesting below average intelligence when, in fact, they are suffering from an unrecognised learning disability.
Some intellectually gifted children who are coping at school but failing to realise their very high potential may also have a learning disability.
- Can a learning disability be outgrown?
It is more likely that a child with a learning disability may learn how to compensate for her difficulties. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can help to build resilience and strength that can help enormously throughout life. In fact, many of us have ways of compensating for areas of weakness. An example of a compensatory technique is reading through study content in preparation for a class if you cannot follow spoken language easily, or reading content out loud (or making an audio recording of it to play back) if you can understand and remember better through auditory channels.
- Can a learning disability be caused by an emotional problem?
No. The root of learning disabilities lie in irregular functioning of certain brain areas. A child may, of course, show accompanying emotional problems which are caused by the distress of her learning disability. In this case, the emotional problems may be helped by therapy. It is rare for a child with a learning disability to not show low self-esteem and a sense of being a failure. Years of struggling result in confusion about one’s self identity, anger, despair and frustration.
Trouble at home, parental discord and so on are never the primary, underlying cause of a learning disability. Neither is poor parenting, abusive parenting or inattentive parenting. These factors can exacerbate the effect the disability has on the child and how well she can cope with it, but they don’t cause disabilities.
- Can medication ‘cure’ a learning disability?
No known medication addresses the root cause of a learning disability.
- Can disabilities be inherited?
This is a difficult question. Some research suggests that some learning disabilities may be inherited and that others are not. Often those in the field of neurodevelopment find that a weakness in a certain brain area or other important brain system might be inherited. This might result in a learning disability but the child may have a different experience to the family member which results in her not showing any lack of ability at all. ILT practitioners have had the experience of seeing parents experienced surprising improvement in certain areas if they participate in their child’s therapeutic programme. This is because the underlying brain area has benefitted and becomes more efficient.
- When should I consider placing my child in a remedial or special needs school?
The fact that a child has a learning disability doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to leave mainstream schooling. If the prognosis is good, it might be better to seek out the support of the current school while the child undergoes a programme to help. It is sometimes not easy to return from remedial or special needs environments to mainstream education so a child who can cope might benefit more by staying put. However, school personnel and other professionals need to be in agreement with this and together you can decide on the best course of action if it is warranted.
Most children with learning disabilities can be helped and ILT has a very good track record when it comes to turning dis-ability in ability. However, we can never guarantee 100% success – we are regularly humbled by children who present with very puzzling problems. In spite of saying that, a child with a learning disability will not flourish over the long run without proper assessment and treatment. Don’t delay in getting your child the help she needs.
In the next article, I’ll be discussing the most frequently encountered underlying causes of learning disabilities and difficulties.
If you would like to learn more about Integrated Learning Therapy, visit our website – www.ilt.co.za. And to receive more articles like this, remember to Like our Facebook page and Share with all your friends.
 With thanks and acknowledgement to Barbara Novick and Maureen Arnold who wrote the book ‘Why is my child having trouble at school?’