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How to Spot a Learning Disability

How to Spot a Learning Disability

By Dr. Kenneth Shore

The most frequent problem for which children receive special education is a learning disability. More common with boys, learning disabilities are found in approximately 10 percent of children nationwide. A learning disability is characterized by difficulties in acquiring information and typically gives rise to academic deficiencies.

While learning disabled children rarely have the same profile of strengths and weaknesses, they do share two characteristics in common: they are not lazy and they are not slow. They are often puzzles to their teachers and parents—and almost always themselves—because they typically do some things well and others poorly. Many grow frustrated and discouraged by their failure to keep pace with their classmates and may respond in class by misbehaving, withdrawing, or even becoming the class clown.

The following is a partial list of behaviors that may suggest a learning disability:

  • has difficulty concentrating for even brief periods and is easily distracted
  • often fails to understand oral or written information (for example, teacher directions)
  • has poor retention of learned material such as math facts, spelling words, days of week, telling time
  • has significant difficulty sounding out words
  • reverses letters or numbers while reading or writing after age eight
  • has a hard time organizing himself and his materials
  • is very slow in completing class assignments and has difficulty putting ideas down on paper
  • is easily frustrated and gives up quickly
  • has spatial orientation difficulties (for example, is often confused in getting around school)
  • misperceives social situations or reactions of other people

Children without learning disabilities may also exhibit some of these characteristics. Consider pursuing an evaluation when your child displays several signs suggestive of a learning disability.

Of course, children who exhibit learning problems do not necessarily have a learning disability. Learning problems can derive from numerous factors, from an undetected hearing loss to emotional distress to boredom. Because it is hard to distinguish learning disabilities from other kinds of problems, children may be wrongly diagnosed as learning disabled. Children who are having trouble learning may not have a disability but rather may be receiving instruction that is poorly suited to their learning profile.

If your child is having significant academic difficulties and you have exhausted other school options to resolve the problem, consider having him evaluated by your school district’s evaluation team to determine if he has a disability and is a candidate for special education. If your child is referred for evaluation, a school official, usually the principal, will meet with you to explain the reason for the referral, the evaluation procedures, and your due-process rights. The evaluation cannot proceed without your written consent.

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