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 specific problems in acquiring information, often giving rise to deficiencies in academic skills. Distinguishing a learning disability from other disabilities or from a motivational problem can be tricky so that misdiagnosis is common.
While learning disabled children rarely have the same profile of strengths and weaknesses, they do share two characteristics in common: their academic problems are not due to laziness and they are not slow. Indeed, children with learning disabilities are often very smart. They may use their good intelligence to compensate for or work around their learning problems.
Smart students with learning disabilities are often puzzles to their teachers and parents—and almost always to themselves—because they typically do some things well and others poorly. Many grow frustrated by their failure to keep pace with their classmates and may respond in class by misbehaving, withdrawing, or even becoming the class clown.
Learning disabilities come in many shapes and sizes. Some learning disabled children have difficulty learning to read. Others may be skilled readers but have problems with written or oral language. They may have difficulty putting their thoughts on paper so that what they write rarely reflects what they know. Or they may have problems processing what they hear even though their hearing is intact. Most learning disabled children do not have just one specific problem but rather a combination of problems.
Children with learning disabilities sometimes outgrow the problem. Recent research indicates that children diagnosed with a reading disability in first grade often are not reading disabled when tested again as third or sixth graders. Other learning disabled children, however, do continue to have problems throughout school and perhaps into adulthood. For these children, the hope is that through specialized teaching techniques and a positive, supportive approach, they will learn to develop some coping mechanisms and adjust to the disability.
If your child is having significant academic difficulties and you have exhausted other school options to resolve the problem, consider having him or her evaluated to determine if he has a learning disability and is a candidate for special education. Almost every public school district has an evaluation team, a group of professionals with expertise in assessing students who may warrant special education.