Learning Disabilities

Are you worried your child has a learning disability? At MaineHealth, we provide screening, testing, diagnosis and resources. Specialists work with children, families and providers. Children get the help and support they need.

What are learning disabilities?

  • Learning disabilities are conditions that affect reading, writing, math skills, communication and language.
  • Learning disabilities may be spotted first by teachers at school.
  • A child may have problems with specific learning concepts that do not get better over time.
  • Children may have more than one learning disability.
  • Children can develop skills to handle their learning disability. However, learning disabilities can last into adulthood. Children and their families can get help and support.

Learning disability types

  • Dyslexia causes problems with language skills, particularly reading. People with dyslexia may have difficulty spelling, understanding sentences, and recognizing words they already know.
  • Dysgraphia causes problems with handwriting, including problems forming letters, writing within a defined space, and writing down thoughts.
  • Dyscalculia is a math learning disability that may cause difficulty understanding concepts such as addition, multiplication, and measuring.
  • Dyspraxia is also termed sensory integration disorder. It involves problems with motor coordination that lead to poor balance and clumsiness.
  • Apraxia or speech/verbal apraxia involves problems with speaking correctly and consistently.
  • Central auditory processing disorder is trouble understanding and remembering language-related tasks, such as explaining things, understanding jokes, and following directions.
  • Nonverbal learning disorders are problems understanding facial expression and body language. In addition, people may be physically clumsy and have trouble generalizing and following multistep directions.
  • Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit is a problem with recognizing letters, such as "m" and "w" or "d" and "b.” With this disorder, people may also lose their place while reading, copy inaccurately, write messily, and cut paper clumsily.
  • Aphasia/dysphasia is a language disorder characterized by difficulty understanding spoken language, poor reading comprehension, trouble with writing, and difficulty finding words to express thoughts and feelings.

Learning disability causes

The causes of learning disabilities are not exactly known. Researchers have found that there appears to be differences in the brain structure of those with learning disabilities. The differences are often seen at birth and may be inherited. Scientists have found that learning disabilities are related to areas of the brain that deal with language.

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Signs and symptoms of learning disabilities may vary depending on the type of learning disability.

Some symptoms of learning disabilities include:

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems staying organized
  • Inappropriate responses in school or social situations
  • Difficulty staying on task (easily distracted)
  • Difficulty finding the right way to say something
  • Inconsistent school performance
  • Immature way of speaking
  • Difficulty listening well
  • Problems dealing with new things in life
  • Problems understanding words or concepts

Learning disabilities are often identified when a child begins to attend school.

Specialized testing is required to make a clear diagnosis. Diagnosing a learning disability usually includes an evaluation.

An evaluation can:

  • Identify whether a child has a learning disability
  • Determine a child's eligibility under federal law for special education services
  • Help construct an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines supports for a youngster who qualifies for special education services
  • Establish a benchmark for measuring the child's educational progress

A full evaluation for a learning disability includes the following:

  • A medical examination, including a neurological exam, to identify or rule out other possible causes of the child's difficulties
  • Exploration of developmental, social and school performance
  • A discussion of family history
  • Academic achievement testing and psychological assessment

A learning disability is treated by using educational strategies to help overcome difficulties.

In general, experts work to help a child learn skills by building on the child’s strengths and developing ways to compensate for the child’s weaknesses. Interventions vary depending on the type of and extent of the disability.

For most children, federal law requires that a public school create an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

An IEP is specific to your child's disability and includes appropriate teaching methods and goals for the school year.

An IEP can change based on the child’s progress. You have the right to ask for a change in the IEP if you don't agree with it.