How do I know if my child has a learning disability?

Article at a Glance

  • Early intervention can ensure a positive outlook for children with learning disabilities.
  • Learning disabilities affect reading, writing, speech, calculation, and focus.
  • Seeing a pediatrician is an important step in addressing a learning disability.

Learning disabilities are common among children. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 2.4 million American public school students with identified learning disabilities and who receive services under IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

While growing, children may face many learning challenges throughout their education, but recurring challenges in the same areas could be signs of a learning disability. It’s important that parents understand what different learning disabilities look like, as well as what to do if they suspect their child may have a learning disability. Understanding, recognizing, and planning are the first steps in ensuring a positive outlook for a child with a learning disability.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a condition that interferes with an individual’s ability to learn and can affect how they read, write, speak and process information. It’s important to realize that learning disabilities are not reflective of your child’s intelligence. The key difference is that these children may have trouble processing certain types of input or expressing knowledge. Early recognition and intervention can help children in overcoming their hurdles as well as help educators teach in a way that includes the children’s specific learning processes.

What are some signs of learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities are broad-ranging in type and severity, but can generally be categorized into a few defining characteristics. Early-education problems with reading, writing, and math; language or speech disorders; and physiological disorders that include fine motor skills and coordination.

Parents are likely the first ones to notice signs of a learning disability in their children, even before their education begins. That’s because learning disabilities are relevant not just in learning-specific environments like school, but ingrained in everyday learning as children intake new information and begin to express themselves.

Preschool and Kindergarten

Parents should watch their children to see if they have difficulty:

  • Learning the alphabet or rhymes
  • Learning new words
  • Finding the right word
  • Find appropriate words or descriptions, instead of relying on general words like “stuff”
  • Learning numbers or shapes
  • Sorting items by size, shape, or color
  • Grasping their pen or pencil or grasping it in a forced or unnatural way
  • With buttons and zippers

Elementary School

  • With consistently mixing up similar letters like “b” and “d” or “m” and “w”
  • Understanding prefixes and suffixes
  • With confusing basic words (walk, eat, like)
  • With pronunciation issues
  • With trouble solving problems involving money and time
  • Recognizing sequences or following math steps in order
  • With organization of either physical objects or with school assignments and time management
  • Concentrating

What do I do if I suspect my child has a learning disability?

The first thing you should do is see your child’s pediatrician. In addition to ruling out health problems, pediatricians can offer guidance about any necessary screenings or testing for your child.

If your pediatrician identifies a learning disability, you can formulate a long-term plan and gather the information your child’s school may need to move forward. You can also arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss your pediatrician’s findings, intervention options, and next steps. With careful screenings and the right intervention, your child’s future learning can be greatly improved. Early intervention can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.

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