Learning Disabilities

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability (LD) is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. The term learning disability is used to describe the seeming unexplained difficulty a person of at least average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and work, and for coping with life in general. LD is not a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders. Language learning disabilities can affect a person’s ability in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mathematics.

Currently, almost 2.9 million school-aged children in the US are classified as having specific learning disabilities (SLD) and receive some kind of special education support. They are approximately 5% of all school-aged children in public schools.

Experts are not sure what causes learning disabilities. LD may be due to heredity. Often learning disabilities run in the family, so it’s not uncommon to find that people with LD have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties. LD may also be caused by illness or injury during or before birth. It may also be caused by drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen and premature or prolonged labor. Last, head injuries, nutritional deprivation and exposure to toxic substances can contribute to LD.

What types of disabilities are there? (Specifically-Language)

The most common learning disability is difficulty with language and reading. Language is not only the basis for functional, competent communication, but it is also the foundation of learning academics. Many children and adults go through life with this “hidden challenge in learning”. The resulting problems can lead to poor self esteem, failure to thrive in school, and difficulty in the workplace. Speech and language problems are often the earliest indicators of a learning disability. People with developmental speech and language disorders have difficulty producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding what other people say. Depending on the problem, the specific diagnosis may be articulation disorder, expressive language disorder, or receptive language disorder. Children with articulation disorders may lag behind playmates in learning to make speech sounds. Children with expressive language difficulties can take many forms, including the limited use of verbal language and limited vocabulary development. Children with receptive language challenges have trouble understanding certain aspects of language. Their hearing is fine, but they can’t make sense of certain sounds, words, or sentences they hear. They may seem inattentive.

Children with only speech delays, articulation disorders, or language delays usually  do not end up with a diagnosis of Learning Disabilities.  With appropriate speech and language therapy, these children will most likely catch up with their peers.

Signs of a disability

Children reach certain “milestones” of development: the first word, the first step, and so forth. Doctors and parents are watching for these developmental milestones. Learning disorders may be informally flagged by observing significant delays in the child’s skill development. There are several indications that a child may be suffering from LD. Late talking, pronunciation problems, slow vocabulary growth, difficulty rhyming words, trouble learning numbers, extreme restlessness, trouble interacting with peers, and a poor ability to follow directions are clues that a child may have a LD.

What are the solutions?

Learning disabilities are lifelong, although they don’t have to stop a person from achieving goals. Help is available if problems are identified. The process begins when someone (school staff, parents, etc) makes a referral for an initial evaluation. During the evaluation, a team of qualified professionals will review the results of the evaluation and determine if the child is eligible for special education services. If the child is eligible for services, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed. An IEP is a written agreement between the parents and the school about what the child needs and what will be done to address those needs.

Benefits of Speech Language Pathologists

Speech language pathologists help people who have problems with communication and swallowing. They help people of all ages and also offer support to family members and caregivers.

Speech language pathologists help people with a range of communication difficulties. These include problems with:

■ Speech and hearing
■ Fluency (rate and smooth flow of speech)
■ Using and understanding language
■ Reading and writing
■ Voice
■ Eating and drinking.

Speech pathologists can help children to learn in a number of ways.  They can:

■ Assist a child who is learning to read.
■ Help children who don't understand what the teacher is saying.
■ Supply information about communication to teachers and schools.
■ Provide early intervention for children with a disability.

Speech pathologists work in a number of settings, including:

■ Kindergartens and schools
■ Private practice
■ Hospitals, nursing homes and community health centers
■ Specialist centers, such as autistic centers
■ Mental health services
■ Rehabilitation centers.
■ University / Academia