Learning disorder
 


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Learning disorder

What is Learning disorder?

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.

Some individuals, despite having an average or above average level of intelligence, have real difficulty acquiring basic academic skills. These skills include those needed for successful reading, writing, listening, speaking and/or math. These difficulties might be the result of a condition - Learning Disability (LD).

  • Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
  • Disorders included, such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
  • Disorders not included, such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Cause

The causes for learning disabilities are not well understood, and sometimes there is no apparent cause for a learning disability. However, some causes of neurological impairments include:
Heredity and genetics
Learning disabilities are often linked through genetics and run in the family. Children who have learning disabilities often have parents who have the same struggle. Kids whose mother who has had less than 12 years of school are more likely to have a reading disability. Some children have spontaneous mutations (i.e. not present in either parent) which can cause developmental disorders including learning disabilities. One study estimated that about one in 300 children had such spontaneous mutations, for example a fault in the CDK13 gene which is associated with learning and communication difficulties in the children affected.

Problems during pregnancy and birth
A learning disability can result from anomalies in the developing brain, illness or injury. Risk factors are fetal exposure to alcohol or drugs and low birth weight (3 pounds or less). These children are more likely to develop a disability in math or reading. Children who are born prematurely, late, have a longer labor than usual, or have trouble receiving oxygen are more likely to develop a learning disability.

Accidents after birth
Learning disabilities can also be caused by head injuries, malnutrition, or by toxic exposure (such as heavy metals or pesticides).

Diagnosis & Tests

IQ-achievement discrepancy
Learning disabilities can be identified by psychiatrists, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, neuropsychologists and other learning disability specialists through a combination of intelligence testing, academic achievement testing, classroom performance, and social interaction and aptitude. Other areas of assessment may include perception, cognition, memory, attention, and language abilities. The resulting information is used to determine whether a child's academic performance is commensurate with his or her cognitive ability. If a child's cognitive ability is much higher than his or her academic performance, the student is often diagnosed with a learning disability. The DSM-IV and many school systems and government programs diagnose learning disabilities in this way (DSM-IV uses the term "disorder" rather than "disability").
Although the discrepancy model has dominated the school system for many years, there has been substantial criticism of this approach among researchers. Recent research has provided little evidence that a discrepancy between formally measured IQ and achievement is a clear indicator of LD. Furthermore, diagnosing on the basis of a discrepancy does not predict the effectiveness of treatment. Low academic achievers who do not have a discrepancy with IQ (i.e. their IQ scores are also low) appear to benefit from treatment just as much as low academic achievers who do have a discrepancy with IQ (i.e. their IQ scores are higher than their academic performance would suggest).

Response to intervention
Much current research has focused on a treatment-oriented diagnostic process known as response to intervention (RTI). Researcher recommendations for implementing such a model include early screening for all students, placing those students who are having difficulty into research-based early intervention programs, rather than waiting until they meet diagnostic criteria. Their performance can be closely monitored to determine whether increasingly intense intervention results in adequate progress. Those who respond will not require further intervention. Those who do not respond adequately to regular classroom instruction (often called "Tier 1 instruction") and a more intensive intervention (often called "Tier 2" intervention) are considered "non-responders." These students can then be referred for further assistance through special education, in which case they are often identified with a learning disability. Some models of RTI include a third tier of intervention before a child is identified as having a learning disability.
A primary benefit of such a model is that it would not be necessary to wait for a child to be sufficiently far behind to qualify for assistance. This may enable more children to receive assistance before experiencing significant failure, which may, in turn, result in fewer children who need intensive and expensive special education services. In the United States, the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act permitted states and school districts to use RTI as a method of identifying students with learning disabilities. RTI is now the primary means of identification of learning disabilities in Florida.
The process does not take into account children's individual neuropsychological factors such as phonological awareness and memory, that can inform design instruction. By not taking into account specific cognitive processes, RTI fails to inform educators about a students' relative strengths and weaknesses Second, RTI by design takes considerably longer than established techniques, often many months to find an appropriate tier of intervention. Third, it requires a strong intervention program before students can be identified with a learning disability. Lastly, RTI is considered a regular education initiative and consists of members of general education teachers, in conjunction with other qualified professionals. Occupational therapists (OT's) in particular can support students in the educational setting by helping children in academic and non-academic areas of school including the classroom, recess and meal time. They can provide strategies, therapeutic interventions, suggestions for adaptive equipment, and environmental modifications. OT's can work closely with the child's teacher and parents to facilitate educational goals specific to each child under an RTI and/or IEP.

Prevention & Risk Factors

To prevent learning disabilities, look for poor nutrition, allergies to food, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals. A lack of sleep and physical exercise are additional factors that may interfere with brain and central nervous system development. And, more importantly, when these harmful factors are removed, the brain returns to normal development and function.

These simple acts alone would benefit 98% of children diagnosed with learning disabilities.

Treatments & Therapies

People with learning disabilities can develop ways to cope with their disabilities. Getting help earlier increases the chance of success in school and later in life. If learning disabilities remain untreated, a child may begin to feel frustrated, which can lead to low self-esteem and other problems.

Experts can help a child learn skills by building on the child’s strengths and finding ways to compensate for the child’s weaknesses. Interventions vary depending on the nature and extent of the disability.