Why Is It Important To Understand Learning Disabilities?
Yet, our exploration of learning disabilities is incomplete without touching on several of the other most common conditions and how they impact the youth who have them.
How Learning Disabilities Affect Learning
In part 1 of this series, we defined learning disabilities and discussed their prevalence in the U.S., 4 million children under 18 have learning disabilities, equating to at least 1 in every 59 children.
But what does that really mean for students who are or are not diagnosed with a learning disability?
As the name suggests, these conditions make specific aspects of learning more complicated. While some struggle with comprehension, which can make it tough to keep up in class, others may have difficulty with the tactical aspects of applying what they know.
And the impact of these challenges goes beyond getting good grades.
Classroom participation takes a significant dip for students with learning disabilities when compared to their counterparts:
“One in five (21 percent) students with learning disabilities are reported rarely or never to respond orally to questions, whereas only 1 percent of their classmates [without learning disabilities] are reported to respond to questions so infrequently. Half of students with learning disabilities are reported rarely or never to present to the class, compared with about one-third (38 percent) whose teachers report that classmates [without learning disabilities] respond as infrequently.”
Feeling excluded from group projects, lacking the confidence to answer questions in class, and facing unique challenges to independent work can add up to a negative school experience and diminished self-image. It feeds a cycle of self-isolation, bullying, and diminished interest in school altogether.
But since we know that receiving help with a learning disability early on can have a monumental impact on a child’s academic enthusiasm and achievement, there’s a sense of urgency for educators, caregivers, and program leaders. We have to know when and how to help our youth succeed.
Common Learning Disabilities
Spotting the typical signs of these common learning disabilities will be your first step in providing the unique care each child deserves.
“Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that begins in childhood that makes it difficult to perform motor skills. It also causes issues with coordination.”
Sometimes referred to as apraxia, this condition is defined by the relationship between our brains and our ability to carry out certain physical tasks. Approximately 6% of the population has dyspraxia, according to the Dyspraxia Foundation, though estimates for other countries put the total population’s average a bit higher. Males seem to be diagnosed with this condition more often than females, and there’s evidence that dyspraxia may be hereditary.
Common Signs of Dyspraxia
Early signs of dyspraxia will differ as children age, and symptoms may come and go. Here are a few things to look for:
- Taking slightly longer than expected to roll over, sit, crawl or walk
- Unusual body positions (postures) during their 1st year
- Difficulty playing with toys that involve coordination, like building blocks
- Difficulty learning to eat with cutlery
- Trouble with playground activities like hopping, jumping, running, and catching or kicking a ball.
- Avoidance of physical activities or physical education
- Difficult walking up and down stairs
- Trouble writing, drawing, or doing crafts due to difficulty manipulating tools like writing implements or scissors
- Scribbled or less developed-looking handwriting compared to other children their age
- Challenges getting dressed, like fastening buttons or tying shoelaces
- Swinging or moving their arms and legs a lot
- Clumsiness or bumping into objects
- Dropping things frequently
- Tripping or falling over
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty following instructions and copying information
- Poor organization skills
- Slower to pick up new skills
- Difficulty making friends
- Behavior problems
- Low self-esteem
These symptoms can vary widely in their presentation; some youth may not exhibit the lion’s share of indicators on this list. And some who do show these signs may not have coordination issues related to dyspraxia. There is a lot of nuance to identifying this condition based on behaviors alone.
How to Help
Though there is no cure for dyspraxia, there are methods you can use to make your environment comfortable and inviting to children with dyspraxia.
- Offer alternatives to writing. Assignments requiring lengthy written responses may be disarming for students with dyspraxia. Consider offering fill-in-the-blank questions or matching exercises as an alternative. It would also be courteous to provide typed notes to accompany your lectures so students don’t struggle to write down all the important information in a limited time.
- Be strategic about seating. If you want to eliminate distractions, consider a seating chart that puts kids with dyspraxia near the whiteboard. Think about where things like pencil sharpeners, bathrooms, and other resources are, too, to ensure they are within easy reach.
- Provide help. Given the tactile setbacks of dyspraxia, certain activities may bring more challenges than others. Be ready to assist your students who need it on projects that involve writing, drawing, folding, or physical coordination.
2. Auditory Processing Disorder
“Kids with this condition, also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), can’t understand what they hear in the same way other kids do. This is because their ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.”
Affecting 3-5% of school-aged children, auditory processing disorder describes a difficulty to understand spoken language. It is a highly distinctive condition because it does not indicate hearing loss, despite its immediate connection to hearing-related functions and tasks.
Common Signs of Auditory Processing Disorder
This learning disability can masquerade as other conditions, making it hard to pinpoint. Consider if a child is demonstrating these behaviors, or facing similar challenges.
- Significant difficulty understanding speech, especially when there’s background noise
- Difficulty following multi-step directions that are presented verbally, without visual cues
- Easily distracted by loud or spontaneous (sudden) sounds
- Difficulty attending long lectures or other long periods of listening
- Difficulty remembering and/or effectively summarizing information presented verbally
- Difficulty reading, spelling, and/or writing when compared to their peers or grade-level standards
- Trouble following abstract thoughts or ideas
- Delayed or misunderstanding of jokes, idioms, and figurative language
- Mishearing words or sounds
- Getting overwhelmed in noisy environments
- Better performance and listening skills in quiet settings
- Difficulty comprehending the mechanics of spelling or phonics
- Struggling more with word problems in math class than other types of exercises
- Trouble following conversations
Auditory processing disorder may not be the first condition that comes to mind when you see these signs in a child. There are other diagnoses that may be a better fit, even for students displaying these behaviors as well. It can take several professionals from different disciplines to come to a conclusion about whether or not a child has an auditory processing disorder or a different condition altogether.
How to Help
Have patience for the kids in your care who may be dealing with an auditory processing disorder. Here are a few ways you can empower them to do well:
- Refer caregivers to connect with an audiologist. There are tests that can be performed on kids aged 7 or older to determine if auditory processing disorder is present. A clear diagnosis can become the cornerstone of your action plan.
- Provide visual cues. Verbal instructions alone may not be enough to keep kids with auditory processing disorder on track. Write instructions on the board, provide a printout with written and illustrated instructions, or demonstrate what’s expected to support your auditory instructions.
- Create a quiet space. Youth with auditory processing disorder may find it easier to focus or calm down in a quiet environment. Set aside space where a child can work, play, or relax without the threat of auditory overwhelm.
3. Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
“Visual perceptual/visual motor deficits affect a child’s ability to understand the information they visually see. This impacts a child’s ability to read and affects their ability to draw or copy and often leads to a short attention span.”
While auditory processing disorder makes it tough for a child to process information delivered verbally, this disorder presents difficulty for written or visual information. Children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities often get attributed to this category of deficit, making it tricky to clearly label how many students are dealing with it worldwide.
Common Signs of Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Because visual perceptual and visual motor deficits are common signs of other disorders, the common signs can indicate any number of conditions. Keep that in mind if you observe these behaviors or challenges:
- Inability to accurately copy down information
- Difficulty navigating school grounds or other larger areas
- Frequent complaints about eye pain and itchiness (children will often rub their eyes as well)
- Turning their head while reading or holding their paper at odd angles
- Losing their place on the page while reading
- Struggles with cutting and pasting
- Poor page organization, including poorly-aligned letters, illegible words, and irregular spacing
- Holding a pencil too tightly, often resulting in breaking the point
- Closing one eye while reading or working
- Reversing letters and symbols like seeing “b” instead of “d,” or inverting letters like “u” and “n.”
- Unable to recognize a word if only part of it is shown
- Struggles with cut and paste
You may recognize a few of these early signs from our coverage of other common learning disabilities. Some of the methods for helping these students apply to multiple conditions as well.
How to Help
Trouble with visual information does not diminish a student’s capacity to do well in school. With the right help, they can enjoy and excel at reading.
- Rethink your library. Large print books and audiobooks offer great alternatives that get kids with visual perception motor deficits engaged with literature.
- Try new tools. Since gripping pencils and processing written words may be a sticking point for students with this learning disability, equip them with alternative methods for recording information.
- Allowing them to dictate their assignments instead of writing them
- Offer a word processor for them to type their work
- Permit graph paper and rulers to help them stay on track
- Keep high-contrast lined paper and pencil grips on hand
- Narrate your visual aids. Visual aids speak for themselves for some students, but others will need your auditory instructions to make sense of them. Provide spoken directions to accompany any visual cues.
The More You Learn, The More They Learn.
Children with learning disabilities are no less intelligent because of them. Understanding the challenges they face in our classrooms and after-school programs allows us to collaboratively empower our students to embrace their intelligence and do well in and beyond school.
But learning disabilities are a nuanced topic. We encourage you to continue educating yourself and others with some of the sources we relied on to compile this overview.
Sources for common symptoms and ways to help cited in this article include:
And in case you missed it, read part 1 of our learning disabilities series for coverage on dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia.
As always, you have an inclusive resource here with us at Kids Included Together.
Our courses, templates, checklists, and activity ideas are constantly evolving to help you create an inclusive environment for students with disabilities of all types.