One of the things that parents always dread is the possibility of their kids having a learning disability. Imagine your child’s preschool teacher approaching you about a “concern.” It can be quite anxiety-inducing. And even if we know that every child is different, we feel frustrated when our children just can’t seem to keep up in school.
The good thing is there are ways we can prevent them from getting worse. Plus, academic success is not the end for our children. In the end, what should matter is if they are happy.
That said, it also does not hurt to familiarise yourself with the different learning disabilities that your child may encounter. There are ways to test them, support them, and motivate them. In this article, we will tackle all the information you’ll need to know in order to help you weather this struggle in your child’s life.
What is a Learning Disability?
Difficulties with reading, writing, calculating and other learning skills are normally not a cause for concern as children develop at different speeds and each child has a unique skill set.
We also have to take into consideration how different their learning styles are. Some can absorb information better through visuals, some through movement, some through music, and so on and so forth.
A learning disability represents a single area of weakness in your child’s learning abilities. Kids with such conditions show several signs that don’t improve over time. These could include problems in some of the following areas:
- Reading or writing
- Remembering things
- Understanding words or concepts
- Paying attention
- Following instructions
- Telling time
- Staying organised
- Behavioural problems
Learning Disability vs Learning Difficulty
Learning difficulties and learning disabilities are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they refer to different things.
A learning difficulty is a condition that affects how a person learns, but it does not necessarily indicate a significant discrepancy in cognitive ability. Examples of learning difficulties include dyslexia, dyspraxia, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
On the other hand, a learning disability is a neurological condition that affects how a person processes information. It may cause a significant difference between a person’s cognitive abilities and their academic performance. Examples of learning disabilities include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, and specific learning disabilities like dyscalculia.
It is important to understand the difference between these two terms because the type of support and intervention required can differ depending on the diagnosis.
What Causes Learning Disability in Children
While it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly caused learning disability in a child, there are some factors that it can be attributed to, such as:
- Genetics: Learning disabilities can be inherited from parents who carry certain genes that increase the likelihood of their children developing learning difficulties.
- Brain Development: Some learning disabilities may occur due to abnormalities or injuries in the brain during fetal development, childbirth, or early childhood.
- Environmental Factors: Exposure to toxins, such as lead, during fetal development or childhood, can cause learning disabilities.
- Chronic Illnesses: Certain chronic illnesses, such as epilepsy, can affect the brain and lead to learning disabilities.
- Premature Birth: Children born prematurely are at a higher risk of developing learning disabilities due to their underdeveloped organs, including the brain.
There are different specific types of learning disabilities. Each type has its own signs. Let’s explore.
Simply put, dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty with reading comprehension. Children with reading disabilities may also have trouble writing, speaking and spelling. A child with dyslexia might have trouble connecting letters and words with sounds, recognising specific words, or grasping the meaning of certain words or phrases.
Other signs that are associated with dyslexia could include things like slow reading, poor general vocabulary skills, speech delay, difficulty expressing thoughts, difficulty learning songs or rhymes and issues with spelling.
About 5 out of 10 children have dyslexia, which means it is pretty common. And, unfortunately, there is no cure for this disability. But, having dyslexia does not mean a child has a low IQ. The disconnect is between a child’s eyes and their brain. Once the child is able to connect the dots in their own way, they can definitely keep up.
What to do
The first thing to do when one detects signs of dyslexia is to have your child diagnosed. There are plenty of ways to get your child screened. The easiest way is through your child’s preschool teacher or your child’s school administration.
Once your child is diagnosed, they will undergo proper training to help them make better sense of what they’re reading.
What it is
If your child has difficulty with Math, they might have a specific learning disability known as dyscalculia. The signs of dyscalculia may include anything from memorising and organising numbers or mathematical signs to calculating change or calculating the solutions to math problems. Youngsters with dyscalculia may also have problems using money and understanding time.
What to do
Like dyslexia, dyscalculia has no cure. But there are strategies that you can try with your child to get them to adjust. One that has been proven to be helpful is multisensory instruction. It teaches mathematical concepts through different senses such as sight, touch, hearing, and movement. Using different senses to teach mathematical concepts makes them much more concrete and easier to understand.
Image Source: iStock
What it is
The term “dysgraphia” refers to difficulty with writing. Children with this learning disorder might have issues with spelling, handwriting and organising ideas on paper. The signs of this learning disability could include any of the following:
- An inability to write neatly
- The inaccurate copying of letters and words
- Inconsistencies with spelling
- Trouble keeping writing organised and coherent
- Not wanting to write or disliking it
Some children with dysgraphia might even seem tense while writing.
What to do
Much like the other learning disabilities we have discussed, there is no medication that can cure dysgraphia. But some proven therapies and teaching strategies might work.
Another condition that can make learning a larger challenge for some kids is ADHD (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Children with this disorder generally have problems staying focused, paying attention, sitting still, staying organised and following instructions. These kids usually also have trouble completing their schoolwork or homework.
Around 3 to 5 per cent of children have ADHD. And, unfortunately, this disorder follows the child through adulthood. So, children who have been diagnosed with this condition might need to continue with the learning strategies taught to them as kids in order to maintain focus as they age.
What to do
The first step, of course, is to get your child screened. Now, the wise advice of professionals is to seek a second opinion after the first confirmation of your child having ADHD. The reason is the prevalence of misdiagnosis of many ADHD patients. Once confirmed, you proceed to make a treatment plan with your chosen specialist.
The treatment plan for children with ADHD might include several components: medication, counselling, and behaviour therapy. Medication is often considered the last resort of counselling and behaviour therapy do not work.
Treatment Options for Persons with a Learning Disability
The treatment for learning disabilities varies depending on the specific type of disability and the individual needs of the person. Some common treatment options include specialised education programs, such as Individualised Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans, which provide accommodations and modifications to help students with disabilities succeed in school.
Additionally, some people with learning disabilities may benefit from therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioural therapy. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage symptoms of co-occurring conditions such as ADHD.
It is important to work with healthcare professionals, educators, and specialists to develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses the individual needs and challenges of each person with a learning disability.
If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. In Singapore, there are several resources available for parents seeking treatment for their children with learning disabilities.
The first point of contact for many parents is their child’s school. Many schools have counsellors or special education teachers who can provide guidance and support.
Additionally, there are numerous private clinics and hospitals that offer diagnostic testing, therapy, and other services to help children with learning disabilities. These include the National University Hospital, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and the Child Development Unit at the Singapore General Hospital.
Parents can also seek assistance from voluntary welfare organisations such as the Dyslexia Association of Singapore and the Autism Resource Centre. It’s important to speak with your child’s doctor or a qualified specialist to determine the best course of treatment for your child’s specific needs.
What Can You Do to Help a Child With a Learning Disability
There is hope for children with learning disabilities. Moreover, with lots of encouragement and support, you can help your child to gain greater self-confidence as a foundation for future success. Under the correct learning conditions, your child’s brain can reorganise itself as it has the opportunity to form new neural connections.
These new connections can make it possible for your child to learn skills such as reading or writing that may have been hard using other learning strategies. You can also get a professional to help pinpoint the exact problem, and while this is extremely important, there’s also a lot that you can do:
- Keep things in perspective by realising that a learning disability is not an insurmountable obstacle.
- Get yourself informed by looking into the options that are available and by learning about some of the newer treatment options and services.
- Take charge and become an advocate for your child. Speak up to make sure your child’s needs are understood.
- Help your child to develop their passion and nurture their strengths. They might excel at something else.
- Teach your child the emotional skills needed to deal with criticism.
- Your child needs to know that you believe in them. Children value their parent’s opinion of them and they are much more likely to succeed if they can count on your support.
Look at the Big Picture
With learning disabilities, it’s important to look at the bigger picture, because your child needs your love and support more than anything else. Keep in mind that you are essentially helping your child by teaching them ways to help themselves.
This article has been contributed by Dr. Lisa Lim Su Li Clinical Director and Senior Speech Language Pathologist, The Speech Practice Pte Ltd
Updates from Kim Brua
Here at theAsianparent Singapore, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Singapore is not responsible for those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.