Learning disorder or learning disability?

Learning disability is recently being termed by many psychologists as learning difficulty; it suggests difficulty in learning in a particular manner rather than an inability to learn at all. A more appropriate term seems to be learning disorder which is an official clinical diagnosis given to an individual by a mental health professional (psychologist) or a medical professional (paediatrician) after a clinical assessment.

What is learning disorder?

An individual diagnosed with learning disorder would have difficulties or inadequate development in the areas specific to academics, language, speech skills, motor development and attention. The degree of difficulties faced can be mild, moderate and severe. Types of learning disorders include: difficulties in reading (dyslexia), difficulties in mathematics (dyscalculia) and difficulties in writing (dysgraphia).

Age of onset

Learning disorder cannot be reliably diagnosed until students have been formally taught in basic subject areas.

Many psychologists recommend waiting until children are at least six years old before evaluating intelligence and learning concerns.

Characteristics of learning disorder

  • LD children mostly have an IQ ranging from average to very superior,
  • These children are not lazy or dumb, just that their brains are simply wired differently,
  • Short attention span,
  • Poor memory,
  • Difficulty following directions,
  • Inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds,
  • Poor reading and/or writing ability,
  • Eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated,
  • Difficulties with sequencing,
  • Disorganization and other sensory difficulties,
  • Problems paying attention
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time.

Comorbidity with other disorders

Research provides significant evidence supporting the co-morbidity of the following disorders with learning disabilities:

  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Epilepsy
  • Language or communication disorders
  • Hearing difficulty
  • Visual difficulty
  • Developmental co-ordination disorder
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Dementia
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression

Some disorders like depression, anxiety, difficulty in social skills, etc. are a consequence of learning disorder or are present with learning disorder right from the beginning is a question still to be answered.

Causes of Learning Disability

  • It is thought to result from failure of the brain to develop in a normally asymmetrical manner with respect to the right and left hemispheres.

Treatment approaches

  • Special education or remedial education to deal with academic difficulties
  • Counselling for the individual diagnosed with learning disability to deal with emotional problems associated with it (depression, anxiety, improving social skills, self-esteem and for understanding and managing the disorder better)
  • In case of a child diagnosed with learning disorder, counselling becomes important for both parents and teachers. This would enable better understand of the child’s condition and better ways of managing it.
  • Coordination between the parent, the psychologist, the special educator/remedial teacher, the class teacher and any other therapy the child is going through can help in bringing about maximum improvement.

Classroom strategies

  • If a child is diagnosed with learning disorder than the child is entitled to concessions and facilities that the educational board gives. It can be different for different educational boards (SSC, CBSE, ICSE, etc.)
  • Child should be made to sit on the first bench (close to the teacher), so that he can stay focussed on the work done by the teacher.
  • Instructions should be patiently repeated to the child.
  • Instructions should be one at a time.
  • Simple words are to be used while giving instructions to the child.
  • Teachers and peers should monitor his work.
  • He will not be able to maintain speed and accuracy parameters, these should not be stressed upon.
  • Study buddy – a study partner who can help him in completion of books, repeat the teacher’s instruction for him and explain the class activity should be appointed.
  • Tasks given in the class are to be broken down to simple steps and one step to be completed at a time.
  • Different modes of teaching are to be considered while teaching a child with learning disability. Audio visual teaching and activities involving hands on experience with an academic concept usually help in better learning.
  • Written work has to be modified and reduced as too much written work will leave him with too little time for other academic tasks. Learning and understanding should be more focussed on.
  • Facilities to be given during exams
    • Partial assessment for exams may be done through oral work.
    • Reader for reading exam question papers to be appointed.
    • Extra time during exams.
    • Lower level math to be given for exam (if allowed by the educational board)
    • Calculator can be used for math exam (if allowed by the educational board)
    • Exemption from second language (if allowed by the educational board)
    • Spelling errors to be condoned
    • Answer papers should not be checked strictly.
    • Objectives are to be focused more for exams.
    • He might not be able to give long answers, answers are to be simplified and more attention to be given to the key points of the answers, do not stress on complete sentences.

Risk factors to be avoided

      • Problems during pregnancy and birth – anomalies in the developing brain, illness or injury, fetal exposure to alcohol or drugs, low birth weight, oxygen deprivation, or by premature or prolonged labor.
      • Accidents after birth – head injuries, malnutrition, or by toxic exposure (such as heavy metals or pesticides).
      • Sever lack of academic stimulation from infancy for a very long period of time.
      • Severe child abuse and neglect

Protective factors

      • Proper care during pregnancy
      • Proper care after pregnancy
      • Propernutrition
      • Early detection and treatment makes it much more manageable and helps in controlling the severity of the disorder

Learning disorder can be best coped if parents keep an open eye for early detection followed by early intervention. Once diagnosed and treated at the earliest by professionals, the child can grow to be up well-adjusted in all areas of life. A child with learning disorders would have talents and other strengths that can be worked upon, this can help the child in compensating with the academic difficulties.

Scientists like Albert Einstein, Graham Bell, Henry Ford the inventor of motor car, Leonardo Da Vinci, the world famous director Steven Spielberg, Hollywood actors like Tom Cruise and Orlando Bloom and many others who are successful in their careers had been diagnosed with learning disorder.This suggests that individuals diagnosed with learning disability can be as or even more successful than the others in the society all they require is support and guidance

We at Mumbai Psychiatry Clinics have a dedicated team of counsellors and clinical psychologists who will help you with your problems, cite interventions and assess the progress on regular intervals. There are experienced psychiatrists who will be guiding you throughout your journey and our Multidisciplinary team will try to assure you with the best help possible.