Learning Disabilities: What They Are and How to Help

What Are Learning Disabilities?

An estimated four to five percent of the school population are handicapped by specific learning disabilities. Many of these children experience failure in school and in life unless their handicap is diagnosed early and treated appropriately. People with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence but often are unable to achieve their potential. 

Each person, child, or adult, with a learning disability is unique. Each has a different combination and severity of problems. A person with a learning disability has one or more significant deficits in the essential learning processes—visual, auditory, communication, motor control, logic, etc.

Symptoms of Learning Disabilities:

  • poor coordination and clumsiness
  • impulsiveness
  • low frustration tolerance
  • poor memory
  • inadequate ability to discriminate between and among letters, numerals, or sounds
  • short attention span
  • difficulty following directions
  • eye-hand coordination problems
  • poor reading ability
  • inactivity or extreme over-activity

It is important to remember that no one will have ALL of these symptoms. All people will exhibit at least two or three of the problems to some degree at one time or another. This may not mean that they have a specific learning disability. A person with a learning disability has a cluster of these symptoms that do not disappear with age. The number of symptoms seen in a particular child does not give an indication as to whether the disability is mild or severe. Rather, the severity and the existence of clusters comprise the most significant indications. Most importantly, remember that a person with a learning disability can learn but must be taught in a manner appropriate for his or her particular strengths.

Suggestions for Helping Children with Learning Disabilities

  • Give a small amount to do at one time: This will keep your child from feeling overwhelmed.

  • Allow the child to work slowly if necessary: Frustration can set in if a child is forced to work faster than he or she is able.

  • Give credit for what the child has done right instead of concentrating on what is wrong: She needs a great deal of encouragement, and praise should be given when and wherever it is earned. Do not put marks of a demoralizing nature on her paper.

  • Ask short questions: Having to respond to too much information at once can be difficult for a child with learning disabilities.