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September 14, 2020 Monday 11:27:41 AM IST

How to Effectively Deal with Learning Disorders

Learning Assistance

In 2007, the Bollywood movie Taare Zameen Par, which portrayed the plight of a young boy struggling to learn in school, brought the issue of learning disability (LD) into limelight, seeking to raise awareness, clarify misconceptions, and eliminate the stigma associated with it.

LD is a neurological disorder which affects an individuals' ability to receive and process information. It should be noted specifically that LD is not an intellectual disability. In fact, children with LD possess an average to above-average intelligence quotient (IQ) and are generally as smart as or even smarter than their peers. But they experience difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, reasoning and/or remembering. Even though LD is a lifelong issue, with the right support and intervention, children can succeed in school and often go on to a successful career later in life. Studies have reported that about 10-20% of school-going children in India are affected with LD.

Common learning disabilities

1.    Dyslexia: This is a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It is the most common form of all LDs.
Dyscalculia: It is a mathematical disability in which a person has difficulty in grasping mathematics concepts and carrying out arithmetic calculations.
Dysgraphia: This is a writing disability in which a person experiences difficulty to form letters and to write within a defined space. This leads to distorted and inconsistent handwriting.
 Dysphasia: It is a language disorder that affects the ability to generate and understand spoken language.
 Dyspraxia (sensory integration disorder): This impacts an individual’s ability to plan and process motor tasks.

6.  Auditory processing disorder:  Individuals affected with auditory processing disorder are unable to distinguish subtle differences in sounds, making it difficult to sound out words.
Visual processing disorder: This leads to missing subtle differences in shapes, reversing letters/numbers, skipping words and lines, misunderstanding depth/distance, or problems with eye-hand coordination. 
Nonverbal learning disabilities: These are neurological disorders which originate in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual, spatial, intuitive, organizational, and evaluative processing.

 Common signs of learning disability
Parents are often the first to notice that something is amiss in their child. Some of the early signs of LD in preschool children include,

-Speaks late than most children
-Pronunciation problems
-Slow vocabulary development
-Difficulty in rhyming words
-Trouble learning numbers, alphabets, days of the week, colors, shapes
-Extremely restless and easily distracted
-Trouble interacting with peers
-Slow development of fine motor skills

At the primary school level, children with LD may have difficulty in,

·         Connecting letters and sounds

·         Recognizing alphabets

·         Differentiating between rhyming words

·         Reading, spelling, or writing accurately

·         Distinguishing right from left (e.g. confusing 25 with 52, “b” with “d,” “s” with “5”)

·         Using correct mathematical symbols for solving arithmetic problems

·         Memorizing

·         Understanding the concept of time

·         Hand-to-eye coordination

·         Tasks involving fine motor skills (e.g. holding pencil, tying shoe lace, buttoning shirt)

Most people might observe one or more of these warning signs in their children from time to time, which is quite normal in majority of the cases. But if these problems persist over a long period of time, the possibility of LD should be considered. If parents, teachers, or clinicians are able to identify LD early and provide the right kind of treatment/management, it will improve the chances of the child to lead a successful and productive life. It has been reported that approximately 65% of children with reading difficulties became average or above average readers after receiving help early in life.

Causes of learning disability

Experts say that there is no single and specific cause for LD. Some of the factors that could cause LD include,

  • Heredity: A child, whose parents have had LD, have more chances of developing the same disorder.
  • Illness during and after birth: An illness during or immediately after birth may cause LD. Other possible factors include drug/alcohol consumption during pregnancy, poor growth in the uterus, low birth weight, and premature/prolonged labor.
  • Stress during infancy: A stressful incident after birth (e.g. high fever, head injury, poor nutrition) can lead to LD.
  • Environment: Increased exposure to toxins (e.g. lead) can be a cause of LD.

 Professionals who can help children with learning disabilities

  • Audiologist: Assesses hearing ability and provides auditory training
  • Educational consultant: Gives educational evaluations
  • Educational therapist: Develops programs for learning and behavioral problems
  • Neurologist: Investigates neurological issues
  • Occupational therapist: Helps to improve motor and sensory functions
  • Speech and language therapist: Helps children with language and speech difficulties
  • Psychiatrist: Diagnoses and treats severe behavioral and emotional problems
  • Clinical Psychologist: Provides psychological and intellectual assessment and management 
Treatment/management strategies for learning disability

While there is no cure for LD, there are many ways to improve the reading, writing, and math skills of a child. Treatment includes strengthening the skills and developing a learning strategy that makes use of the child’s strengths.

·  Extra help: A professional can teach the techniques to improve the academic, organizational and study skills.

· Individualized education program (IEP): Public schools in developed countries are mandated to provide an IEP for students affected with LD.

·  Accommodations: Classroom accommodations include, more time to complete assignments or tests, being seated near the teacher to promote attention, use of computer applications that support writing, and providing audio books to supplement reading.

· Therapy: Some children benefit from therapy. Occupational therapy might improve the motor skills of a child who has writing problems. A speech-language therapist can help to improve speech and language skills. A clinical psychologist can help to address behavioral and emotional issues.

.  Medication: Medications help to manage depression and anxiety. 

·  Complementary and alternative medicine: Alternative treatment strategies such as dietary changes, intake of vitamins, and use of neuro feedback might also benefit children with LD.


Dr. Anitha Ayyappan Pillai

Associate Professor, Dept. of Neurogenetics, Institute for Communicative and Cognitive Neurosciences (ICCONS)
Palakkad, Kerala

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