Learning disabilities in adults and children are common, although they can be tricky to spot and are often overlooked. In fact, 10% of people in the United States are estimated to live with a learning disability. Learning disabilities are different from behavioral or intellectual disabilities. The causes can differ but are generally assumed to be the result of genetics or neurological differences. Additionally, learning disabilities often appear comorbidly, which means more than one can and will be present for the same individual. Similarly, learning disabilities can develop in tandem with other disabilities.
Diagnosing Learning Disabilities in Childhood
Diagnosis is vital to discover how to learn and live regardless of the presence of a learning disability. Additionally, the earlier such a diagnosis is made the earlier these methods can be put into practice. Knowing how some of the more common learning disabilities present themselves allows a parent or other close adult to notice these signs in school-age children, thus allowing therapeutic treatments and alternative learning methods to begin at a young age.
Check out our list of the five most common learning disabilities, their presentations, and common ways to manage them. If you suspect you or your child may have one or more learning disabilities, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD)
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 11% of school-aged children have ADHD. Prevalence in adults is less accurately measured because ADD/ADHD has only really come to be better understood in recent decades. In fact, the diagnosis of ADHD increased 42% between 2003 and 2011. This is not necessarily because more cases exist, but because ADD/ADHD is now more often identified.
Symptoms include hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention to activities or conversation, poor sleep quality, difficulty completing tasks, difficulty holding onto a job, carelessness, difficulty waiting, frequent fidgeting, excessive talking, difficulty organizing, and regularly interrupting. Many other symptoms may be present, depending on the individual and whether the diagnosis is ADD or AHDH.
There are a number of ways to manage ADD/ADHD depending on the symptoms it presents. Behavioral therapies are a popular choice to help the person with ADHD manage symptoms and make adaptations to improve focus, attention span, and the ability to wait their turn. This may not be sufficient for some individuals, and medications can be prescribed to help reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Dyslexia is a very common language-based learning disability affecting about 20% of the population. Reading is a particular challenge for people with dyslexia, although the trouble may extend to comprehending what is being read, spelling, writing, and even math. Like other learning disorders, dyslexia is a difficulty with one specific skill set (in this case, language) — not a problem with overall intelligence.
Symptoms of dyslexia include difficulties in spelling, reading out loud, matching letters and sounds, recognizing sounds in words, and learning new languages. The individual may avoid reading, independently or out loud, and experience anxiety. Diagnosis requires a complete evaluation, which can be done at school or through another expert. Regardless of where it is performed, a diagnosis is essential to getting the appropriate support to manage language.
Depending on the severity of dyslexia and how it impacts a person, the methods of managing it can vary. Different learning styles, such as multisensory instruction, can teach a young person or child to use their senses to learn, as opposed to traditional learning methods. A tutor or specialized education may help find ways to approach reading and writing differently.
Dyslexia is also common among adults, but, like ADD/ADHD, it has become more understood in recent years. Higher awareness means earlier diagnoses. If you are an adult and suspect you have dyslexia, you can be evaluated to receive a diagnosis. Some people find having a diagnosis is a huge relief and helps them understand why they have struggled with skills other people find easy.
3. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
APD is characterized by a difficulty in understanding or identifying certain sounds. Essentially, the ears and the brain do not connect the same way a neurotypical individual’s auditory system does. People with APD have particular trouble recognizing different sounds in speech. Any kind of background noise, particularly in a social situation, can make differentiating especially difficult.
As with most learning disabilities, APD can appear differently in different individuals and comes in a range of severity. Symptoms include difficulty understanding people talking in noisy environments, being upset by noisy environments, being easily distracted by loud noises, having trouble completing even simple sets of directions, having trouble following a conversation, and finding it hard to hear the difference between similar-sounding words. Many symptoms are similar to those in other learning disorders, particularly ADD/ADHD, which makes diagnosis difficult.
APD must be diagnosed by a hearing specialist. The usual treatment for APD is auditory training. Auditory training is a way of teaching your brain to learn sounds using specific tools and teaching methods. Speech-language therapy and assistive listening devices can help children learn to communicate better and understand sounds. If you care for someone with APD, you can help them by facing them when you talk, talking in a quiet environment, and using simple sentences.
Dyscalculia is normally co-morbid with another learning disorder such as ADHD or dyslexia and is estimated to affect around 3-6% of the population. It presents as having difficulties with numbers, such as memorizing arithmetic facts, performing calculations, and following math reasoning. Individuals with dyscalculia may have trouble understanding numbers or using math to solve problems. When the initial understanding of numbers and mathematics is insufficient, more advanced math will continue to be evasive.
Managing dyscalculia must start with figuring out what the individual does well and where he needs help. Like dyslexia, dyscalculia may require changing the way the individual learns. Segmenting the material into easy chunks or using repetitive methods to memorize math may be effective. Being very explicit in explaining counting and calculation, making numbers friendly, and using games to teach can also help.
Dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder (DCD), affects the fine and/or gross motor coordination, making physical coordination difficult. Children may appear clumsy and do not move around as easily as you would expect them to for their age. Early milestones (walking, crawling, helping to dress themselves) may be delayed.
Symptoms can be vastly different from person to person, but typical signs of dyspraxia are difficulty with self-care, speech, riding a bike, educational abilities, writing, typing, or driving a car. You may also notice unusual posture or body movements. Children may not perform well in sports and writing or drawing may be less developed than same-age peers.
Dyspraxia tends to present comorbidly with other conditions. The treatment for dyspraxia very much depends on how it presents. Someone who exhibits unusual posture or difficulty with fine motor skills may benefit from working with an occupational therapist. Breaking movements down into smaller pieces is often helpful, as is adapting tasks (such as using special pencil grips to make writing more achievable). Working on motor skills can increase movement independence.
For More Information
If you suspect your child has a learning disability or you would like support following a diagnosis, we can help. Integrity, Inc. provides a number of community-based services for people of all ages who live with disabilities, including day programs, personal care support, and much more. Our adult day program includes workshops to improve academic skills and other educational services to support a variety of populations. Contact us now to make an appointment!