There are many reasons why a child has learning problems in school, but a common one is a specific learning disorder. These children often try very hard to follow directions, focus, and “be good” in the classroom and at home. Despite all this effort, the child still does not understand school tasks and falls behind. Learning disorders affect at least 1 in 10 school children.
Learning disorders are caused by a difficulty with the nervous system, which affects receiving, processing, or communicating information. It may also run in families. Some children with learning disorders may also be hyperactive – unable to sit still, easily distracted, and have a short attention span.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists are aware that some long-term consequences of learning disorders can be prevented with early intervention and treatment. However, if not detected and treated early, it can escalate. For example, a child who does not learn addition and subtraction in elementary school cannot understand algebra in high school. The child continuously tries hard to learn, becoming more frustrated, and may begin to develop emotional problems, such as low self-esteem when a repeated failure occurs. Some children with learning disorders are found to misbehave in school because they would rather be seen as “bad” than “stupid”.
Frequent signs of learning disorders that parents should pay attention to with their child include:
- Difficulty understanding and following instructions
- Trouble remembering what was just told
- Unable to grasp reading, spelling, writing, and/or math skills, and therefore fails
- Difficulty distinguishing left from right; difficulty identifying words and a tendency to reverse letters, words, or numbers (i.e., 25 with 52, “b” with “d”, or “on” with “no”
- Lacks coordination in walking, sports, or small activities such as holding a pencil or tying their shoes
- Easily loses or misplaces homework, books, or other items
- Difficulty understanding the concept of time; is confused by “yesterday, today, tomorrow”
An important first step is to understand the child’s learning difficulties and how it will affect their communication, self-help skill, willingness to accept discipline, impact on play, and capacity for independence. These problems need a comprehensive evaluation by a skilled expert who can assess all of the different areas of concern affecting the child. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can help direct the evaluation, and collaborate with school professionals and others to conduct educational testing to determine if a learning disorder exists. This includes discussing with the child and family, assessing their situation, evaluating the educational testing, and consulting with the school. The child and adolescent psychiatrist will then make recommendations on appropriate school placement, the need for specialized assistance, such as speech-language therapy, as well as assist parents in maximizing their child’s learning potential. Individual or family psychotherapy may be recommended. Medication may also be prescribed for distractibility and hyperactivity. It is important to strengthen the child’s self-confidence, and also help parents and other family members better understand and cope with the reality of living with a child with learning disorders.
At Premier Mind Institute, we see patients with learning disorders. We often recommend a psycho-educational assessment conducted by our on-site licensed educational psychologist. These assessments will provide a better understanding of the type of learning difficulties the child experiences, as well as which areas they are struggling in. Having a psycho-educational assessment done will assist in the most effective treatment plan.
*Reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, © All Rights Reserved, 2019. For full text please visit: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-With-Learning-Disorders-016_01.aspx