Frequently Asked Questions about Learning Disorders
What is the difference between having learning issues and having a learning disorder or disability?
Everyone’s brain works differently, and we all have our learning strengths and challenges. Some people may read more slowly than others. One person can learn a musical passage by heart, while another person is a better visual learner. Some people master mathematical concepts very quickly. Others take more time. However, when a learning issue or difference becomes a significant obstacle, a child may begin to fall behind their peers despite putting forth significant effort and receiving extra assistance from parents and teachers. When a child continues to struggle despite attempts at remediation (i.e., tutoring or one-to-one assistance from parents at home), this could be an indication of a learning disability that may require specialized intervention and support.
How do I know if my child has a learning disorder or is just a “slow” learner?
It is important to monitor your child’s learning and academic achievement from an early age. Discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and other healthcare providers, as they can help rule out other medical issues (hearing or vision loss, for example) and help you determine whether further evaluation might be necessary. Discussion with teachers and other educators may be helpful as well, since they see your child in an academic setting.
Is there a cure for learning disorders?
There is no cure for learning disorders, but treatment and intervention can be very effective. Teaching style, academic structure, and information presentation may need to be tailored to a student’s learning and processing style in order to ensure successful learning.
Does a learning disorder mean that my child is less intelligent?
No. The presence of a learning disability means only that your child processes information differently than his or her classmates, and supplemental accommodations may be required to help him or her master specific subjects and/or concepts. In fact, many influential people have struggled with learning disabilities. There is no doubt that children with learning disabilities have the same potential to succeed as other children without learning disabilities.
Must I inform other doctors (such as a dermatologist) or nonacademic after-school program coordinators that my child has a learning disability? In the future, will my child have to disclose this information to his or her employer?
You do not have to inform other doctors or nonacademic after-school program coordinators about your child’s disability. It may help the professional give your child better care or services, but it is not a legal requirement. It is important to note that all of your child’s other providers within the same facility or medical center may be able to access his or her medical records, which may outline the diagnoses, but providers are unable to share these records to anyone outside of their institution or facility without a parents’ express written permission. Whether your child chooses to disclose a learning disability to his or her employer in the future is up to your child.
What can I do in the home, nonacademically, to support my child?
It is important for children with learning disabilities to feel supported, understood, and appreciated for the effort they are putting forth at home and at school. Positive reinforcement, even for small tasks, can be a helpful way to boost a child’s self-esteem. Children should be reminded that their learning needs are only one aspect of who they are as a person, and their strengths should be highlighted as much as possible. Parents have the potential to be their children's strongest allies. By becoming informed about their children’s particular needs, parents will be better able to educate others and advocate for their children, both at school and among other family members and friends.
Was it something I did during the pregnancy that caused this?
The development of learning disabilities, in general, appears related to numerous genetic and environmental factors. However, substance use during pregnancy can lead to increased rates of learning disabilities in children. Please see What Causes Learning Disabilities, from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, for more information.
Will my child grow out of it?
Learning disorders are considered brain-based disorders that individuals do not typically “outgrow.” However, difficulties that children experience during school-age years may change as they grow older and different skills are required to succeed. Interventions for learning disorders should be consistently tailored to match the individual’s difficulties, as well as the expectations of the environment, including school, home, and work.
Lindsay Hardy, PsyD, is a clinical child and adolescent psychologist and neuropsychologist.
Meghan Tomb, PhD, is a child and adolescent psychologist and neuropsychologist. She specializes in comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations of children, adolescents, and young adults with learning, language, attention/executive function, and developmental disabilities. Dr. Tomb is an Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, associate clinical director of PROMISE at Columbia, and a neuropsychologist at ColumbiaDoctor's Neuropsychological Evaluation Service.