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Maybe your 2nd grade son seems flummoxed by basic math
computation. Or perhaps your 3rd grade daughter refuses to read a book. That
nagging little voice in your head wonders, "What's going on here?"
Experts say: Listen to that voice. "If your intuition tells
you something is not right, you are probably right on the money," says Sheldon
Horowitz, director of learning disabilities resources and essential information
at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
It can be scary to admit your child has a learning
disability, in part because of the myths surrounding what experts call "LD." So
let's explode the biggest of those myths—that "learning disability" is
just another way of saying "stupid."
"Kids with LD are by definition of average or above-average
intelligence," Horowitz says. An LD diagnosis means the child is smart enough
to do the work—indeed may be highly intelligent—but has some issue that
acts like a wall between his smarts and his ability to keep up with tasks
And it's possible he inherited the trait from you. "We know
these things are genetically predisposed to happening in families," Horowitz
says. "If either parent has LD or similar issues, I would absolutely keep an
The most common kind of LD is dyslexia, a disorder that scrambles the brain's ability to process
language, and can impact reading, writing, spelling and even speaking.
Other types of LDs (as listed at the National Center
for Learning Disabilities website) are math processing disorders, known as dyscalculia, and writing-processing
disorders, known as dysgraphia. What
do those terms mean in daily life? Here are some clues to look for in your
school-aged child, from NCLD:
handwriting, or holds the pencil incorrectly
heavily on memorization, as opposed to learning and understanding new skills
letters (d,b) or moves letters around (left, felt)
to follow a sequence of directions
with word problems in math
master basic math skills like counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and
to understand the skills, but can't predict when to use them—when to add, for
example, as opposed to multiply.
to organize objects in a logical way
figure out how to tell time and/or use money, though her peers can
to estimate number quantities
a poor job of self-checking work and locating alternative ways to solve
cursive and print writing
words out loud while writing
so intensely on writing that he does not comprehend what's written
It is not uncommon for a person with one or more learning
disabilities to struggle as well with motor skills (a condition known as
dyspraxia), or the ability to plan and organize her life (called "executive
functioning"). Finally, there are a
number of other conditions that can impact an individual's ability to learn and
function in society—autism spectrum disorders, visual and auditory disorders,
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even intellectual
giftedness. All of these conditions—yes, even the "condition" of being
super-smart—can obscure specific learning difficulties.
In practice, experts say, that means children with LD may be
accused of being sloppy, or lazy; conversely, others may hear that they "worry
too much" or "give up too easily." In reality, those kids may be overwhelmed by
their school work and feel that their skills are inadequate to complete
"If you have an LD, you work a lot harder than the other
kids," says Janet Morgan, a special-education teacher with the Los Angeles
Unified School District. "To be told you're not trying hard enough, that's
really hard to hear."
So what should you do if you suspect this might be your child?
Begin by educating yourself on the subject (see For More Information below for
some places to start). Then talk to your child's teacher. If, for example, you
are concerned that your son is dyslexic, "ask that the reading specialist in
school sit down and do a screening," Horowitz says. "Tell them, 'When I read
with him at home, this is what he wasn't able to do. This is where he falls
apart. Could you check that out for me?'"
You can also pay for a more extensive, private evaluation by
a neuropsychologist. Though, be forewarned, those evaluations usually run into four figures.
evaluation process helps you compare your child to other children her age, and
it helps you determine what's going on," says Erica M. Meyer, a
neuropsychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles, Calif. "Is it that
the child can't formulate language? Or does she have working memory issues? Or
is it an attention problem? Making those kinds of distinctions, that's where
evaluations are important."
your level of resources, if you suspect something is amiss, don't let it fester, Meyer
are things that make you say, `Hmm, we need to look into this further,'" she
says. "So talk to your child's teacher. Have the school district do an
evaluation. Then, together, you can make a plan so you know what to do and
how to help your child."