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Learning Disabilities and Learning Disorders Learning Disabilities and Learning Disorders
Learning disabilities are very common, most experts estimate that at least 1 in5 people in the US is suffering from some type of learning... Learning Disabilities and Learning Disorders

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Learning disabilities and learning disorders are conditions that affect a person’s ability to process information.  Most people use learning disability and learning disorder interchangeably, however, technically people with learning disabilities (though they have significant difficulty academically) do not meet certain criteria for a diagnosis. Whereas, a learning disorder is a clinical diagnosis which means it meets the criteria put forth in the DSM-IV.
learning disabilityLearning disabilities are very common, most experts estimate that at least 1 in5 people in the US is suffering from some type of learning disability.  In the US, approximately 4 million school children have been diagnosed with some type of learning disability.  Statistics indicate that more than one half of the children receiving special education have some type of learning disability, many with more than one type.
Learning disabilities are conditions in which the brains ability to take information, process it, interpret it, and store it  is impaired.  These disabilities can affect a variety of learning skills including reading and writing, listening and speaking as well as reasoning and math skills.  It’s important to note that learning disabilities are the result of the way the brain processes information, children with learning disabilities are not “retarded” or “lazy”, actually most of the time the have above average intelligence.  They simply see, hear and process things in a different manor and need to learn alternative methods for taking in and processing information.
Learning disabilities generally fall into 2 categories, verbal and non-verbal.  A child with a verbal learning disability has difficulty with words, both written and spoken.  Some have difficulty identifying and/or interpreting letters and their sounds, while others have difficulty trying to write the letters correctly and in the correct order.  Children with non-verbal learning disabilities have difficulty interpreting what they see.  They have difficulty understanding some things that are written like numbers on a chalkboard as well as difficulty understanding abstract concepts like fractions.
In many cases there is no apparent cause for why one child has a learning disability and another doesn’t.  However, experts agree there are some factors that can contribute to the development of learning disabilities including hereditary, learning disabilities have been found to run in families.  There are also a variety of factors that can occur during pregnancy as well as delivery that can lead to the development of learning disabilities including exposure to alcohol and/or drugs during pregnancy.  Babies born premature or low birth weight as well as those that suffer oxygen deprivation during a prolonged labor have an increased chance of abnormal brain development which in turn can lead to learning disabilities.  Babies and young children exposed to certain environmental factors like head injury, exposure to toxic substances like lead or pesticides and malnutrition can all lead to the development of learning disabilities.
the symptoms of learning disabilities varies form child to child and are sometimes difficult to see.  You can’t just look at someone and “see” that they have a learning disability, and many kids are able to hide their disability avoiding the issue until they get older and school work becomes more complicated.  Most learning disabilities are first discovered by teachers as they notice the child is unable to follow directions or is having difficulty doing work that he/she should be able to do.
Learning disabilities are generally life long conditions requiring life long management.  It can be not only devastating but intimidating for a parent to learn their child has a learning disability.  Many don’t know what to do or where to turn for help.  The first thing a parent should do is learn about your child’s specific learning disability.  There is ongoing research into treatments for learning disabilities.  Work with your Dr and school psychologist to develop an individualized plan for your child.  It’s important to nurture and support your child in their struggle.  Be active and show interest in your child’s passions and interests.  There are currently numerous special education services available to help your child learn new ways of overcoming their learning disability.


Dyslexia is a type of learning disability.  It is considered the most common of the verbal learning disabilities.  Some experts believe dyslexia affects up to 10% of the children and teens in the US.  Dyslexia can affect anyone regardless of ethnicity.
There is absolutely no relation between dyslexia and intelligence.  Despite the term learning disability  children with a learning disability tend to have above average intelligence.  In the same way the amount of difficulty a child has with reading, writing, or spelling has nothing to do with how intelligent they are but how severe their dyslexia is.  For example a child of average intelligence with only mild dyslexia tends to be better at reading and writing than a child with a much above normal intelligence with severe dyslexia.dyslexia
So what is dyslexia?  when learning to read the brain has to do many things simultaneously in order to receive, interpret, and store the information.  There are eight steps the brain must complete all at the same time.
1.interpret the sound and create the word.  2. Focus on the printed letters and words. 3. connect the speech sounds to the written letters.  4. Create words out of the letter sounds.  5. Manage the eye movement across the page. 6. create ideas and images. 7. Compare new information with information already stored. and 8. store the information in your memory.
All that takes place in minute fractions of time as we read and write.  Children with dyslexia have difficulty with the first few steps.  If you can’t get through the first few steps it’s very difficult to get through the rest.This not only causes the brain to become very tired quickly but children become frustrated and may develop behavior issues as a result.
There are 3 general classifications of dyslexia.  the first is called “trauma dyslexia” and develops as a result of injury or trauma to the area of the brain that is responsible for reading and writing.  The second is called “primary dyslexia”.  Primary dyslexia is due to the dysfunction of the left side of the brain as opposed to being damaged.  This type of dyslexia does not improve with age and children with this type of dyslexia are rarely able to achieve a reading level that is above the fourth grade.  Most will continue to have difficulty reading, writing and spelling into adulthood.  Primary dyslexia is also believed to be hereditary and affects boys more often than girls.  The third type of dyslexia is known as “developmental” or “secondary” dyslexia.  This type of dyslexia is also more common in boys than girls, however, it does tend to improve as the child grows older.
The symptoms of dyslexia are not easy to detect.  The most common early symptom of dyslexia is the reversal of numbers and letters.  Other symptoms include difficulty copying words and numbers from a book or the chalkboard and the child’s written work tends to be disorganized.  Some children are unable to recall the content of a favorite book or video.  Frequently children with dyslexia also have difficulty with spatial relationships making them appear to be uncoordinated.  They often have difficulty with organized sports like baseball due to poor hand-eye coordination.
There is no “cure” for dyslexia, it can however be treated and the best treatment is education.  There are a variety of techniques teachers can use to help improve your child’s reading skills that involve sight, sound, and touch.  For example, if a child listens to a taped lesson and uses his/her finger to trace the shape of the letters and words that are used and spoken he/she can better process the information.  Each child requires an individualized teaching plan that will meet their individual needs.  The sooner dyslexia is detected and treatment initiated the less difficulty the child will have as they go through elementary school into high school.
Children with dyslexia tend to get frustrated and angry because they are having so much difficulty with reading and spelling which can lead to poor self esteem.  It’s important to encourage them and point out their strengths.  For example if your child is great in math point that out.  Some of society’s most successful and creative people have dyslexia and they were able to chase their dreams, so can your child.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at