Learning Disability

Learning Disability

Learning disabilities may be overtly visible to teachers or parents, or may be hidden. Bright students often appear to compensate for their weaknesses by performing within the broadly average (25-75th percentile) range. But like the duck who appears to be gliding with ease across a pond while paddling furiously under the surface, such students may be working extremely hard to keep up appearances. Teachers and parents are often confused why such an obviously smart student is failing to do as well as expected. The student his or herself is typically painfully aware that they have more trouble learning than their classmates. Quite often, they internalize the belief that they are not very smart. It is often a revelation for them to learn in our feedback session that they are, in fact, very bright and capable, and can further increase their abilities by adopting a “growth mentality.”

Some learning difficulties are serious enough to meet criteria for diagnosis as a learning disability or specific learning disorder in reading, writing, math, or oral language. ADHD and Asperger’s may be diagnosed. In these cases special education services may be available at the student’s school, in the community, or through private tutoring resources to help remediate the disability. It is important to appreciate that learning weaknesses that are not quite severe enough to meet formal diagnostic criteria as learning disabilities can still create significant impediments to success. Learning abilities present along a spectrum, and should be considered relative to the student’s total cognitive profile. A student with strong verbal ability and interest in history might have great difficulty displaying his knowledge on tests and exams if he has weak long-term associative memory, even if he does not have a diagnosable learning disability. I believe that any weakness slowing a student down from achieving their full potential deserves attention.

What can I do to help?

The comprehensive neuropsychological/psychoeducational assessment provides an in-depth understanding of the student: their cognitive strengths and weaknesses; social, emotional, and behavioral functioning; interests and affinities; and achievement as compared with ability. After developing the student’s profile a plan is designed that simultaneously emphasizes development of strengths and interests while focusing attention on remediation and accommodation in areas of skill deficit or weakness. One concern that some parents have is the fear that uncovering a child’s challenges may result in a diagnosis with a stigmatizing label. They may hope that the “road bumps” in their child’s learning are “developmental,” and will resolve on their own as the child matures. I agree that labels should be applied with discretion – and one of the advantages of obtaining a private assessment is that the family can decide who they share the findings with. On the other hand, I feel it is important to identify and address learning difficulties as early as possible. Most learning difficulties do not resolve by themselves. Many can be at least partially “fixed” by “rewiring” the child’s brain at a young age through targeted remediation. Handled with sensitivity, there is little risk in identifying learning weaknesses at an early age and much to be gained. What the student struggling with learning needs most is for parents, educators (and the student his or herself) to understand how to work with their unique profile of strengths and weaknesses as a learner.