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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Think Your Child Has a Learning Disorder?

By Kimberly Blaker

Approximately 10 percent of American school-age children suffer from a learning disability (LD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 4 percent of children have both. But these disorders often go undetected despite children’s ongoing struggles with schoolwork and behavior issues.

Often, parents don’t suspect LDs because many people associate them with low IQ. But LDs affect children of all intelligence levels. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a child with a learning disability to excel in one or multiple subjects and struggle in others. Also, kids with LDs or ADHD may do well under certain conditions, but in others have great difficulty. Depending on the LD and the severity of it, a child might struggle in all areas.

Types of Learning Disabilities

There are multiple forms of LDs. Some pose input problems, which means a child struggles with either sound or visual input. These disabilities are the result of information not being correctly processed or stored in the brain. This can pose problems with the retrieval of information as well as short- or long-term memory.

An LD can also cause output problems, which can sometimes show up as difficulties with motor skills like handwriting. Another common problem is verbal output. This is usually evident in kids who have trouble organizing their thoughts, either in written or oral communication. Punctuation, grammar, and spelling may suffer as a result.

ADHD is marked by attention problems and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Girls often have only attention issues, while boys are more commonly impulsive or hyperactive. Symptoms can include difficulty staying on task or paying attention, and, conversely, a capacity to be hyper-focused on a stimulating activity. Children with ADHD may fidget, interrupt, and act without thinking.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a problem with input. It isn’t a hearing problem. Instead, the brain has difficulty processing sounds. As a result, kids with APD can be distracted by loud noises or struggle to follow conversations. This can be especially problematic when there’s a lot of background noise, which makes it difficult to distinguish sounds.

Dyscalculia is a math learning disability. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty learning to tell time, counting money or counting in general, learning math facts, calculating, understanding measurement, or performing mental math.

Dyslexia is a reading disability, although the symptoms are not exclusive to reading. Children with this disorder may have difficulty with spelling, vocabulary, or comprehension. They may read slowly, have trouble learning left from right, or have organizational problems with both written and spoken language.

Dysgraphia is a writing disability. Hallmarks are poor handwriting and often an awkward style of holding a pencil or even contorting the body while writing. A child may also have trouble drawing lines. Kids with dysgraphia can often better express themselves through speech instead of writing.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) is similar to Asperger Syndrome and shows up as difficulties with social skills. Academic problems sometimes present as well. But often these don’t show up until kids reach higher grades. Those with NLD may be afraid of new situations, struggle to make friends, lack common sense, and experience social withdrawal. Academic problems can include reading comprehension and working out math story problems.

Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) is also a problem with input. But VPD isn’t a vision problem. It’s actually a problem with the brain processing what the eyes see. It can result in a child bumping into things or being unable to distinguish the shapes she or he sees. It can also pose difficulty in identifying letters or numbers, or result in problems with visual sequencing, among other issues.
Learn more on the website of the Learning Disabilities Association of America at

What to Do
If you suspect your child has a learning disability, the first step is to talk with your child’s teacher and find out what she or he has observed. Then speak to the school principal. Public schools are required by law to provide an assessment. This should include an IQ test, assessments of math, reading, and writing, and testing of processing skills. If your child is in a private school that doesn’t offer this service, you can request it through your public school district.

Once your child has received a diagnosis, the school psychologist should be able to recommend and help set up services or accommodations for your kid. Depending on the specific learning disability, your child may qualify for special education services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Find Kim Blaker at