Specific Learning Disabilities

Various studies have reported that 1% to 19% (mean of 10%) of school-going children in India have learning disabilities.

Definitions

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 defines Specific Learning Disabilities as a
heterogeneous group of conditions wherein there is a deficit in processing language,
spoken or written, that may manifest itself as a difficulty to comprehend, speak, read,
write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. It includes such conditions as
perceptual disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and developmental
aphasia.

Pictorial representation of PwD being overwhelmed by educational content | © Pixaway

Variations

  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, this is a condition that adversely affects how sound that travels unimpeded through the ear is processed or interpreted by the brain. Individuals with APD do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.
     
  • Dyscalculia: A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. Individuals with this type of LD may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.
     
  • Dysgraphia: A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Problems may include illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.
     
  • Dyslexia: A specific learning disability that affects reading and related languagebased processing skills. The severity can differ in each individual but can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech and can exist along with other related disorders. Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability.
     
  • Language Processing Disorder: A specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in which there is difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that for words, sentences and stories. While an APD affects the interpretation of all sounds coming into the brain, a Language Processing Disorder (LPD) relates only to the processing of language. LPD can affect expressive language and/or receptive language.
     
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities: A disorder which is usually characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visualspatial and social skills. Typically, an individual with NLD (or NVLD) has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language, and may have poor coordination.
     
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit: A disorder that affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. A characteristic seen in people with learning disabilities such as Dysgraphia or Non-verbal LD, it can result in missing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, losing place frequently, struggles with cutting, holding pencil too tightly, or poor eye/hand coordination.

Related Disorders

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.
     
  • Dyspraxia: A disorder that is characterized by difficulty in muscle control, which causes problems with movement and coordination, language and speech, and can affect learning. Although not a learning disability, dyspraxia often exists along with dyslexia, dyscalculia or ADHD.
     
  • Executive Functioning: An inefficiency in the cognitive management systems of the brain that affects a variety of neuropsychological processes such as planning, organization, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Although not a learning disability, different patterns of weakness in executive functioning are almost always seen in the learning profiles of individuals who have specific learning disabilities or ADHD.
     
  • Memory: Three types of memory are important to learning. Working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are used in the processing of both verbal and non-verbal information. If there are deficits in any or all of these types of memory, the ability to store and retrieve information required to carry out tasks can be impaired.

Causes

The causes for learning disabilities are not well understood, and sometimes there is no apparent cause for a learning disability. However, some causes of neurological impairments include:

  • Heredity and genetics: Learning disabilities are often linked through genetics and run in the family. Children who have learning disabilities often have parents who have the same struggle. Kids whose mother who has had less than 12 years of school are more likely to have a reading disability. Some children have spontaneous mutations (i.e. not present in either parent) which can cause developmental disorders including learning disabilities. One study estimated that about one in 300 children had such spontaneous mutations, for example a fault in the CDK13 gene which is associated with learning and communication difficulties in the children affected.
     
  • Problems during pregnancy and birth: A learning disability can result from anomalies in the developing brain, illness or injury. Risk factors are fetal exposure to alcohol or drugs and low birth weight (3 pounds or less). These children are more likely to develop a disability in math or reading. Children who are born prematurely, late, have a longer labor than usual, or have trouble receiving oxygen are more likely to develop a learning disability.
     
  • Accidents after birth: Learning disabilities can also be caused by head injuries, malnutrition, or by toxic exposure (such as heavy metals or pesticides).
A kid fed-up of trying to study, asking for help | © Pixaway

Treatments

While there is no cure for specific learning disorder, there are many ways to improve
reading, writing, and math skills for a child. Treatment usually includes both strengthening the skills and developing a learning strategy tailored to take advantage of a child’s strengths. For example, repetition and mnemonic devices might make it easier to memorize a math formula, and drawing a picture to illustrate a word problem might help a child visualize what is being asked.

Treatment for specific learning disorder often also involves multimodal teaching. If a child has trouble comprehending a subject with his or her eyes and ears alone, other senses such as touch, taste, and even smell can play a role in the learning process. Similarly, learning to convert one sort of problem into another format may help (e.g. changing a traditional math problem into a word problem).

A learning specialist can help determine the services or accommodations a child might benefit from at school. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy in particular, may also be helpful in treating the emotional and behavioral problems that
can accompany specific learning disorder.

Mastery model:

  • Learners work at their own level of mastery.
  • Practice
  • Gain fundamental skills before moving onto the next level
    • note: this approach is most likely to be used with adult learners or outside the mainstream school system.

Direct instruction:

  • Emphasizes carefully planned lessons for small learning increments
  • Scripted lesson plans
  • Rapid-paced interaction between teacher and students
  • Correcting mistakes immediately
  • Achievement-based grouping
  • Frequent progress assessments

Classroom adjustments:

  • Special seating assignments
  • Alternative or modified assignments
  • Modified testing procedures
  • Quiet environment

Special equipment:

  • Word processors with spell checkers and dictionaries
  • Text-to-speech and speech-to-text programs
  • Talking calculators
  • Books on tape
  • Computer-based activities

Classroom assistants:

  • Note-takers
  • Readers
  • Proofreaders
  • Scribes

Special education:

  • Prescribed hours in a resource room
  • Placement in a resource room
  • Enrollment in a special school for learning disabled students
  • Individual education plan (IEP)
  • Educational therapy

Early remediation can greatly reduce the number of children meeting diagnostic criteria
for learning disabilities.

Statistics in India

Various studies have reported 1% to 19% (mean of 10%) of school going children in India
have learning disabilities. 

References for More Reading and Understanding/Sources

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