Specific Learning Disabilities

Children are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities if there is a significant discrepancy between their tested intelligence and their performance in specific areas (reading, spelling, writing, etc.). There is considerable overlap between Learning Disabilities and AD/HD.

In fact, approximately 50% of children with AD/HD also have one or more specific learning disability, such as:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Language Disorder.

Learning disabilities are as hereditable as AD/HD and often accompany it, which makes remediation efforts for the learning disability more difficult. However, children can have learning disabilities because of their difficulty focusing and sustaining attention; they may process only segments of information that is not sufficiently repetitive. They may also have reading difficulties due to their lack of concentration, forgetting what they have just read.

More children with the Primarily Inattentive Type AD/HD present with learning disabilities too and the remediation focus for such children should include both the learning disability and the AD/HD symptoms; anything else would be counter productive.

The treatment of children with AD/HD medication does not "cure" the learning disability, but it will enable the child to be concentrated enough to learn. Without the medication, however, you may find that your AD/HD child may not benefit as much as necessary from the remedial intervention.

If you suspect that your child may have a specific learning disability, it is important to have him/her tested to find out what his/her weaknesses are. At the same time, it is important that his/her AD/HD symptoms be also treated appropriately.

  • Dyslexia

    What Is Dyslexia?

    Dyslexia can be best described as a range of difficulties that make the acquisition of reading, spelling, writing and sometimes mathematics difficult for those afflicted. Dyslexia children may also have difficulties in the following areas: short-term memory, speed of processing, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and fine motor skills.

    Those who can be classified as dyslexic are at the same time sometimes gifted in other ways, such as being creative thinkers or having excellent oral skills, which help bolster their confidence and self belief and thus make their difficulties pale in comparison.

    It is important to note that Dyslexia knows no boundaries, occurring independent of intelligence level, language and socio-economic background.

    A longitudinal study conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and the University of California Davis, which was published in the January 1, 2010 issue of the journal, Psychological Science, throws a new light on Dyslexia. For the first time, researchers have found empirical evidence showing that the relationship over time between IQ and reading differs for non-dyslexics compared to dyslexic readers. They found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only “track together, but also influence each other over time.” In children with Dyslexia, however, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a dyslexic can be both very intelligent and still have difficulties reading.

    About 60% of dyslexic people have phonological difficulties and struggle to sort out the sounds within words. This means that they have problems with reading, writing and spelling. The majority of dyslexic children have difficulty with language, memory and sequencing processes of basic mathematics.

    Causes of Dyslexia

    Dyslexia has been firmly established as a congenital and developmental condition, but its cause has not been fully confirmed; what we do know is that neurological anomalies are created in the brain of dyslexics, which bring about varying degrees of difficulty in learning when using words, and sometimes symbols.

    In 2005, Dr. Jeffrey Gruen and his team of researchers at Yale School of Medicine identified a dominant gene on the short arm of chromosome No. 6 (a faulty version of the DCDC2 gene); the DCDC2 gene in the mutant form leads to a disruption in the formation of brain circuits that make it possible to read. As this is a dominant gene, it explains why Dyslexia is so strongly inheritable.

    These findings are significant because by identifying this mutant gene researchers were able to account for the cause for Dyslexia in about 20% of dyslexics.

    In 2008, scientists at Oxford University identified the KIAA0319 gene, which is connected to Dyslexia. Scientists say it was already known that a particular DNA pattern was linked to reduced activity during development in the womb. We now know that the mutation affects the cerebral cortex, the section of the brain responsible for thought processes. According to Professor Snowling, British Dyslexia Assocation, early identification of this gene could 'lead to positive outcomes for literacy and other skills'.

    Right hemisphere dominance has also been identified in the dyslexic brain, the right hemisphere of dyslexics being significantly larger than that of non-dyslexic people. This may be the reason that people with Dyslexia are often especially gifted in what are considered to be right-brain activities, such as the arts, music, athletics, etc. There is a hypothesis that the neurological anomalies causing the difficulty in the dyslexic brain also give some dyslexic people visual, spatial and lateral thinking abilities that enable them to be successful in a wide range of careers. These are seen as the benefits of having Dyslexia.

    Further studies in which f/MRI scans were used have also shown that people with Dyslexia do not use the same part of their brain as the non-dyslexic group when reading, and it is therefore assumed now that the dyslexic group are not using the most efficient part of their brain for this task, or at least not consistently. (Susan Barton)

    However, a lot more research needs to be done before we can fully understand the reasons for Dyslexia.

    Typical Symptoms of Dyslexia

    • Not being able to make a connection between letters and sounds
    • Difficulty learning to read and spell as a result
    • Difficulty writing thoughts down on paper
    • Short-term memory deficits
    • Slow, inaccurate reading
    • Leaving out words when reading aloud
    • Losing place in text when reading
    • Not understanding what s/he is reading
    • Difficulty learning times tables
    • Specific visual and/or auditory problems
    • Difficulty copying down from white board
    • Difficulty following instructions
    • Difficulty with fine motor skills (closing shoe laces, etc.)

    As children enter Secondary School, their problems become different. At this point, specific one-on-one help is needed in the following areas:

    • Improving reading skills
    • Developing appropriate study skills
    • Organizational skills
    • Brainstorming strategies to get ideas down on paper
    • Specific instruction for identifying key points in text
    • Note taking skills with help of graphic organizer
    • Summarizing Skills
    • One-on-one math tutoring, using visual methods
    • Computer literacy

    Tips for Parents/Teachers

    To get the most out of a dyslexic child/adolescent, it is important that both parents and teachers focus on what s/he does well and build up self-confidence in this way. At the same time, beware of getting the child involved in too many extra curricular activities as doing so would take away the free time this “special” child needs to develop his/her creativity. Dyslexic children experience enough stress while compensating for their specific difficulties and it is therefore of the utmost importance that whatever they do well is practiced in a balanced way.

    Here are a few tips for Primary/Elementary school teachers:

    • Develop enough knowledge about Dyslexia so that you can identify the first signs of it in your students.
    • At the first signs of difficulties, talk to the child to find out the exact nature of his/her difficulties; make notes as you learn more.
    • Make a point to speak with the child’s parents to find out about the child’s language development history and to see if there is a history of Dyslexia in the family.
    • Monitor the child’s progress carefully
    • Notice how s/he learns
    • Inform the parents to have the child assessed by a psychologist as soon as possible as the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.
    • Adapt your methodology to meet the visual needs of the dyslexia children.

    For Secondary School teachers, some specific strategies include the following:

    • Be aware that you may have a student whose dyslexia has not yet been identified.
    • Once you realize that a student may have Dyslexia, proceed as indicated above for the Primary school teacher.M
    • Be aware that note-taking may be an area of weakness for a dyslexic student and provide a Graphic Organizer for him/her (ideally for the entire class) to make it easier for these students.
    • Complete some information from the material you intend to cover each day on the Graphic Organizer and leave space for the student to complete it with key words or phrases (even pictures), the goal being that the student has notes from which s/he can revise for tests and examinations.
    • Teach your class the textbook reading techniques that are best used for students with Dyslexia and/or AD/HD, taking note of the title/heading, highlighting key words, noting bold-faced text, finding the topic sentence in each paragraph and reading the conclusion.
    • Break down long assignments into smaller sections, each with a short-term deadline (do this for the entire class and explain it clearly).
    • Advise parents to get subject tutors and one-on-one help for the subjects in which s/he is experiencing the most difficulty.
    • Do not judge the dyslexic student for the level of his/her written text; be careful to focus on the quality of the ideas presented.
    • Monitor the student’s ability to record homework assignments and inform the parents what assignments are due on a weekly basis if this is a problem.

    Comorbidity with other Conditions

    Dyslexia is highly comorbid with AD/HD, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. With this in mind, it is important to be aware when the presenting symptoms are no longer caused by Dyslexia but possibly by one of these conditions, and to know what additional interventions are needed. In the case of AD/HD, it is of the utmost importance because of the nature of AD/HD. You will find more information about this elsewhere on this website (Comorbidities).

  • Dyspraxia

    Two Types: Developmental Dyspraxia and Verbal Dyspraxia

    The term Dyspraxia derives from the Greek word praxis, meaning "movement process". It can manifest in different ways at different ages and may impair physical, intellectual, emotional, social, language, and/or sensory development.

    Dyspraxia is often subdivided into two types: Developmental Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), and Verbal Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Apraxia of speech. Symptoms of Dyspraxia typically appear in childhood, but can in fact present at any age; they may persist into adulthood.

    Dypraxia is highly comorbid with Dyslexia, learning disabilities and AD/HD.

    The Dyspraxia Foundation (England) defines Dyspraxia as an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement and, in many individuals, there may be associated problems with language, perception and thought. It is thought to affect up to 10% of the population in varying degrees. It is probable that there is at least one dyspraxic child in every classroom requiring access to a specific treatment programme.

    Although Dyspraxia may be diagnosed at any stage of life, increasing numbers of children are identified as having the condition.

    Early recognition of Dyspraxia will enable Early Intervention and practical steps to help the child achieve his or her potential. Problems with self esteem can be avoided when the disorder is identified and treated early.

    Diagnostic Criteria: DSM IV TR

    The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists four criteria in the DSM-IV-TR for the diagnosis of developmental coordination disorder:

    • Marked impairment in the development of motor coordination
    • Impairment significantly interferes with academic achievement or activites of daily life
    • Coordination difficulties are not due to a general medical problem, such as Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy and do not meet the criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
    • If Mental Retardation (MR) is present, the motor coordination problems exceed those typically associated with the MR.

    Symptoms (Babies)

    • Are usually irritable from birth
    • May exhibit significant feeding problems
    • Slow to achieve expected developmental milestones
    • Often do not crawl before walking
    • Will most probably avoid tasks that require good manual dexterity

    Typical Symptoms (General)

    • Poor balance and posture
    • Poor fine and gross motor coordination
    • Difficulty with throwing and catching a ball
    • Poor awareness of body position in space
    • Poor sense of direction
    • Perceptual problems
    • Difficulty hopping, skipping or riding a bicycle
    • Sensitive to touch and discomfort with some clothes
    • Hand confusion (switching from right or left, etc.)
    • Slow learning to dress or feed themselves
    • Difficulty with reading, writing, speech
    • Emotional and behavioural problems
    • Phobias or obsessive behaviour
    • Poor social skills
    • Poor short-term memory
    • Vision problems

    Not all children with Dyspraxia will have all the symptoms. However, it will be possible to identify a cluster of these symptoms in children who have this condition.

    There is no cure for Dyspraxia, but significant improvement can be achieved by regular one-on-one sessions with an Occupational and Sensory Integrative therapist.

    For more information about Dyspraxia:

  • Dyscalculia

    Dyscalculia is a Specific Learning Disability now known to affect around 6% of the population. It is characterized as a condition that affects the ability to acquire mathematical skills because of a dysfunction in both hemispheres of the brain. Dyscalculia is highly comorbid with both Dyslexia and AD/HD.

    Until recent years, children were thought to have difficulty with Mathematics because they were either dyslexic or had AD/HD. Today, we know that Dyscalculia is a separate disorder that should be treated accordingly. The latest research shows that indicators for developing Dyscalculia can already be detected in 5-6 month old babies. The researchers discovered that they are attentive towards "numerosities" - in other words, core systems. This is an important discovery not least because these inborn core mechanisms enable fast-track learning. If this core system is not functioning properly, it can be seen long before children enter school. Doing arithmetic requires a highly specified neuro-cognitive network. The starting point for the development of this network is an early core mechanism. Dyscalculia results when this core mechanism is deficient. Karin Landerl, 2010: Dyscalculia – the Neglected Learning Disability. University of Tuebingen, Germany.

    The following websites and books are good sources of information about this condition.

    http://ddig.iboro.ac.uk/research.html: Dyscalculia in Belgium: definition, prevalence, subtypes, comorbidity, and assessment. Prof. Dr.Annemie Desoete, Research in Learning Disabilities, Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium. 2006

    http://www.aboutdyscalculia.org: Bringing information about Dyscalculia from the research community to parents, teachers, policy makers, and people affected by Dyscalculia. This website is written by a Dyscalculia researcher (Dr. Anna Wilson) and aims to present the current state of research-based knowledge about Dyscalculia.

    www.mathematicalbrain.com: This is the website of Brian Butterworth, who is the UK's leading expert on Dyscalculia. Updates on the latest research, and links to resources.

    www.dyscalculiaforum.com: This is a great new site designed to spread the word about Dyscalculia via a global discussion forum.

    http://www.dyscalculia.me.uk/index.html: The Dyscalculia Centre is sponsored by the publisher First and Best in Education Ltd. and has links to resources for parents and teachers.

    Practical Activities for Children with Dyscalculia: Parents Edition by Tony Attwood. (2003). First and Best Education Ltd.

    The Number Sense by Stanislas Dehaene, Director of the INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit and Professor at the Collège de France, Chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology (www.unicog.com/docs/Dyscalculia.html)

    http://www.dyscalculiaforum.com/ The Dyscalculia Forum was founded in 2005 and has over 3,000 members throughout the world. Everyone can join, Dyscalculics, parents, teachers, researchers, grandparents, and children from age 13. The language of the site is English, but you do not need to be able to speak perfect English to join - everyone is welcome .The site is maintained and owned by people who are interested in giving members a place of support, learning more about Dyscalculia, sharing this knowledge and spreading the word. You are more than welcome to email us if you have any suggestions, questions or comments. Contact us at mail@dyscalculiaforum.com

    You will find a lot of information on this site about Dyscalculia and about conferences, workshops, strategies, human interest stories, etc. If you are interested in learning the latest news about Dyscalculia, you might want to attend the upcoming Dyscalculia Conference in London on June 30, 2010. Dr. Steve Chinn is among the speakers at this event. For more information about this, log onto: http://www.dyscalculia-maths-difficulties.org.uk/.

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