What are Learning Disorders and how are they evaluated?
Learning disorders, also known as learning disabilities, are neurologically-based differences that impact reading (dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), and/or mathematics (dyscalculia). A learning disability is a neurodevelopmental condition, which means that it is based in the brain and is present in childhood. Learning challenges are typically apparent in early elementary school but may not be formally identified until later when academic demands increase. Individuals with learning disabilities often struggle in school and their academic performance does not reflect their intelligence. Learning disabilities often co-exist with other conditions like ADHD and anxiety/depression, which further impact learning. Evaluation of a learning disability typically involves clinical interviews, a review of educational records, standardized rating scales, and objective neurocognitive and academic testing. This information is then used to ensure an accurate diagnosis of learning disabilities, as well as any co-occurring conditions. Assessment and diagnosis of a specific learning disability are critical in determining the need for academic accommodations and interventions to best meet the individual’s learning needs.
A learning disability in reading is a learning difference that impacts reading skills (e.g., fluency, comprehension, etc.). Dyslexia is a specialized term for a specific type of reading disability that involves difficulties with phonological skills. Signs and symptoms of a reading disability/dyslexia include trouble learning how to read, difficulty sounding words out, trouble with spelling, letter confusion/reversals, dysfluent reading, etc. Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia is not “seeing” letters backward, but individuals with dyslexia may reverse letters when writing or confuse letter sounds. Dyslexia occurs frequently with other conditions, particularly ADHD and other learning disabilities like dysgraphia.
A learning disability in writing, or more specifically called dysgraphia, is a learning difference that impacts written expression. Dysgraphia is generally characterized by writing difficulties, both in terms of weakness in fine motor skills/handwriting and the ability to express thoughts in writing (e.g., difficulty with organizing or articulating thoughts on paper, marked difference between spoken and written understanding of a topic, tiring quickly/experiencing pain while writing, inconsistency in letter spacing and capitalization, poor spelling, etc.). Dysgraphia occurs frequently with other conditions, particularly ADHD and Dyslexia.
A learning disability in math, more specifically called dyscalculia, is a learning difference that impacts mathematics. Signs and symptoms of dyscalculia include difficulties with learning numbers and remembering basic math facts, having to count on fingers or use a calculator for simple calculations, trouble understanding concepts like more/less or right/left, difficulty recognizing patterns, and experiencing anxiety around having to perform math, etc. Dyscalculia frequently occurs with other conditions, like ADHD or Dyslexia.