People suffering from Learning Disability (LD) are not stupid. However, they are made to feel so. As a matter of fact, many LD people in history have been involved in brilliant innovations and achievement.
Unfortunately, children with LD are often hurt by an educational system that does not have time to accommodate to different or challenging learning styles, and these children’s self esteem is affected in negative ways. Over time, if learning difficulties are not attended to, a complex of confidence and educational issues intertwine, until we’re not sure how much of the child’s difficulties derive from educational challenge, and how much from confidence issues.
The distinct feature of LD is that it affects cognitive functioning or processing, but in one, specific area. On an IQ, or any kind of achievement test, it would create a ‘valley among hills’ effect: overall average or higher performance, and then a sudden dip in one area of functioning. This, in fact, is how the diagnosis is made.
Psychological Evaluation is crucial to obtain good understanding of the learning challenges. In making a good diagnosis, the psychologist should seek to assess where exactly the problem might be coming from: sensory reception must be tested, and possibly a comparison of auditory versus visual learning. Also, a good assessment will include types of memory (sequential, episodic, etc. ), and speed of mental processing. Sometimes, the individual has an expressive problem (translating a thought into words, or finding the right word), or a spatial/math problem (understanding relationships in space and numbers). The more refined our understanding of the problem, the more we can help the child.
What causes learning disability?
Since the problem usually involves transfer of information from one place to another in the brain, or the connecting of separate centers (for example, speech centers with expressive, or motor regions), it stands to reason that the difficulties may stem from minor neurobiological problems that affect several areas. Studies are finding that the problems show up early in life – even prenatally, if we can only identify them. Certainly, the earlier we know about it, the more we can do for children who have these disabilities. The deficits have now been linked to anatomical differences, specifically in the planum temporale, a structure in both sides of the brain that is related to language processing. There is also a confirmation of a difference in EEG waves (electrical conduction patterns) of the brains of LD children and others. It appears that the problems are often caused by incidents during the fetal phase that affect neurological development. Some examples of these: fetal alcohol syndrome, insulin-dependant diabetes, autism, radiation treatments for cancer, accidents causing trauma to the fetus, hypoxia, and the like. We also know that a proportion of LD cases are linked to genetics, occurring in higher frequency within families.
The Other Effects
Often overlooked are the effects of LD on other aspects of functioning. The deficit affects more than academic achievement; it also impacts on children’s ability to understand and interpret social cues, parental communication, and social acceptability. All of these areas need to be looked at, and strategies developed to support the child’s functioning in every dimension of life, for maximal happiness.
The earlier interventions can be implemented, the better the results, for the brain is very plastic, and can grow to meet higher stimulation levels if done early. This does not mean that the problem will ever disappear; a deficit will be part of the person’s functioning for life. But, much compensation can take place, and long term self esteem problems can be avoided.
The Neuroscience Team:
Providing psychological and neuropsychological evaluations for learning disability and cognitive difficulties.