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Learning Disability

Learning Disability

Alternate Names

  • LD
  • academic disorders
  • learning disorder


When a person has a learning disability, he or she is unable to obtain or express knowledge appropriately. Learning disabilities may also involve mental processes used in understanding or using written or spoken language.

What is going on in the body?

It is generally believed that the brain functions differently in a person with a learning disability. A person with a learning disability has average to above-average intelligence when it can be measured by standardized testing.
However, the person's reading, math, or written expression is much lower than expected for age, schooling, and environment. Learning disorders may affect a person's ability to read, write, spell, speak, or perform math problems.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The exact causes of a learning disability are unknown. The way a person's brain works may cause learning disabilities. Certain biological, genetic, or environmental factors are linked with learning disabilities. Boys are affected 4 to 5 times as often as girls. Learning disabilities can run in families.
The following factors may contribute to the cause of learning disability:
  • genetics
  • injury in the womb before birth
  • medical problems the mother had during pregnancy
  • prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or other toxic substances
  • lead poisoning
  • premature birth, low birth weight, or birth trauma
  • head injury
  • poor nutrition of the mother when she was pregnant


What can be done to prevent the condition?

While there is no known way to prevent all learning disabilities, it is clear that a woman who has good prenatal care gives her child a better start. It is important to avoid pregnancy risk factors such as alcohol or drugs. Also, a healthy diet may help minimize a child's learning disabilities.


How is the condition diagnosed?

A complete evaluation is done to determine if a child has a learning disability. The evaluation includes in-office testing, teacher input, parental input, and observing the child. Tests are done to see if the child's learning problems are due to vision impairments, hearing impairments, or any other medical problems.
A child's mental capacity, school performance, emotional status, and general neurological function are checked. Often several different types of healthcare professionals will assess the child. These may include an audiologist, psychologist, medical doctor, and a speech and language pathologist.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

If a child with an learning disability is not effectively treated, academic, social, and interpersonal problems are likely to develop. Children who are not doing well in school are more likely to have low self-esteem and lose motivation. They may eventually withdraw from the demands of the people around them.
Children with untreated learning disabilities are at a much higher risk for dropping out of school. Socially, they are often teased and rejected, causing more problems with self-esteem. If left untreated, learning disabilities may cause a lifetime of problems.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Learning disabilities are not contagious. However, the learning disability may be genetic and can be passed on to offspring.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment is aimed at helping the child learn ways to lessen the effects of the learning disability. The child needs to learn how to learn and teaching must begin in infancy or the toddler years. The State education system is required to assist even in the preschool years.
Specific treatments are available with certain disorders. After the learning disorder is correctly diagnosed, the special education services at the child's school will design an individualized educational plan, called an IEP. This will specify who and what services will be provided to the child.
The child may need counseling in order to overcome his or her self-esteem problems. He or she needs to feel supported and accepted. Counseling will help the child understand the problem and teach him or her ways to cope. The child's home life needs to support his or her educational goals. An organized, quiet study area is needed. A balance between diet, rest, play, and study should be maintained.
Solid discipline coupled with nurturing and consistent, fair expectations are very important for children with learning disorders. Sometimes medications may be suggested, depending on the type of the learning disability. Medication can be effective in minimizing hyperactivity, distractibility, or poor attention span, if these problems exist.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness, sleeplessness, weight loss, poor linear growth, high blood pressure, and suicidal thoughts.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Depending on the type of learning disability, treatment may be lifelong, but in varying degrees. A caregiver may need to carefully watch the child to see if more treatment or a different type of treatment is needed.


How is the condition monitored?

Monitoring a learning disability may be a lifelong endeavor. Treatment may need to be adjusted based on a person's needs.


Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, David E. Larson, 1996

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