Learning Disabilities

smiling girl sitting on grassLearning disabilities affect the brain’s ability to perceive or process verbal or non-verbal information efficiently and accurately. Learning disabilities are a result of how the brain receives, processes, and responds to information. While learning disabilities do not go away, children and adults can use strategies to adapt to them. Specific learning disabilities impact the following areas:

  • Reading: Difficulty with word accuracy, reading rate, fluency, and comprehension
  • Written expression: Impacts spelling, grammar and punctuation, clearness or organization of how person writes; sometimes called a reading disability or dyslexia
  • Mathematics: Difficulty with number sequencing, memorization of arithmetic facts, calculation, and math reasoning; known as dyscalculia—difficulty with arithmetic and mathematical concepts

(Adapted from American Psychiatric Association, 2013; and Shelton, et al.)

What You Might Notice

According to Shelton,  children with learning disabilities may struggle with:

  • understanding questions and following directions
  • using filler words—um, thing, or stuff—while searching for correct words
  • repeating numbers in sequence, such as phone numbers or addresses
  • knowing right from left
  • confusing the order of words, numbers, or sequence in a story
  • telling time and having a concept of time

It may not be immediately evident that the child has a learning disability. Many children with specific learning disabilities attend school in mainstream classrooms with their peers without disabilities. To avoid being made fun of or shamed by classmates, they may have learned strategies for hiding learning difficulties, such as pretending to read or distracting other students or teachers.

Before Meeting the Child

  • Learn from the child’s teacher, Individual Education Plan (IEP), parents, or caregivers about the child’s learning disability and how it affects them in practical terms.
  • Ask about what adaptations help the child function in school and at home, and modify them for your interaction.
  • Find out the child’s regular schedule, including times of regular television shows, school, therapies, and other activities.
  • If the child has difficulty understanding written or spoken language, consult with teachers or caregivers beforehand about how to make your questions as understandable as possible.

During the Meeting

Make adaptations for the child based on the information you have gathered. For example:

  • If the child has dyslexia, or difficulty understanding written words, and needs to review written material, read the material, or prepare the material in plain language beforehand.
  • If the child has difficulty understanding written or spoken language, check in frequently to make sure they understand what you are asking or saying.
  • If the child has difficulty with the concept of time:
    • When you are trying to pin down a time during a particular day, ask about regularly scheduled activities in the child’s day, such as school, afternoon television program, after-school activities. You can ask if the abuse happened before or after a favorite television program.
    • If you are trying to find out if the abuse happened on a particular day or week or month, try to find out the child’s long-term schedule or events that they might remember, such as a special activity, holiday, birthday, or other event.