Learning Disorder Assessment
What is a Learning Disorder?
A learning disorder (also known as learning disabilities) is an information-processing problem that prevents a person from learning and using a skill effectively. Learning disorders generally affect people of average or above-average intelligence. As a result, the disorder appears as a gap between expected skills, based on age and intelligence, and academic performance.
Common learning disorders affect an individual’s reading, written expression, math or nonverbal skills.
Learning disorders in reading are usually based on difficulty perceiving a spoken word as a combination of distinct sounds. This can make it hard to understand how a letter or letters represent a sound and how letter combinations make a word. A learning disorder in reading is usually called dyslexia, but some specialists may use the term to describe only some of the information-processing problems that can cause difficulty with reading. Even when basic reading skills are mastered, Individuals may have difficulty with the following skills:
Problems with working memory — the ability to hold and manipulate information at the moment.
Reading at a typical pace
Understanding what they read
Recalling accurately what they read
Making inferences based on their reading
Writing requires complex visual, motor and information-processing skills. A learning disorder in written expression may cause the following:
Slow and labour-intensive handwriting
Handwriting that is hard to read
Difficulty putting thoughts into writing
Written text that is poorly organized or hard to understand
Trouble with spelling, grammar, and punctuation
A learning disorder in math may cause problems with the following skills:
Understanding how numbers work and relate to each other
Calculating math problems
Memorizing basic calculations
Using math symbols
Understanding word problems
Organizing and recording information while solving a math problem
An individual with a learning disorder in nonverbal skills appears to develop good basic language skills and strong rote memorization skills early in childhood. Difficulties are present in visual-spatial, visual-motor, and other skills necessary in social or academic functioning. An individual with a learning disorder in nonverbal skills may have trouble with the following skills:
Interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues in social interactions
Using language appropriately in social situations
Fine motor skills, such as writing
Attention, planning and organizing
Higher-level reading comprehension or written expression, usually appearing in later grade school
What causes learning disorders?
Factors that might influence the development of learning disorders include:
Family history and genetics: A family history of learning disorders increases the risk of a child developing a disorder.
Prenatal and neonatal risks: Poor uterine growth (severe intrauterine growth restriction), exposure to alcohol or drugs before birth, premature birth, and very low birth weight have been linked to learning disorders.
Psychological trauma: Psychological trauma or abuse in early childhood may affect brain development and increase the risk of learning disorders.
Physical trauma: Head injuries or nervous system infections might play a role in the development of learning disorders.
Environmental exposure: Exposure to high levels of toxins, such as lead, has been linked to an increased risk of learning disorders.
Seeking help for learning disorders
Early intervention is essential because the problem can snowball. A child who doesn't learn to add in elementary school won't be able to tackle algebra in high school. Individuals with learning disorders can also experience performance anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, chronic fatigue or loss of motivation. Some children might act out to distract attention from their challenges at school.
An individual’s teacher/academic institute, parents or guardian, doctor, or other professionals can request an evaluation if there are concerns about learning problems. The individual will likely have tests to rule out vision, hearing problems, or other medical conditions. The individual requires a series of exams conducted by a team of professionals, including a psychologist, special education teacher, occupational therapist, social worker, or nurse.
The determination of a learning disorder and the need for services is based on the results of tests, teacher feedback, input from the parents or guardians, and a review of academic performance. A diagnosis of severe anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders also might be relevant. These conditions can contribute to delays in developing academic skills.
If an individual has a learning disorder, the following recommendations can be made:
Extra help: A reading specialist, math tutor, or other trained professional can teach the individual techniques to improve their academic, organizational and study skills.
Individualized program plan (IPP): A child/student that has a learning disorder can have an Individualized Program Plan (IPP) or Instructional Support Plan (ISP). The IPP or ISP is intended to create meaningful and successful learning opportunities that use the Alberta Education Programs of Study as a starting point of instruction.
Accommodations: Classroom accommodations might include more time to complete assignments or tests, seated near the teacher to promote attention, using computer applications that support writing, including fewer math problems in assignments, or providing audiobooks to supplement reading.
Other therapies: Occupational therapy might improve an individual’s motor skills with writing problems. A speech-language therapist can help address language skills.
Medication: Individuals with learning disorders can be considered for medication to manage depression or severe anxiety. Medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may improve an individual’s ability to concentrate in school or work.
Complementary and alternative medicine: Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of alternative treatments, such as dietary changes, use of vitamins, eye exercises, neurofeedback, and use of technological devices.