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Children's Health

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Learning Disabilities - Topic Overview

What are learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities make it hard for your child to learn in certain areas. Your child may have trouble with listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or doing math. One example of a learning disability is dyslexia. A child with dyslexia has a hard time reading, writing, and spelling.

Learning disabilities aren't the same as learning challenges that are caused by problems with seeing, hearing, or moving. They aren't linked to emotional problems or to your culture, environment, or income. But many children with learning disabilities have other problems that make school hard. These include ADHD and problems with behavior or memory.

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A learning disability is lifelong. Your child will continue to have it as an adult. But taking steps to manage it early during childhood can help. Children with a learning disability are often able to deal with the disability and succeed in school and other areas. This success can continue into adulthood.

What causes a learning disability?

Most of the time, experts don't know the reason for learning disabilities. But these disabilities tend to run in families.

Experts think that some children have learning disabilities because their brains use and process information in a different way than other children's do. A learning disability doesn't mean that your child is less intelligent than other children or has "lazy" school habits.

Some learning disabilities may be caused by a mother's illness or injury during or before her child's birth or by her use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy.

After a child is born, a head injury, poor nutrition, exposure to toxins (such as lead), or child abuse can contribute to learning disabilities.

What are the signs?

The signs of learning disabilities vary depending on age. They are often discovered in elementary school, when a child has trouble doing tasks that involve reading, writing, or math.

The most common signs are:

  • Trouble reading, such as slow reading that takes a lot of effort.
  • Trouble writing.
  • Not doing well in school, and with no clear reason.

Your child also may:

  • Talk later than expected and be slow to learn new words.
  • Find it hard to learn the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, and how to spell and write his or her name.
  • Make consistent reading and spelling errors.
  • Mix up math symbols and misread numbers.
  • Have a hard time putting information or events in a correct order.
  • Not understand the "rules" of talking to others. For example, your child may stand too close to others when talking or may talk out of turn.
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