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Insurable Interests

Vol. 6, Issue 7March 2011


Identifying Learning Disabilities

All children struggle from time to time with school or with social situations. Learning to cope with those struggles is an important part of growing up. But children also can have learning disabilities that make it exceptionally hard for them to keep up.

Most learning disabilities can be treated very successfully; the problem is that they often are not identified at all or until the child already has experienced too much failure. Only a professional can diagnose a learning disability. However, there are behaviors that indicate the possible existence of a learning disability. You live with your children, which makes you in a good position to observe their behavior. With your grandchildren, you might have a unique insight into their behavior. Perhaps you can pick up on something that their parents are too busy or distracted to see, for example.

Before you panic, though, remember that all children develop at different rates, and they might develop differently in different areas. For example, a child who talks early might walk a little later. Don’t compare your child or grandchild to other children. But do be aware of unusual behavior or unsatisfactory progress in school.

One possible indication of a problem is if there is an obvious difference between a child’s intelligence and how well she does in school. You can determine a child’s intelligence level through testing, of course. But you also can get a general sense of how intelligent she is by how quickly she understands ideas, how complex her thoughts are, how well-developed her speech is and how she compares with other children her age. If she exhibits signs of being very intelligent but she struggles in school, you should look for a reason.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has produced a checklist of possible indications of learning disabilities. The more of these characteristics a child has on a consistent basis, the more likely he is to have a learning disability.

The checklist separates behaviors by age, although many of the behaviors can occur in more than one age group. Things to watch out for with preschool and kindergarteners include:

  • Has difficulty sustaining attention in work tasks or play activities.
  • Appears awkward and clumsy, dropping, spilling or knocking things over.
  • Demonstrates early delays in learning to speak.
  • Confuses similar-looking letters and numbers.
  • Frequently reverses letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Has difficulty “joining in” and maintaining positive social status in a peer group.

Of course, many young children occasionally drop things, reverse letters, have difficulty joining in, etc. The issue is how many of these things a child does on a consistent and protracted basis.

For teenagers, possible red flags include:
  • Grasps a pencil awkwardly, resulting in poor handwriting.
  • Has difficulty understanding instructions or directions.
  • Often loses things.
  • Dislikes and avoids reading or reads reluctantly.
  • Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
  • Does not pick up on other person’s moods and feelings; might say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

If you think your child or grandchild exhibits many of the behaviors on the checklist, it might be simple developmental differences among children. But it might be a learning disability.

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