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Assessment and Treatment of Learning Disabilities

By

Bob Gottfried, PhD

It can be disheartening to learn that your child has a learning disability. It is, however, very important to know that this does not mean that the child lacks intellect. Your child can be smart, yet still experience significant cognitive difficulties. Learning disabilities are characterized by a certain level of brain impairment to receive, store, analyze and process information.

Naturally, children with a learning disability will grow up to be adults with learning disabilities, which is why early intervention is always preferable.

There are different types of learning disabilities, but in general, they will affect one or more of a person’s cognitive abilities such as reading, listening, reasoning, problem solving, writing and doing basic math. Certain learning disabilities can also be linked to difficulties with motor skills. Almost without exception, individuals having a learning disability will also have some problems concentrating, focusing and remembering certain information.

As a parent, it is important to identify your child’s disability at an early stage so that your child can learn how to deal with the condition, or better yet receive specialized treatment of learning disabilities, which will make it easier for the child to process information effectively. That, in turn, would improve all aspects of learning.

Types of learning disabilities

  • Dyslexia is predominantly a reading disability. It manifests itself in a number of ways. The child may not be able to comprehend the correlation between letters or words and their sounds. Skipping words even sentences when reading is quite common. Spelling may also be a challenge. Other typical signs that characterize dyslexia include taking a long time to read, mixing up letters in a word, an inability to retain read material and confusing directions.
  • Dysgraphia is a writing disability, which can become very restrictive when a child or an adult suffering from this learning disability is having difficulty with penning down their thoughts on paper. The child will typically have problems with grammar and with writing complete sentences. This disability is characterized by grammatically unclear and incomplete sentences. Other symptoms related to this disability include: poor grip of a pen or pencil and messy handwriting. The person may express himself/herself verbally well but unable to express thoughts on paper, coherently.
  • Dyscalculia, is a math-related disability that affects the recognition of numbers and the understanding of simple mathematical concepts. The symptoms include: inability to recollect a number sequence, confusion with numbers that look similar, problems during money transactions like counting money or calculating change, difficulty with basic mathematical functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Even simple counting and telling the time could be difficult for those experiencing dyscalculia.
  • Central Auditory Process Disorder (CAPD, or APD) involves a child’s auditory processing ability, which affects understanding of information conveyed verbally. The signs to watch out for include inability to follow instructions, inaccurate pronunciation, inability to understand conversations or part of them, sensitivity to background sounds, difficulty with processing any type of information that requires listening.
  • Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) also referred to as nonverbal learning disability has to do with nonverbal skills. The condition manifests itself in poor fine motor skills and coordination, poor social skills, although a child with this disorder may still do well academically. This disability shows itself through signs that include the inability to discern facial expressions, questioning more than usual, complaining about being frequently misunderstood, difficulties with reading, writing, doing math and inability to handle any disruption in their daily routine.
  • Visual Processing disorder disrupts a child’s ability to handle and process information received visually. The symptoms include: poor spelling, difficulties with copying words and getting disorientated while reading.
  • Aphasia is a language-based disability that affects a person’s ability to express thoughts and understanding of both written and spoken language. Signs that indicate this disorder include difficulty with understanding written material, speaking incomplete sentences or unrecognizable words.
  • Dyspraxia also known as Sensory Integration Disorder and is a learning disability that affects fine motor skills (such as writing, using tools like scissors or buttoning a shirt) and/or gross motor skills (such as running, jumping, throwing, hitting or catching a ball).The condition is also characterized by poor eye-hand coordination.

A learning disability is often combined with attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD). Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with kids (and adults) experiencing a learning disability, is that they suffer from low self-esteem and low self-confidence, which can have a detrimental effect on their performance and achievements in life.

Assessing and treating a learning disability

Assessment of learning disabilities consists of various steps- testing of learning disabilities and specific aspects of the learning process. Lately, more modern neuro-cognitive assessment tools have been developed to point out specifically different cognitive deficiencies.

New technologies to assess frontal lobe function have helped in both assessing and treating all types of learning disabilities. While teaching children or adults how to improve and better deal with their deficiencies is important, correcting deeper neurological structures in the frontal cortex and other parts of the brain is necessary in order to correct the root cause of the problem. Neuro-cognitive therapy and training have shown excellent results in the treatment of learning disabilities with marked improvement on all levels. Improving brain regulation combined with developing core cognitive skills such as visual processing, auditory processing, divided attention, multitasking, and working memory, can contribute to considerable and permanent gains in cognitive performance and significant reduction in symptoms. This will always translate into improved ability to effectively process any kind of information and be able to store and retrieve it with ease.

Bob Gottfried PhD is a pioneer in the area of neuro-cognitive treatment. He is the clinical director of ACEclinics in Toronto, Canada. The clinic specializes in assessment and treatment of, learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), non-specific neuro-cognitive deficiencies. memory disorders as well as anxiety disorder. More information can be obtained on their website: www.ACEclinics.com