For years, researchers have labeled children with specific learning disabilities with many names- word blindness, dyslexia, minimal brain damage, minimal cerebral dysfunction, hyperactivity, and nearly 130 other terms used synonymously to describe this general syndrome.
The term specific learning disability (SLD) was invented in 1963 to describe these children of normal to above-average intelligence. Without any physical deficits or primary emotional disturbance, they have difficulty acquiring basic language skills. This syndrome was clearly identified in 1925 by neuropsychiatrist Samuel Orton, and even as early as 1896 by English scientists Morgan and Kerr.
SLDs are often misunderstood s a single condition that causes a person to reverse letters and read backwards. Dyslexia, a term used to identify this phenomenon, describes only one way learning problems may appear. SLDs may also appear solely or jointly in spelling, math, organization, or motor performance such as handwriting. The pattern for each person is different.
Most experts agree that SLD refers to children who learn through the different way and not those who are unable, unlikely, or unwilling to learn. But because the handicapping condition is invisible, the person remains undiagnosed, mislabeled as a bad or difficult child/student.
Over the past years, many of these children- even those with superior intelligence- were placed in classes with retarded children, in slow tracks, or in classes with severely emotionally disturbed children.
What are the causes?
Probably there is no one cause. Any combination of things could have affected the nervous system somewhere along the way. Current knowledge suggests some of the following factors:
- Chemical imbalances during or following pregnancy
- Difficulties during the delivery
- Maturational lag (the brain’s final maturation is not completed until the early 30s)
- Genetic factors (tends to run in families, more with males)
- Complex biochemical factors
Researchers also observed that there is four times more the likelihood of specific learning disabilities in adopted children than in biological children. Possibly a large number proportion of mothers who place children for adoption receive less than adequate care during pregnancy or have less than adequate diet.
Because so much remains unknown, one cannot yet speak in terms of prevention or cure, but only of the treatment- with a very favorable prognosis. While researchers continue to explore the origins of SLDs, the focus is shifting to diagnosis, treatment, and understanding.
How can parents know?
While signs and symptoms do accompany SLDs, detection is not as simple as administering a five-point screening test. The following five characteristics, particularly in combination, tend to point to a child t high risk for learning disabilities: allergies, complications during delivery, hyperactivity, left-handedness, and male gender.
Teachers and parents are usually first to suspect problems. Consult a pediatrician to rule out temporary or permanent physical conditions such as infections, neurological disease, or brain damage. The physician may refer you to a neurologist or a skilled neuro-developmental specialist who can determine the presence of minimal, or soft neurological signs in a child with potential or actual learning disabilities.
A formal evaluation of the child should include a physical examination; vision, hearing and dental checkups; psychological evaluation (to assess the child’s approach to learning tasks and his emotional development); and n educational evaluation.