Specific learning disabilities: It's a disorder in or more basic psychological processes that involves understanding or using language.
What are specific learning disabilities, and what causes them? Specific learning disability refers to a dysfunction in one or more of the basic physiological processes involved in using written or spoken language; which may manifest into an imperfect ability to speak, read, write, spell, and do mathematic calculations. It is difficult to list an exact cause of a specific learning disability. However, some factors can contribute to a specific learning disability, such as hereditary or genetic factors, illness during and after birth, premature or prolonged birth, consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, stressful incidents like poor nutrition during infancy, and increased exposure toxins like lead. Two specific learning disabilities can co-exist, e.g., 15% to 30% of children with ADHD can have a learning disability. Causes of specific learning disability can be contributed to something affecting the brain's development during the prenatal period or during early childhood. Complications can contribute it during birth resulting in lack of oxygen to the brain. The causes are still debatable. Most studies consider genetic or neurological complications during pregnancy as the causal factors for a specific learning disability.
What are the symptoms of specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
Some sure signs indicate specific learning disabilities. A person may exhibit trouble in paying attention or following directions, or poor memory. Clumsiness may also be present. Dr Shraddha Banerjee (Apollo Spectra, Kailash Colony, Delhi) shares the symptoms of SLD:
- Difficulty in reading, writing or mathematics
- Slow and inaccurate (with much effort) reading or writing
- Difficulty in understanding the meaning of what they are reading
- Difficulty with grammar, punctuation or organization
- Difficulty with applying mathematical concepts, reasoning and solving math problems
- Having academic skills that are substantially below then what is expected for the child’s age and cause problems in school, work or everyday activities
- Problems with sustaining concentrations
- Clumsy and unorganized
- Difficulty with time or depth perceptions
- Deficits in necessary life skills
- Acting with impulsiveness without thinking about the outcomes
- Not able to stay in school and social situations on a mental level
- Not being able to focus
- Difficulty in pronunciation and expression of thoughts
- Degrading daily or weekly performance at school
- Speaking like a much smaller child
- Difficulty in listening and dealing with changes in schedules or situations
What is the diagnosis of specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
"Diagnosis of a specific learning disability is not a one-step process. It is made through a thorough round of observations, family history, interviews, and school reports. Exhaustive testing, such as neuropsychological testing can be used for diagnosing specific learning disabilities. Diagnosis also considers difficulty in reading, writing, and other such symptoms for six months despite genuine help, difficulty in mathematical reasoning, and a substantially lower academic level for the age and grade. Neurological conditions such as paediatric disorder are also ruled out to conclude a specific learning disorder. After a thorough examination, the conclusion can be reached for dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and any other specific learning disability or disease" says Dr Jyoti Sharma, Homeopathic Doctor, Founder of Kaila Homeopathy.
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What is the expected duration of specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
The duration for diagnosing a specific learning disability has been defined as at least six months of problems in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and calculating despite targeted help and intervention given to the child. There may also be difficulty in understanding what is just read and learning things. A child may be unable to interact in the social sphere. These specific disabilities can be managed with particular therapies and medical attention. A cure may not be possible for all but improvement in learning and other actions are possible by giving individualized attention and individualized educational program. The damage can be limited to a much lesser amount, and sufferings can be limited to a much lesser time.
Specific learning disabilities: When should one seek medical advice?
Dr Jyoti Sharma states that "specific learning disabilities may not be life-threatening, but they can undoubtedly degrade a child and an adult's lifestyle. Therefore, prompt medical attention shall be taken when the first sign or symptom of a specific learning disability is noticed. If you find your child struggling with daily writing, reading, communicating, listening, or speaking, calculating for months at a stretch despite regular attention; seek medical help immediately. If your child turns aggressive under treatment or is suffering negligence from one of the care-givers, pay attention, and seek help. In the developed countries like the U.S.A, 1 out of 5 children are affected with a learning disability, so even the slightest symptom shall not be ignored."
How can one prevent specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
Though complete prevention for some learning disabilities is not possible, their risk can be lowered. It is advised to avoid alcohol before, during, and after pregnancy for the same. Toxins shall be avoided during pregnancy and after childbirth by mother and child. Over-the-counter medications shall be avoided, and prescription shall be taken after proper assessment of side-effects with the help of a medical professional for the child, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Stress shall be avoided during pregnancy and from the home and social surroundings of a child. Immediate help shall be taken if any hearing or seeing a defect is noticed in the child. Keeping track of childhood milestones and providing healthy nutrition and child may prevent specific learning disabilities.
What are the treatment options available for specific learning disabilities (SLD)?
"As far as a cure is considered, no specific treatment for a specific learning disability is there. There are particular ways in which children with a specific learning disability can be helped. Parents and teachers are among the first to notice and hence can intervene as helpful support. A trained professional can help a child improve academic skills like reading and writing. Specialized or Individualised Education Programme can help improve a child’s capabilities and living standard during his lifetime. Specific therapies such as speech therapy and occupational therapy can improve children's speaking and motor skills with writing problems. Complimentary or alternative treatment such as music therapy can help a child with a specific learning disorder, says Dr Jyoti Sharma.
How do specific learning disabilities affect communication?
Specific learning difficulties lower a child's self-esteem, carried forward to adulthood and affected communication, academics, and social relationships. Communication is affected by an inability to use greetings and interactions suitably for a social purpose. What also interferes is an inability to change the context of speech according to the listener, such as difficulty in addressing a child and adult differently, struggling to rephrase sentences when misunderstood, and difficulty perceiving different sentence humour meanings, idiom, metaphor. Sadly, these communication deficits may not be prominent until a social need arises to communicate more than limited capability and symptoms like Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disorder.
What environmental factors contribute to cause specific learning disabilities?
Dr Jyoti Sharma says that "environmental factors that are considered for causing specific learning disabilities are kept contrasted from genetic or hereditary factors. These ecological factors fall into five categories in general. These categories include chronic anxiety, malnutrition, toxicity, and electromagnetic radiation or technical pollution. The stressed environment at home and in social circle, chronic academic underachievement, chronic fear and discomfort for separation, marked distress caused by obsessions or compulsions can result in chronic anxiety. Poverty or lack of attention or knowledge can cause malnutrition. Exposure to lead can cause toxicity. Excessive exposure to electromagnetic waves can be responsible for the causation of specific learning disabilities."
How to Spot Specific Learning Disorder in children?
It is hard for parents to spot a learning disability as it is confused with a tantrum. Specific symptoms that can guide you towards spotting a learning disability include difficulty in reading or reversing letters, numbers, or words as a whole after first or second standard, left-right confusion as in dyslexia, struggling in perceiving patterns or differentiating items by shape or size. One also needs to take care when a child finds it difficult to understand and follow instructions and stay organised when a child fails to remember what was just said or learned, or when a child finds it difficult to coordinate when moving around, writing, cutting, or drawing, or is not able to understand the concept of time. Dr Shraddha Banerjee shares some of the behavioural symptoms that can help us to identify SLD:
- Problems in concentration
- Problems in memorizing (retaining and recalling)
- Difficult to understand the meaning of what they read
- General intellectual ability is average.
- Difficulty to read, write, spell or to do calculations age appropriately.
How does music therapy help children with specific learning disabilities?
Motivating therapy for children and other people with specific learning disabilities is music therapy. In music therapy, the therapist uses music and helps people with a learning disability concentrate on using music in communication, self-expression, and interaction. Besides, increasing motivation, music therapy empowers children by offering choices to them. It also encourages and stimulates physical movement and works to improve coordination in gestures and speech. It helps children practice and discriminate sounds, improves cognitive and academic output by acting as a mnemonic. It effectively improves hand-eye coordination and other motor skills. The motivation from music therapy improves a child’s social skills as well.
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