Learning Disabilities: How to Identify Children with a Learning Disability

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  1. 0:07 Identifying Disabilities
  2. 1:29 Behaviors
  3. 2:25 Learning Disabilities
  4. 2:59 Common Disabilities
  5. 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

Identifying children with a learning disability can be tricky because it can be confused with a lack of interest in a school subject. In this lesson, we will look at how learning disabilities can be identified and the three most common learning disabilities: dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyslexia.

Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities

Did you have a favorite subject in school? Did you look forward to going to school, or did you dread going? Some children absolutely love school, and some children just don't enjoy it. How can a parent or a teacher tell the difference between a child who just doesn't like school or a particular subject and a child who has a learning disability?

A teacher and a parent can look at the grades of a child, and if they are failing in an area, that could be an indication that they may have a learning disability in that subject.

Bad grades might be a sign of a learning disability.
Report Card Illustration

However, their failing grade could simply be from a lack of interest in the subject, or they could be developmentally delayed in their learning ability. If they are developmentally delayed, they typically are able to catch up with their peers once they are given additional tutoring in the subject. However, if tutoring doesn't help the child, and the student is consistently struggling in one or more subject areas, the parent or the teacher may request that the child be given a diagnostic achievement test. This test is used to determine a student's strengths and weaknesses. However, the assumption that an achievement test makes is that the student is willing to do their very best on the test. Unfortunately, often, if a student doesn't enjoy school, they will be less than enthusiastic to perform well on an achievement test. If this is the case, it becomes important to look at the behavior of the student.

Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors

An important first step in identifying children with learning disabilities is to recognize the behaviors that they typically display. There are many different behaviors that a child with a learning disability can display. However, common behaviors that most children with learning disabilities demonstrate fall into two categories: internalizing and externalizing behaviors.

A child who demonstrates internalizing behaviors is not necessarily an introvert. Instead, they become quiet and withdrawn when faced with a learning situation that they are not confident in. Other internalizing behaviors include boredom, disorganization and inattention.

Likewise, a child who demonstrates externalizing behaviors is not necessarily an extrovert. Instead, they become loud and disruptive when they are faced with learning situations that they are not confident in. Other externalizing behaviors include delinquent behaviors, aggressive behaviors and clowning around.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is an umbrella term used to describe many different neurological disorders.

Children with learning disabilities have a glitch in how their brains are wired so that they might have difficulty with reasoning, spelling, writing and reading.

The many types of learning disabilities
Types of Learning Disabilities Umbrella

The disorders are often described as disabilities because they may interfere with the student's ability to learn. Many students with a learning disability have average or above-average intelligence. However, many students with a learning disability also struggle with other disorders, such as Autism and ADHD.

Common Types of Learning Disabilities

The three most common learning disabilities are dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. The prefix 'dys-' is Greek meaning 'an impairment of,' so the three most common disabilities are an impairment of doing math, writing or reading.

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