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 May 11, 2005
Learning Disabilities
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The terms learning disability, dyslexia, reading disability, and perceptual problems are frequently used in place of one other. Learning disability is a more general term and refers to a difficulty in total learning rather than merely the inability to read.


Learning disabilities are generally divided into two groups: Primary (inherited) and Secondary (caused by a physical factor that interferes with learning.)


The exact cause of learning disabilities is unclear. They appear to be due to mild disorders or developmental delays in the brain. Inherited factors may play a part. Although poor vision, jerky eye movements, misaligned or crossed eyes, and hand-coordination have at times been claimed to be the cause of letter reversals or reading disabilities, there is little to no scientific evidence to support this belief. Stated simply, the eyes function as a camera. After the eyes "take the picture," it is sent to the brain by the optic nerves. The eyes do not comprehend reading any more than a camera interprets a picture. Until the picture from the camera is developed, it has no meaning. Similarly, until the brain interprets or "perceives" the pictures sent by the eyes, there is no understanding. This perceptive ability by the brain is the key to the child's ability to read and understand what is read. Perception is quite different from vision and sight. It is the ability of the brain to recognize, use, and interpret visual images by relating them to previous experiences. In the past, reading problems have been blamed on the eyes though children with a learning disability have no greater incidence of eye problems than the rest of the population.


If parents suspect that their child has a learning disability, they should first contact the child's teacher or principal, and if necessary, the local or state Director of Special Education. Public law requires the school to evaluate any child who is thought to have a learning disability. As soon as a learning disability is diagnosed, a child should be examined by a team of medical doctors, psychologists and educators to determine if physical or mental problems are the cause of the condition. It may be difficult to absolutely diagnose a learning disability before a child reaches the age of six or seven. However, once a diagnosis is made, educational assistance is needed promptly.


Specific educational assistance is the best treatment for individuals with learning disabilities. Remedial training in areas where a disabled child is weakest is best managed by trained teachers, reading specialists, or tutors in special classes or schools. Gentle understanding, emotional support, and opportunities for the child to experience success in other non-reading activities should be encouraged. Allowing a child to "burn-off" tensions and frustrations through sports or artistic activities can be most helpful. Learning disabilities may be complicated problems. Scientific evidence demonstrates that simple solutions such as diet, mega-vitamins, sugar restriction, eye exercises, or visual training do not improve reading skills. Unfortunately, such treatment may actually harm the child by delaying proper educational assistance.


Are there any tests to help evaluate my child? Does the school system supply the team to examine the child? As the team tests and evaluates the child, will they explain the results? Is there any cost? What learning program can help my child's learning disabilities? How soon can it be started? How will this affect my child's self-esteem? What can be done at home to help the situation?

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