Understanding Learning Disabilities

In addition to having emotional or mental health problems, some children and adults in the Compeer program also have learning disabilities.

What are learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities are very common. They are usually disorders that cause the brain to handle information in a way that blocks learning.

Problems may occur in:

  • Collecting Information – For example, the child judges depth, distance, or size incorrectly.
  • Sorting Information – The child can’t perceive small details or match similar objects.
  • Storing Information – Memory can be poor in certain areas. The child may not be able to remember the order of sounds and how sounds match with letters.
  • Expressing Information – The child may have trouble putting what he or she knows into speech, writing, or physical activity.

What causes them?

No one knows for certain what causes learning disabilities but most experts believe they’re caused by illness or injury during pregnancy or birth, and also in life for example head injuries, diseases or infections, or a lag in nervous system development. Some learning disabilities may be hereditary.

What are the effects of a learning disability?

Learning disabilities often show up in school-age years because they affect:

  • Writing – The child may be able to distinguish shapes, but can’t copy them. Or, problems with fine motor skills may hinder the child’s ability to write.
  • Reading – The child may see words and letters backwards. With this problem, the child can’t build words from letters.
  • Numbering – Number concepts don’t make sense. The child may reverse the order of figures or fail to understand the order involved in counting.
  • Attention Span – Ability to concentrate may be limited. Kids with learning difficulties may also have problems with impulsiveness, hyperactivity, communication and memory.

What Can I Do?

With a learning disability, the child often gets caught in a cycle of poor performance, anger, frustration and more failure. The child’s confidence and self-esteem may be permanently harmed. You can help your friend simply by understanding the problem. If your friend is feeling frustrated, explain to him/her the reason for their difficulties. You may feel protective of your young friend and find yourself becoming overly helpful. Try to realize this doesn’t help them, your goal is to teach your friend how to solve problems alone. Use the child’s strengths to enable him or her to succeed in school and elsewhere, a learning disability does not doom a child to failure. Help the child to know what is expected of him/her. Shift attention when child is upset and use short, direct instructions. Sticking to regular patterns as much as possible is very helpful. Most importantly give extra reassurance. Your friend needs to know that they are special and loved. Praise and encouragement can foster a sense of accomplishment. With the right help, your friend will develop confidence and the positive self-image they need to succeed.