The Warning Signs of Learning Disabilities. ERIC
by Bergert, Susan
Something's not quite right about Johnny. He seems bright enough, but
often his performance or behavior falls short of expectations. He can do
some things very well, but in other ways is behind his peers. Is he simply
lazy? Does he just need to try harder?
When the development or academic performance of a healthy child falls
short of what is expected for his or her age and intelligence, parents
or teachers may suspect the child has a learning disability (LD). Being
aware of the signs of learning disabilities will help parents determine
if the child should be referred for evaluation. This digest summarizes
some of the common warning signs of learning disabilities for preschool,
elementary, and secondary school children and youth.
As the name implies, LD is a condition that affects learning, and sooner
or later is manifested by poor school performance, especially in reading,
mathematics, spelling, and writing. In addition, LD is a life-long condition,
and can significantly impact relationships, daily activities, and eventually
work and careers.
Learning disabilities are presumed to arise from dysfunctions in the
brain. Individuals with learning disabilities have significant difficulties
in perceiving information (input), in processing and remembering information
(integration) and/or in expressing information (output). Outward manifestations
of any of these difficulties serve as indicators-or warning signs-of a
WARNING SIGNS IN PRESCHOOL CHILDREN
Although children's growth patterns vary among individuals and within
individuals, uneven development or significant delays in development can
signal the presence of LD. It is important to keep in mind that the behaviors
listed below must persist over time to be considered warning signs. Any
child may occasionally exhibit one or two of these behaviors in the course
of normal development.
* Slow development in speaking words or sentences
* Pronunciation problems
* Difficulty learning new words
* Difficulty following simple directions
* Difficulty understanding questions
* Difficulty expressing wants and desires
* Difficulty rhyming words
* Lack of interest in story telling
* Poor balance
* Difficulty manipulating small objects
* Awkwardness with running, jumping, or climbing
* Trouble learning to tie shoes, button shirts, or perform other self-help
* Avoidance of drawing or tracing
* Trouble memorizing the alphabet or days of the week
* Poor memory for what should be routine (everyday) procedures
* Difficulty with cause and effect, sequencing, and counting
* Difficulty with basic concepts such as size, shape, color
* High distractibility
* Impulsive behavior
* Unusual restlessness (hyperactivity)
* Difficulty staying on task
* Difficulty changing activities
* Constant repetition of an idea, inability to move on to a new idea
* Trouble interacting with others, playing alone
* Prone to sudden and extreme mood changes
* Easily frustrated
* Hard to manage, has temper tantrums
Because early intervention is so important, federal law requires that
school districts provide early identification and intervention services.
The special education department of the local school district can direct
families to the agency that provides these services. Families may also
want to consult the child's doctor, who should also be able to refer the
family to appropriate resources.
WARNING SIGNS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN
It is during the elementary school years that learning problems frequently
become apparent as disabilities interfere with increasingly demanding and
complex learning tasks. Difficulties in learning academic subjects and
emotional and/or social skills may become a problem. Warning signs for
this age group may include any of those listed above for preschool children
in addition to the following.
* Slow learning of the correspondence of sound to letter.
* Consistent errors in reading or spelling
* Difficulty remembering basic sight words
* Inability to retell a story in sequence
* Trouble learning to tell time or count money
* Confusion of math signs (+, -, x, /, =)
* Transposition of number sequences
* Trouble memorizing math facts
* Trouble with place value
* Difficulty remembering the steps of mathematic operations such as
* Poor coordination, or awkwardness
* Difficulty copying from chalkboard
* Difficulty aligning columns (math)
* Poor handwriting
* Difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task
* Difficulty finishing work on time
* Inability to follow multiple directions
* Unusual sloppiness, carelessness
* Poor concept of direction (left, right)
* Rejection of new concepts, or changes in routine
* Difficulty understanding facial expressions or gestures
* Difficulty understanding social situations
* Tendency to misinterpret behavior of peers and/or adults
* Apparent lack of "common sense"
If teachers have not discussed the possibility of an evaluation already,
the parents may request that the child's school conduct a formal evaluation.
A request submitted to the school principal must be honored by the school
system in a timely manner.
WARNING SIGNS IN SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN
Some learning disabilities go undetected until secondary school. Physical
changes occurring during adolescence and the increased demands of middle
and senior high school may bring the disabilities to light. Previously
satisfactory performance declines. Inappropriate social skills may lead
to changes in peer relationships and discipline problems. Increased frustration
and poor self- concepts can lead to depression and /or angry outbursts.
Warning signs of learning disabilities in secondary school students include
the following, which again, should occur as a pattern of behaviors, to
a significant degree, and over time.
* Avoidance of reading and writing
* Tendency to misread information
* Difficulty summarizing
* Poor reading comprehension
* Difficulty understanding subject area textbooks
* Trouble with open-ended questions
* Continued poor spelling
* Poor grasp of abstract concepts
* Poor skills in writing essays
* Difficulty in learning foreign language
* Poor ability to apply math skills
* Difficulty staying organized
* Trouble with test formats such as multiple choice
* Slow work pace in class and in testing situations
* Poor note taking skills
* Poor ability to proofread or double check work
* Difficulty accepting criticism
* Difficulty seeking or giving feedback
* Problems negotiating or advocating for oneself
* Difficulty resisting peer pressure
* Difficulty understanding another person's perspectives
Again, parents have the right to request an evaluation by the public
schools to determine if the student has learning disabilities.
Research has shown that the sooner LD is detected and intervention is
begun, the better the chance to avoid school failure and to improve chances
for success in life. When parents or teachers suspect a child has learning
disabilities, they should seek evaluation.
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