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Specific Learning Disabilities

Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) are neurodevelopmental disorders that impair the brain's ability to send, receive, and process information.  

#SLD #AcademicDifficulties #Dyslexia #Dysgraphia


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Specific Learning Disabilities

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Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) are neurodevelopmental disorders that impair the brain's ability to send, receive, and process information. 

SLD are typically diagnosed in early elementary school-aged children but may not be recognised until adulthood. 

They are distinguished by persistent deficits in at least one of the three major areas: reading, written expression, and/or math.

 A child with a learning disability faces difficulty in reading, writing, speaking, listening, mathematical concepts, and general comprehension.

In fact, the majority of people with learning disabilities have average or above-average intelligence. The problem with specific learning disabilities is that children are unable to acquire certain academic skills.

The term excludes learning difficulties caused primarily by visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Causes of Learning Disabilities

Learning disability causes remain largely unknown. Some of the possible causes or risk factors of learning disabilities include:

  • Individual differences in the brain: The way a person's brain takes in and processes information is unique to them. These distinctions may help to explain why some children have learning difficulties.
  • Genetics (heredity): Genetics, or heredity, can play a role in a person's learning disability. These disorders tend to run in families; if a child's parent has a learning disability, the child is at a much higher risk of developing one as well.
  • Environmental factors: Toxin exposure in the environment is thought to cause learning disabilities. Poor nutrition, according to research, has also been linked to the development of learning disabilities.
  • Medical reasons: Many medical conditions affect the brain's structure or development. Childhood ear infections and neurological illnesses have been linked to learning disabilities.
  • Problems during the mother’s pregnancy:  Babies are vulnerable to what crosses the placenta while developing in the womb. When a mother uses drugs, alcohol, or nicotine, the baby can be harmed in a variety of ways. Problems with the brain's ability to process certain information appear to be one such way—a learning disability.

Types of Specific Learning Disabilities

The common types of SLD include:

Impairment in reading (Dyslexia):

  • Dyslexia is defined by difficulties in reading.Dyslexics struggle with word recognition, decoding, and spelling. 
  • It is a type of learning disability that affects reading and other language-based processing skills.
  • Dyslexics frequently have deficits in phonemic and phonological awareness and that in turn affects their ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sound in a word.

Impairment in written expression (Dysgraphia): 

  • Dysgraphia is a writing difficulty in which people struggle to form letters and write within a specific space. 
  • It is a learning disability that affects a person's handwriting and fine motor skills.
  • Many people with dysgraphia have uneven and inconsistent handwriting, or if they can write legibly, they do so slowly or in small letters. 
  • People with dysgraphia are typically unable to visualise letters and remember letter motor patterns, and writing requires a significant amount of energy and time. 
  • They also have difficulty putting thoughts on paper and face challenges in spelling.

Impairment in mathematics (Dyscalculia):

  • Dyscalculia is difficulty in comprehending and solving mathematical concepts
  • It is a learning disability that affects a person's ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. 
  • People with dyscalculia frequently struggle with mentally manipulating numbers and remembering steps in formulas and equations.

There are certain conditions that are not always grouped under learning disabilities but have a significant impact on academic success. The conditions are as follows:

Dyspraxia: It is a disorder that is characterized by difficulty in muscle control, which causes problems with movement and coordination, language and speech, and can affect learning.

Oral / Written Language Disorder: It is a disorder in which individuals have difficulty in understanding and/or expressing language often in both oral and written forms.

Auditory Processing Disorders: It is a condition that causes a person to have difficulty distinguishing similar sounds, among other difficulties. and  auditory processing disorders may explain why someone is having difficulty learning.

Visual Processing Disorders: It is a condition in which people have difficulty distinguishing between similar letters, numbers, objects, colours, shapes, and patterns. Visual processing disorders, like auditory processing disorders may be a problem when it comes to learning.

*Note: Certain disabilities like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also impact the learning and are comorbid conditions to Specific Learning Disabilities.

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Signs and Symptoms

General Signs of Learning Difficulties:

  • Academic skills of the child are below his/her expected chronological age or grade level.
  • Learning challenges are seen predominantly developing during the primary age-level (5-7 years).
  • In some cases, the learning challenges would develop in later stages when the academic demands become complex and challenging.

Difficulties in Cognitive Processes:

  • Issues with attention span/level,
  • Difficulties in auditory and visual perceptual skills, 
  • Difficulties in auditory and visual processing skills, 
  • Difficulties in memory, remembering and retention, 
  • Difficulties with higher-order executive functioning like planning, reasoning, organization etc. 

Difficulty in reading and understanding what is read in one of the following ways:

  • Inaccurate reading of words, 
  • Slow reading, and/or
  • Reading with strenuous effort,
  • Difficulties in comprehending meaning,
  • Difficulties to draw inferences and conclusions based on what is read. 

Difficulties in spelling words in one or more of the following ways:

  • Addition of letters, 
  • Deletion of letters,
  • Substitution of letters, and/or
  • Omission of letters.

Difficulties with written expression in one or more of the following ways:

  • Issues with grammar,
  • Challenges with punctuation,
  • Difficulties in the construction of sentence(s) in an appropriate manner, 
  • Difficulties in organizing thoughts in a coherent manner. 

Difficulties in arithmetic skills in one or more of the following ways:

  • Understanding number concepts and facts,
  • Difficulties with simple arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division,
  • Difficulties with mental arithmetic or logical reasoning, 
  • Difficulties in applied math - applying math concepts to solve a problem, and/or
  • Difficulties with functional math - daily life application. 

Challenges in the socio-emotional domain:

  • Difficulties in academic areas affect other domains of life, i.e., impact relationships with parents, teachers, and peers. 
  • Affects the motivation and involvement of the child to engage in learning activities. 

Prevalence - How many children are affected by Learning Difficulties? (or) How common are Learning Disabilities?

At a global scale :

  • 5-15% of school aged children struggle with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)
  • 80% of children with SLD have a reading disorder, i.e., Dyslexia.
  • 1/3 of children with SLD are also at risk for developing other comorbid conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

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Crucial steps involved in early detection of learning disabilities

Key Aspects of Early Identification

The following steps are to be followed by caregivers, parents and/or educators to ensure early identification of children with learning challenges so that early intervention can be designed to support the child’s needs.

Screening:  If a child is suspected to display signs of SLD - the first step is to take the child for screening.

Informal Assessment: Post-screening if the child is found to be 'at-risk', the child must be taken for an 'Informal Assessment' to get an idea about the proficiency level of the child by a Special Educator.

Formal Assessment or Diagnostic Evaluation: Finally, the child needs to be taken for a 'Formal Assessment/Diagnostic Evaluation' to formally diagnose the condition by a Professional, in order to support the child better.

Brief on Intervention - What can be done to support children with Specific Learning Disabilities?

Core Aspects of Early Intervention

A combination of the following interventions can be used to support the child with learning challenges based on the individual needs of the child:

Right to Intervention (RtI)

Rti is an approach aiming to identify children with learning challenges at an early stage and provide support in order to help children with SLD catch up to the learning needs/requirements. 

Instructional Intervention

Using different instructional interventions to support children with SLD thrive in school by using the following: 

  • Differentiated Instructions: Tailoring the instructions to suit the needs of children with SLD in terms of making a modification in the content, way of teaching (process) and/or changing the learning environment to suit the unique needs of children with SLD.
  • Multi-sensory and Multi-modality Learning: Using more than one method and activating a combination of senses to teach the children with SLD.
  • Inter-Curriculum or Cross-Curriculum Teaching: Connecting and linking learnings from one subject to another and teaching the children with SLD. For eg: making a drawing to remember the names of different countries. 

Assistive Technology 

Using Assistive Technology to facilitate skills building of children with SLD by using audio-visual aids, online educational games to teach concepts.

Remedial Intervention 

Understanding the current level of functioning of the child and formulating an Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) to facilitate learning of the child to meet his/her unique educational requirements/needs. 

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