Learning Disabilities at a Glance

A person can be of average or above-average intelligence, not have any major sensory problems (like a hearing impairment), and yet struggle to keep up with people of the same age in learning and regular functioning.

How can one tell if a person has learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability in the areas of:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Mathematics
Other features of a learning disability are:
  • A distinct gap between the level of achievement that is expected and what is actually being achieved.
  • Difficulties that can become apparent in different ways with different people.
  • Difficulties that manifest themselves differently throughout development.
  • Difficulties with socio-emotional skills and behavior.

Identification
Learning disabilities affect every person differently, and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Sometimes people have more than one learning disability. In addition, approximately one third of people with LD also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which makes it difficult for them to concentrate, stay focused or manage their attention to specific tasks. If there is reason to think a person might have learning disabilities, it is important to collect observations from parents, teachers, doctors and others who are regularly in contact with that person. If there appears to be a pattern of trouble that is more than just an isolated case of difficulty, the next step is to seek help from the school administration or consult a learning specialist for an evaluation.

What causes learning disabilities?
Experts are not exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. LDs may be due to:

  • Heredity - Often learning disabilities run in the family, so it's not uncommon to find that people with learning disabilities have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties.
  • Problems during pregnancy and birth - LDs may be caused by illness or injury during or before birth. They may also be caused by drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen and premature or prolonged labor.
  • Incidents after birth - Head injuries, nutritional deprivation and exposure to toxic substances (i.e. lead) can contribute to learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities are not caused by economic disadvantage, environmental factors or cultural differences.

Strategies, Accommodations and Modification
Depending on the type of learning disability and its severity, as well as the person's age, different kinds of assistance can be provided. Each type of strategy should be considered when planning instructions and support at a school or in the workplace. Finding the most beneficial type of support is a process of trying different ideas and openly exchanging thoughts on what works best. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedom and Human Rights Acts of individual provinces and territories, people of all ages with LDs are protected against discrimination and have a right to different forms of assistance in the classroom and workplace.

Are learning disabilities common?
1 in 10 Canadians has a learning disability.

Learning Disabilities and Adulthood
It is never too late to get help for learning disabilities. Testing specialists are available for people of all ages, and assistance is available for every stage of life. Taking the initiative to seek out support and services is the first step in dealing learning disabilities. Many adults (some of whom are unaware of their LDs) have developed ways to cope with their difficulties and are able to lead successful lives. LDs shouldn't hinder a person from attaining goals. Regardless of the situation, understanding the specific challenges and learning strategies to deal with LDs directly at every stage can alleviate a lot of frustration and make successful living much easier.

 

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