Tips for Spotting Learning Disabilities

Many school children have delayed diagnoses

Parents and teachers sometimes overlook early signs of learning disabilities in children. As a result, many students don't receive diagnoses until they have been in school for about two years. Attentive and perceptive parents, however, may be able to spot signs of learning disabilities because some signs of developmental delay are visible in early childhood. More importantly, there are also strategies and resources that can help. Early intervention is key.

Causes of Learning Disabilities Vary

Children drawing in the park
Aleksandra Jankovic/Stocksy United

The existence of risk factors alone does not conclusively predict a child will have learning disabilities, but it indicates a need to monitor for early intervention needs, such as:

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Observe Your Child's Early Development for Signs of Learning Disabilities

Developmental delays in any of the following areas can suggest the potential for learning disabilities:

  • Gross Motor - Large muscle movements such as standing, walking, or pulling up
  • Fine Motor - Small muscle movements such as grasping objects, moving fingers and toes
  • Communication and Early Language - Ability to understand words or to use speech
  • Cognitive Skills - Ability to think and solve problems
  • Social/Emotional - Ability to interact appropriately with others and show appropriate emotional responses

Watch for Delays in Developmental Milestones

Children without disabilities reach developmental milestones at predictable rates. Mild to moderate delays do not always indicate a problem, as most children usually catch up.

Generally, by about 12 months, your child should be able to stand and possibly take a few steps without support. He may show preferences for people and favorite toys and show anxiety when his parents leave. He will feed himself finger foods. He says "mama" and "dada" and understands "no" as well as other words for common objects and people. He gestures for attention.

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Get Timely Infant and Childhood Checkups

Your pediatrician will examine your baby at birth to check vital signs and your child's response to various stimuli. During regular checkups, the doctor will check for normal development. Keep notes to share your concerns. If there is evidence of a problem, referrals will be made at that time to early intervention specialists for evaluation and treatment, if necessary. Young children can also benefit from early vision exams.

Watch Your Child's Development in School Each Year

After the first few months of preschool, schedule a meeting with your child's teacher. Share any concerns you have, and ask if your child is on track with development compared to other children. Public school districts provide screening and assessment to determine if developmental delays are present. If so, a school administrator will meet with you and an IEP team to discuss early intervention options available to you. If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay, an individualized education program will be developed with you to address her needs.

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Watch for Delays in Reading, Language, and Math

Children develop at different rates in primary school years. By the third year, children should be able to read simple chapter books at grade level, write simple sentences, add, subtract, and begin to multiply. Students may not perform these tasks with complete accuracy. It is normal for some letter reversals and mirror writing to appear in their work. Most students will learn to correct these errors with instruction. A small percentage of children will continue to have difficulty and will develop learning disabilities.

Third Grade Is a Critical Year for Identifying Disabilities

By third grade, suspect a problem when your child:

  • does not connect letters and sounds
  • cannot read grade-level text
  • cannot understand what he reads
  • cannot understand number concepts
  • cannot form letters or remember which letters stand for which sounds
  • has difficulty following directions, even with the help
  • has poor memory
  • cannot repeat information or copy items
  • has difficulty following lines when cutting
  • has difficulty with attention or behavior

Children with these types of problems may be referred for assessment to diagnose or rule out a learning disability.

Where to Get Help for Assessment of Learning Disabilities

Keep notes of your concerns to share with your child's teachers. Keep work samples, and go over these with the teacher. If you suspect your child has a disability, ask the teacher, principal, or counselor about assessment to determine if your child has a disability. They will help you through the process of assessment and program planning for your child.

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