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Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

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Does My Child Have a Learning Disability?

Aug 16, 2021

Could your child have a learning disability? It’s a frequent question for pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner. Whether it be dyslexia, dyscalculia, or another learning disorder, identify the common signs to look for and when you should speak with your pediatrician about getting the help your child needs to succeed.

Episode Transcript

Learning disabilities are a common concern that parents bring to pediatricians. I'll be discussing those on today's Scope.

I have a lot of parents coming to me to see if their child has a learning disability. Usually it's dyslexia, which is a reading disability. But sometimes is dyscalculia, which is a math disability, or dyspraxia, which is a developmental disorder that affects motor skills like writing. Parents normally notice that their child is struggling in only one subject and does fine in others, or they notice that their child is writing letters, words, or numbers backwards. The teachers may be the first to recognize if there is a problem and tell the parents to have their child see their pediatrician for an evaluation.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. Yes, most of us can identify if there is a learning disability. However, we as general pediatricians are not the ones who can do a full evaluation and diagnosis. Even behavioral and developmental pediatricians are not usually qualified. Why? Because there is a lot that goes into determining if this is truly a learning disability or if there are other reasons for the difficulty in a particular area. We as pediatricians are the right place to start the process though. Schools also. School psychologists can actually do a lot of the testing to start the process, and that is what most of us recommend. While schools start doing the initial learning evaluations, pediatricians do full physical exams to rule out other medical reasons, such as ruling in or out movement disorders, ADHD, anxiety, depression, or speech issues.

The final evaluation and where the actual diagnosis is made is with a neuropsychologist. These are specialists who will do a huge evaluation with a lot of specialized tests, including IQ tests, standardized tests in reading, math, language skills, things like that, to get a good idea of how the brain itself is working, or not working, and be able to come up with the exact diagnosis specific for the child. This can be a long process, but it is necessary to get the correct diagnosis.

Once a child has been diagnosed with a learning disability, the next step is to notify the school and have them come up with an IEP or individualized education plan. This is a written contract stating what the child's disability is and what the school is able to do to help the child learn successfully. It's drafted with the parents, teachers, and school psychologists all involved and goes off of the results from the neuropsychology report. This IEP should follow the child all the way through graduation. It should be reevaluated every six months to make sure that the child's needs are being met and that there are not new issues coming up.

There are no medications to help with learning disabilities. As pediatricians, we can help direct you to resources that can help your child. Our relationship with your child will not change. And we too, like the schools can adapt if your child has problems with learning.

What your child needs most is encouragement and a lot of positive reinforcement when they get something right. Let them know that this is something that they can totally be successful with. Let them know some of the famous people that have had dyslexia, such as Keanu Reeves, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, even Ozzy Osborne. They've all been successful. Henry Winkler had both dyslexia and math problems. Even Ben Franklin was thought to have a math learning disability.

Having a learning disability will make things harder, but not impossible. And often those who have a learning disability in one area often have exceptional abilities in other areas. Encourage your child to focus on what they are good at while they work hard things out that don't come easy. Remind them that they are not defined by their learning disability only by their abilities.