Sep 25, 2017

Dr. Gellner: A lot of children have learning disabilities that can make school time tricky. What are learning disabilities, really, and how can you help your child? We'll discuss those on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kids Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: So, many kids struggle in school. Sometimes it's because they don't understand the material or they find it boring, so they don't care to learn it. Sometimes it's because they're acting up or they don't like their teacher, so they don't pay attention. And sometimes it's because they have chronic medical conditions and miss a lot of school. These aren't learning disabilities. These are barriers to learning.

A true learning disability is a disorder that affects the way the brain receives, processes, stores, and responds to information. Learning disabilities usually involve problems with reading, writing, math, and information processing. We don't know what causes most learning disabilities, but we do know that they tend to run in families, and can also be attributed to circumstances before or surrounding a child's birth, such as being born premature or if mom used drugs or alcohol during the pregnancy.

Cultural differences and poor parenting are not causes of learning disabilities. There are many types of learning disabilities, and there is a big range of how they affect individual kids.

There's a language disability where kids may have problems following directions or may mix up words. These kids have a hard time telling stories, because the words get all jumbled up in their brains.

There's visual processing disability where kids see words backwards, such as seeing "was" where the word is "saw" or switch the b's and d's around if they're older than first grade. It's normal until then. They may also write very slowly as well.

There's auditory processing disability where kids have trouble focusing on people talking to them or listening to important sounds, because they cannot distinguish those sounds from background noise. They also have a hard time following instructions.

Another common disability is fine motor disability. These kids have a hard time with buttons, zippers, or even holding a pencil.

To find out if your child has a learning disability, you will need to talk to their school, as the school psychologists are often the ones who do the screening evaluations. If your child is not yet in school, your pediatrician can help you find a developmental pediatrician who can do the more in-depth screening. If your child does meet the criteria for a learning disability, then the school and you will put together an Individualized Education Plan, or an IEP. This IEP outlines goals for your child to meet, what services they qualify for, and who will provide them, and frequently measures and updates how your child is making progress.

What can you do as the parent of a child who has a learning disability? A lot. First, your child will probably feel self-conscious about having a learning disability. Remind them of all the things they are good at and that everyone has different ways of learning. You can even tell them about famous people that had learning disabilities like Walt Disney, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Justin Timberlake.

Have them meet other children with learning disabilities, so they understand they're not alone. Make sure you have a nice quiet place for your child to do homework, and don't overload them with extracurricular activities. Most importantly, be an advocate for your child with their school, and remind your child that they may learn a little differently than other kids, but with the right help, they can achieve anything they set their mind to.

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