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Learning Disorders

A child with a learning disorder has trouble receiving and processing information. This causes difficulties with reading, writing or math, and may affect his or her ability to follow directions. The child sees, hears and understands things differently, which interferes with school work and everyday activities and leads to skill levels in school that are below what is expected for his or her age and grade level. However, this doesn’t mean that he or she is less capable or intelligent than other children.

The term “learning disorders” refers to several possible life-long conditions; these include:

  • Dyslexia (affects how language is processed and results in issues with reading and writing)
  • Dysgraphia (affects writing abilities)
  • Dyscalculia (affects math abilities)
  • Dyspraxia (affects motor skills and results in issues with coordination)
  • Auditory processing disorder (which affects how the brain processes sound)
  • Visual processing disorder (which affects how the brain processes sight)

Causes of Learning Disorders

The causes of learning disorders are not completely known. Experts suspect that issues with the nervous system, possibly chemical imbalances or differences in brain structure, may lead to learning disorders. Learning disorders run in families. They have also been linked to issues during pregnancy, birth or early infancy, and to other health conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Symptoms vary, but may include:

  • Difficulty with reading, writing or math (and skill level is below expectations for age)
    • Struggles with understanding what has been read
    • Confuses words
    • Struggles with spelling
    • Struggles with grammar, writing composition or organizing paragraphs
    • Struggles with writing numbers and recognizing math symbols correctly
    • Struggles with solving math problems
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty staying focused on a task
  • Difficulty memorizing or remembering things

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

At UVA, your child’s healthcare provider will partner with a child psychiatrist or other mental health provider to evaluate your child. Your child’s school teachers will likely be involved in the evaluation process as well.

Treatment for learning disorders depends on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Individualized education program (created along with your child’s school teachers and administrators)
  • Medications
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Special classes or resources
  • Therapy services

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