When any student begins their educational journey, together with their parents and caregivers, it is often an assumption that everything will work out well. The belief tends to be that the child will learn and understand all the concepts beginning from the most basic tasks, such as learning to write alphabetic letters, to the more complex tasks, such as solving challenging algebraic equations. However, this is not always the case, as some children, not only when they are young but also as they grow older, face many challenges that affect their learning. Learning disability is a complicated disorder affecting the language, speech, and academic development of many individuals, especially children worldwide as well as parents and caregivers; however, it does not receive the necessary attention.
The paper is organized into four main sections. The first section highlights and concurrently tackles why learning disability is a complicated disorder. The following section covers possible causes of learning disability. The next section highlights the impacts of this disability on language, speech, and academic development, and the final section covers the effects learning disability has on children, parents, and caregivers, with a special emphasis on children.
Over the years, learning disabilities have not received the focus and attention that they should have. Perhaps this is because, during children's school-going years, institutions and the teachers place a lot of their attention on top achievers considered the school's crown jewels. However, this focus is at the expense of those who do not do as well, and, at times, forget to ask why some students do not perform to the best of their abilities. Often the assumption is laziness or unwillingness to work, but this is not the case for all of them. Some of these underperforming students may be struggling because they suffer from learning disabilities, but few teachers and school psychologists are bothered to investigate. It is indeed understandable that learning disorders are complex to understand and may sometimes need a keen eye to detect; nevertheless, this should not be an excuse for not diagnosing them when they emerge.
To understand why learning disability is a complicated disorder, one must first understand what it means. Elkins defines specific learning disability as “…a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” (12). This description exhibits its complicated nature because it is not straightforward to assess which one or more physiological processes have been impaired. Additionally, "this term is generally problematic [because]...it cannot be attributed to causes such as limited school attendance, low intelligence or emotional disturbance" (Elkins 12). Therefore, without establishing an exact cause and effect relationship, it is difficult to develop practical and accurate assessment measures for this disability.
Despite the challenges that the absence of a clear cause and effect relationship, there are also challenges with learning disability detection. Research indicates that "learning disability development begins at school-going age, although it may not be recognized till later on" (Philips and Abraham 822). This situation further highlights this disorder's complexity because if it cannot be diagnosed at the onset, individuals grow up with the condition unknowingly, believing they are incapable of comprehending the academic material they encounter when in fact, they have a disability.
Even though detecting a learning disability often happens later on in an individual's life, some causes can be attributed to the presence of this disability. According to Barai, there are three theories that researchers have come up with as to why learning disabilities develop (395). The first is brain development. Learning disability can be influenced by brain development that occurs both before and after birth. If children are born prematurely or are underweight when born, they are more prone to learning disabilities. Also, children who incur head injuries when young may suffer from learning disabilities as a hard impact on the head affects the brain and its development.
The second theory has to do with genetic influences. Research experts in this field have found that learning disorders tend to be hereditary. However, these researchers are conflicted as to whether this is a nature or nurture factor because learning disabilities could indeed be congenital and an aspect of genetics or they could be a factor of nurture as children tend to model the behavior of their parents and other role models in their families. Therefore, the nature-nurture debate in this theory may affect its reliability. However, its content validity is still intact.
The final theory that Barai mentions is environmental impacts. Infants and young children are susceptible to the environments they are exposed to because they have little to no control over this. If children are exposed to poor nutrition when they are young, it is possible to influence the onset of learning disabilities. Also, exposure to metals like lead, commonly used for water pipes, has been deemed to contribute to children suffering from learning disabilities.
These three theories on the causes of learning disability are paramount because they can help pediatricians, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and developmental psychologists spot a learning disability in an individual early. These medical professionals can be keen to look for occurrences when the patient was young that may have altered brain development to aid the diagnosis of this disability. Additionally, when a patient presents with a possible learning disorder, it may save time and ease diagnosis of which learning disorder the patient is suffering from if the medical practitioner traces the family tree and checks whether any family members may have suffered or are suffering from any learning disabilities. Moreover, checking what kind of environment an individual was exposed to as a child may also help with diagnosis. All these causal theories can make it easier to diagnose learning disability and could also be useful in aiding early detection.
A learning disability affects language, speech, and academic development directly. First, language is affected because the individual's ability to understand or produce spoken words becomes impaired (Barai 396). Learning disabilities that affect language can also influence one to experience mathematical difficulties. An example of a common language learning disorder is dyslexia. This condition affects how one reads in terms of fluency and comprehension, how they decode information, and, even sometimes, how one speaks. Individuals suffering from dyslexia mix up letters, such as b and d, and even have challenges with numbers. Consequently, due to challenges with tasks, such as spelling words, learning disabilities like dyslexia affect language directly and compromise how one expresses themselves.
Learning disability is also notorious for affecting speech. Since learning disability directly affects language, it is bound to affect speech because it affects reading. Reading difficulties can be in terms of "…understanding the relationship between sounds, letters and words" (Barai 396). If an individual cannot read and cannot create a relationship between letters and sounds, they will have challenges with speech. They will also be unable to pronounce letters and words correctly, affecting their speaking in school and even regular lives.
Furthermore, aphasia "involve(s) problems with verbal language skills such as the ability to retell a story and the fluency of speech" (Kemp et al). If one is unable to speak fluently and clearly, it becomes increasingly difficult for someone else to understand the speaker. Thus, communication becomes a real challenge. The fact that aspects such as fluency are compromised, further illustrates how learning disability affecting speech can upset one's daily life and activities.
Academic development is yet another area affected by learning disabilities. Learning disability causes reading and writing difficulties as well as mathematical challenges. Progress in arithmetic, reading, and writing are the essential components of academic development. However, individuals suffering from learning disabilities struggle with all these three things. Therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to progress academically. Learning disabilities cause the challenges mentioned above, and thus they have adverse effects on the children who suffer from them, their parents, and caregivers.
Teachers are arguably the most critical caregivers of children, especially when they are in their formative years because children spend most of their time in school, away from their parents and under the care of their teachers. Therefore, teachers play a pivotal role in detecting learning disabilities in children early (Ghimire 32). The previously discussed lack of means for early diagnosis presents a significant challenge to them [pre-school and primary school teachers] because they may be frustrated with specific students due to poor performance; they may attribute the poor performance to ignorance or lack of ability when in fact, it may be a learning disorder. Accordingly, the challenges of lack of early diagnosis are most detrimental to the student because they get discouraged and are made fun of, affecting their self-confidence and further deteriorating their performance at school; the environment in which one learns affects their education.
The children who have this disability are often frustrated with themselves as they feel like it is their fault that they struggle to learn. Also, in their early days of exhibiting various symptoms of learning disability, other children may mock and make fun of them. They may not understand why since they do not know yet that they have a learning disability. This situation severely damages their self-esteem and makes them begin hating school and education in general, leading to many of them being disinterested in school and opting to drop out or become complacent in their studies.
This outcome is detrimental to them because if they do not finish school, it limits the fields of work that they can explore as career options. If some drop out before getting very far into primary school, they face the risk of being illiterate for the rest of their lives. This likelihood is a failure in existing systems because it is not the children's fault that they are the way they are. Additionally, these children do not even get the attention they deserve from their parents and teachers when they leave school or are underperforming. They are blamed and viewed as incompetent, highlighting how unserious society is about diagnosing and tackling the challenge of learning disability.
Parents are also affected when their children suffer from learning disabilities. First, they feel the frustration of their child facing challenges with learning and understanding different course concepts at whatever educational level. There is also the aspect of shame since no parent wants to feel like their child is disabled in any way. They feel like it may affect their status quo and that others may look down on them and their families. Thus, many parents tend to be in denial when they notice any learning disability in their child or when their child is diagnosed. This shame and denial affect them emotionally and even mentally, sometimes causing them to have irrational thoughts. These thoughts lead some to punish their children, for instance, till they get their homework questions right or even blame their children for poor performance in school even though they are well aware that it is not their fault.
In the case of other parents who also suffer from learning disabilities, they may experience guilt because they may follow the genetic causal theory and see it as their responsibility that their children have a learning disability. The outcome of this can either be positive or negative. Suppose a parent has established coping mechanisms and applied them successfully with positive results, then, in that case, it is beneficial for the child; the parents can impart these lessons to them and minimize the effects of their learning disability. Alternatively, if they have never been able to mitigate their own learning disability's effects, they may end up pitying their child as they pity themselves. This will not help the child in any way because they will view themselves as being in a sorry state and may not strive to improve their situation.
One may think that the effects that learning disabilities cause the student can be tackled through various interventions. However, the shocking reality is that there is no single psychological, pharmacological, or educational treatment available for learning disabilities, specifically (Gillberg and Soderstrom 817). Therefore, the strategies applied are those for deprived children with low IQ. Intensive behavioral therapy has also been seen to be very useful for increasing IQ in children with autism, and interventions that tackle cognitive functioning have been seen to be very effective for delaying the onset of dementia (Gillberg and Soderstrom 818).
Psychotropic medication is also often administered, especially antipsychotics, with hypnotics and anxiolytics being occasionally administered (Gillberg and Soderstrom 818). These drugs have been seen to mitigate the side effects of learning disability, such as anxiety and sleep problems. However, the challenge of administering medications is that it may cause dependence on the patient, leading to addiction. This outcome would be extremely detrimental as it would be another challenge on top of the already existing disability. Therefore, the medical practitioners prescribing these drugs should place patients under constant review and perhaps even take them off drugs occasionally and use other therapies, so that administration of the medications is cyclical.
Moreover, when deciding what type of treatment should be administered to these patients, it is essential to keep in mind that their spatial skills are better enhanced and improved than children suffering from other disorders (Mather and Wendling 802). Therefore, it may be better to take a cognitive route of treatment than a psychotropic medication one. For instance, creating an individual learning program for children with learning disabilities can significantly improve their visual-spatial skills (Gillberg and Soderstrom 818). Several factors should be considered when deciding the course of action for learning disability patients.
After examining the complex nature of learning disabilities, how they affect speech, language, and academic development, together with their effects on children, parents, and caregivers, it is evident that this is a field that requires more focus and attention. Diagnosis measures should be established to detect learning disabilities when children are in their early school years, their formative years. Additionally, institutions and teachers should put more effort into noticing learning disabilities and helping students overcome them or at least minimize their effects. Institutions can also be proactive and teach about learning disabilities to avoid situations where students become ostracized or bullied. Raising awareness could be a multifaceted strategy, targeting parents and students through various media, such as posters and programs. More action from the medical and psychological fields is also required to develop appropriate treatments and interventions, specifically for learning disabilities. A learning disability may pose several challenges to an individual, but it should not be a life sentence that cannot be altered.
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Barai, Manashi. "Learning difficulties of disable childrens." International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews, vol. 4, no. 4, 2017, pp. 394-397.
Elkins, John. "Learning difficulties/disabilities in literacy." Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 25, no. 3, 2002, pp 11-18.
Ghimire, Sasmita. "Knowledge of primary school teacher regarding learning disabilities in school children." Journal of Nobel Medical College, vol. 6, no. 1, 2017, pp. 29-35.
Gillberg, Christopher, and Henrik Soderstrom. "Learning disability." The Lancet, vol. 362, 2003, pp. 811-821.
Kemp, Gina, et al. "Learning Disabilities and Disorders." HelpGuide, 2019, https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/learning-disabilities-and-disorders.htm. Accessed 26 November 2020.
Mather, Nancy, and Barbara J. Wendling. "Linking cognitive abilities to academic interventions for students with specific learning disabilities." Contemporary intellectual assessment: Theories, tests, and issues, edited by Dawn P. Flanagan and Erin M. McDonough, The Guilford Press, 2018, pp. 777–809.
Philips, Roshini R., and M. Manoj Abraham. "Early intervention for children with learning difficulties: An update." Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development, vol. 11, no. 7, 2020, pp. 822-826.