The Warning Signs of Learning Disabilities
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC EC Digest #E603
Author: Susan Bergert
Something's not quite right about Johnny. He seems bright enough, but often his performance or behavior falls short of expectations. He can do some things very well, but in other ways is behind his peers. Is he simply lazy? Does he just need to try harder?
When the development or academic performance of a healthy child falls short of what is expected for his or her age and intelligence, parents or teachers may suspect the child has a learning disability (LD). Being aware of the signs of learning disabilities will help parents determine if the child should be referred for evaluation. This digest summarizes some of the common warning signs of learning disabilities for preschool, elementary, and secondary school children and youth. As the name implies, LD is a condition that affects learning, and sooner or later is manifested by poor school performance, especially in reading, mathematics, spelling, and writing. In addition, LD is a lifelong condition, and can significantly impact relationships, daily activities, and eventually work and careers.
Learning disabilities are presumed to arise from dysfunctions in the brain. Individuals with learning disabilities have significant difficulties in perceiving information (input), in processing and remembering information (integration) and/or in expressing information (output). Outward manifestations of any of these difficulties serve as indicators warning signs a learning disability.
Warning Signs in Preschool Children
Although children's growth patterns vary among individuals and within individuals, uneven development or significant delays in development can signal the presence of LD. It is important to keep in mind that the behaviors listed below must persist over time to be considered warning signs. Any child may occasionally exhibit one or two of these behaviors in the course of normal development.
Because early intervention is so important, federal law requires that school districts provide early identification and intervention services. The special education department of the local school district can direct families to the agency that provides these services. Families may also want to consult the child's doctor, who should also be able to refer the family to appropriate resources.
Warning Signs in Elementary School Children
It is during the elementary school years that learning problems frequently become apparent as disabilities interfere with increasingly demanding and complex learning tasks. Difficulties in learning academic subjects and emotional and/or social skills may become a problem. Warning signs for this age group may include any of those listed above for preschool children in addition to the following.
If teachers have not discussed the possibility of an evaluation already, the parents may request that the child's school conduct a formal evaluation. A request submitted to the school principal must be honored by the school system in a timely manner.
Warning Signs in Secondary School Children
Some learning disabilities go undetected until secondary school. Physical changes occurring during adolescence and the increased demands of middle and senior high school may bring the disabilities to light. Previously satisfactory performance declines. Inappropriate social skills may lead to changes in peer relationships and discipline problems. Increased frustration and poor self-concepts can lead to depression and/or angry outbursts. Warning signs of learning disabilities in secondary school students include the following, which again, should occur as a pattern of behaviors, to a significant degree, and over time.
Again, parents have the right to request an evaluation by the public schools to determine if the student has learning disabilities.
Research has shown that the sooner LD is detected and intervention is begun, the better the chance to avoid school failure and to improve chances for success in life. When parents or teachers suspect a child has learning disabilities, they should seek evaluation.
Colarusso, R.P., O'Rourke, C.M. (1999) Special education for all teachers (2nd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Lerner, J.W., Lowenthal, B., & Egan, R.W. (1998). Preschool children with special needs: children at risk: children with disabilities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 800-666-9433.
Mercer, C.D, (1997). Students with learning disabilities (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 800-282-0693.
National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2000) Early warning signs. [online]. Available: http://ld.org/info/early_signs.cfm
O'Shea, L.J., O'Shea, D.J. & Algozzine, R. (1998) Learning disabilities: From theory toward practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 800-282-0693.
Schumaker, J., Deshler, D., Alley, G., & Warner, M.M. (1983). Toward the development of an intervention model for learning disabled adolescents: The University of Kansas Institute. Exceptional Education Quarterly, 4 (1), 45-74.
Silver, L. B. (1998). The misunderstood child:Understanding and coping with your child's learning disability (3rd ed.). New York: Times Books, (a division of Random House). 800-733-3000.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education