By Robin Hilborn, Family Helper editor

Learning disabilities can happen in any of four areas of learning—recording information in the brain (input); understanding the information (integration); storage and retrieval (memory); and communicating to people or taking action (output).

Input Disabilities

Learning depends on the brain correctly perceiving what is seen or heard.

Visual Perception Disabilities — Your child may confuse visual inputs, having trouble distinguishing "d" and "b", or "was" and "saw". Visual-motor problems affect tasks in which the eyes guide the hands (writing, catching a ball). Other visual perception problems include misjudging depth, confusing left and right, and difficulty separating something from its background.

Auditory Perception Disabilities — Your child may find it hard to distinguish subtle differences in sounds ("ball" and "bell"), and respond incorrectly; or may have difficulty separating a sound or voice from background sounds, and thus appear not to be listening to you. If a child cannot process sound inputs at a normal speed (auditory lag) you may have to speak more slowly.

Integration Disabilities

Once recorded, information must be put in the right order (sequencing), understood in context (abstraction) and integrated with other information (organization). Disabilities in these areas may apply to either visual or auditory input.

Sequencing Disabilities — Your child might read or hear a story but in retelling it she may confuse the sequence of events, starting in the middle, going to the beginning and then to the end. She may see "23" but write "32". Spelling errors are common—the letters are there, but in the wrong order.

Abstraction Disabilities — Most people understand how words mean something different when the context changes. "Dog" has a different meaning in "the dog" and "you dog". Children who have trouble with this appear to follow the literal meaning of the word. They take words too literally and misunderstand jokes or people's comments.

Organization Disabilities — Some children can process pieces of information but can't integrate the pieces into a whole picture. They can answer the questions at the end of the chapter but not explain what the chapter was about. They might do well on multiple-choice questions but poorly on essay questions. Their lives may be disorganized: messy notebooks, messy rooms.

Memory Disabilities

Information must be stored so that it can be retrieved, either quickly (short-term) or later (long-term). Short-term memory works as long as you are paying attention to the information. After repetition, information can be stored long-term and retrieved by thinking about it. A child with long-term memory disability may know a math concept as the teacher explains it—while paying attention to it—yet have forgotten it on coming home. A child with short-term memory disability may easily recall events of years ago but need to go over something ten or more times to learn it.

Output Disabilities

You communicate information by words (language output) or by actions such as writing, drawing and gesturing (motor output). Your child might have one or both output disabilities.

Language Disabilities — We speak in two ways: spontaneous language (we initiate a conversation) and demand language (we respond to a question). With spontaneous language we organize our thoughts and find the words we want before we speak. With demand language we must do all of this as we speak. A child speaking spontaneously may sound normal, yet (with a demand language disability) when asked a question will respond with "Huh?" or "What?" or ask you to repeat the question. If she replies, she might ramble or have trouble finding the right words.

Motor Disabilities — Your child might have difficulty using her large muscles (gross motor disability) and be clumsy or have trouble walking or dressing. Problems co-ordinating small muscles (fine motor disability) will produce poor handwriting and hands that tire from the effort of writing.

In summary

You should understand your child's areas of learning disabilities as well as her abilities. Appreciate how these disabilities interfere with school tasks, sports and personal relationships. Learn how to help your child build on her strengths; don't build frustration by focussing on weak areas. For a better picture of your child's strengths and weaknesses, see your doctor or the school's special education professionals.
Condensed from the booklet "ADHD: Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and Learning Disabilities" by Larry B. Silver, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University School of Medicine. The booklet is based on The Misunderstood Child. A Guide for Parents of Learning Disabled Children, L.B. Silver, New York, McGraw-Hill. 2nd ed. 1992.

For resources for learning disabilities (web sites, books, organizations) see: Adoption Resource Central - Learning Disabilities.



The challenge of school for the adoptee
School issues your child will face
Help your child deal with racism
When birds don't flock together
Should you tell the teacher?
You can give an adoption talk
Language development is key

Learning disabilities

What are learning disabilities?
Detect learning disabilities early
Cope with your child's LD
Brodzinsky on learning disabilities
Do adoptees need special ed classes?
Are LDs inherited?

Special needs

Accept your child's special needs
FAS: Friendly school environments
Helping students with FAS
ADHD and the school system
Manage your ADHD child in school
Strategy for the parent advocate
You may reproduce this item with the credit:
"From Family Helper," ________________________________________
First published in Family Helper No. 45, "Adoption Goes To School", ISBN 0-9733470-4-X. Adapted in part from Post-adoption Helper No. 7, "Adoptive Parents' Guide to Your Child in Primary School", edited by Jennifer Smart.