Managing Learning Disabilities

By Bob Lichtenstein, PhD, Program Director, School Psychology PsyD Program October 05, 2015

Mental Health Tips from William James College Faculty: Managing Learning Disabilities by Bob Lichtenstein, PhD.

Learning disabilities are common among children and adults, affecting an estimated 5 to 10% of the population with varying levels of severity. Learning disabilities are characterized by specific difficulties with aspects of formal learning, such as reading, math, and writing, despite otherwise normal range intellectual functioning. Reading disabilities are the single most common type. The underlying causes are not exactly known, but are understood to involve brain-based interference with the processing of certain types of information, such as written language or symbols. The information processing difficulties may also involve problems with memory, attention, or organization.

As required by federal special education law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act), public schools must identify and provide special services for children with learning disabilities who would not otherwise be able to achieve at expected level. The Americans with Disabilities Act similarly assures that individuals with disabilities are provided with accommodations that enable them to pursue a college education or a job for which they are qualified. Technological advances have greatly expanded the kinds of accommodations that are available. One notable example is the use of print-to-speech software, as individuals with reading disabilities typical have fully intact ability to understand speech. 

The impact of a learning disability depends upon what is required of the individual in specific situations. This can be very different for the school-age child or college student, who is confronted by learning challenges on a daily basis, than for an adult who can pursue a line of work and personal interests that minimize the challenges of a learning disability. Career options and other pursuits, however, need not be limited by a learning disability. There are successful individuals with learning disabilities in a wide variety of professions and life activities, including business (Richard Branson), science (Thomas Edison), and politics (Nelson Rockefeller). 

Given recent advances in research and technology, individuals with learning disabilities who receive timely support and appropriate encouragement can be successful in school and in life. 

Tips for Managing Learning Disability:

  • Seek out your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, special education specialist, or school psychologist if you are concerned about your child’s learning. 
  • You may formally request an evaluation for your child. 
  • Educational psychologists, child psychologists, and educational advocates can provide you with an outside second opinion. 
  • Children and adults with learning disabilities can struggle with shame and lower self-confidence. Parental reassurance can be helpful as can outside counseling.