Early Signs of a Learning Disability

Key takeaway: pay attention to your child’s developmental milestones

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As a parent of four children I know first-hand how difficult it is to realize that your child – who was actually advanced for their age in speech and cognitive abilities – has a disability when it comes to reading, writing, and processing speech.

Disability is the one word that single-handedly sends any parent into a downward spiral of unprecedented gloom.

When we first hold our newborn in our arms all we see is the potential of this new wonderful untainted little soul, brimming with life and an endless future filled with opportunity.

It is this simple reasoning of perfection that makes it so hard to swallow any flaw or fault; it sends a ripple across a perfect mirror image that could seem unbearable.

Three out of four of my children have been diagnosed with a learning disability.

My eldest daughter was diagnosed with auditory processing and sequencing problems when she was in Grade 1.

It was an immense shock as she had been very advanced in her verbal skills and spoke full sentences by the age of 1yr (and with a high English accent). She met all her milestones on cue and we were always being told how clever she was.

She was a strong-willed child (thanks to her Italian heritage!) and often we would have to repeat instructions. But looking back now I realize that what we thought of as her being stubborn when she did not follow an instruction, was simply that she had not clearly understood an instruction.

ambidextrous and hearing impaired can't follow instructions
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She could only follow one instruction at a time and was unusually “irritated” by certain noises, smells and seemed touch sensitive.

Her “symptoms” actually catapulted when she started Pre-school. Grade 1 was a whirlwind of trying to establish what we were dealing with. Eventually, we were sent to an educational neuropsychologist, as well as an auditory and speech specialist.

On testing, she was found to be ambidextrous (neither her left or right side of her brain was dominant); which apparently is not a bad thing but it does mean that her “sensory” input and output would become overwhelming.

This was also the first time I heard the word “touch aggressive” – her senses were heightened when it came to touch, sound and smell receptors in her brain. This plays a huge part in her learning disability.

Her auditory tests revealed that she had 30% reduced hearing in her left ear and her brain would swop letters. It was established that she would hear a “d” instead of a “g” for example “give” would be “dive” (she would hear “deev”).

Thus, making it difficult for her to establish what was actually being instructed or taught.

A child with a learning disability may seem to have average – or above average – intelligence. Many times these children are actually labeled as underachievers.

It is this normal appearance that has people referring to learning disabilities as “hidden disabilities”. Research has indicated that 8 to 10 percent of US children under the age of 18 have some form of learning disability.

So what exactly is a learning disability and how does it differ from learning problems?

Learning problems are mainly a result of visual, motor or hearing handicaps, emotional disturbance, cultural, economic or environmental disadvantages or intellectual disability.

Learning disabilities are defined as “neurologically-based processing problems”. These can interfere with a child’s ability to learn basic reading, writing and/or math skills.

Higher level skills such as long/short-term memory and attention, time planning and organizations as well as abstract reasoning skills are also affected.

There are 7 main learning disabilities:

  1. Auditory Processing Disorder
  2. Dyscalculia
  3. Dysgraphia
  4. Dyslexia
  5. Language Processing Disorder
  6. Nonverbal Learning Disabilities
  7. Visual Motor/Visual Perceptual Deficit

Dyslexia is probably the most commonly recognized learning disability, however, some children may have more than one learning disability. What needs to be recognized is how a learning disability not only affects the child’s school life but bubbles over into their social lives as well.

Early Signs and Symptoms

There are a few obvious signs that a child has a learning disability such as:

  • Problems with reading, writing or math.
  • Poor memory or sequencing problems
  • Problems staying organized

However, these signs only become visible once the child reaches grade school.

Signs in younger children may include:

  • Clumsiness
  • Difficulty following simple instructions
  • An unusually high or low pain threshold.
  • Bedwetting past an appropriate age
  • Extra light or deep sleeper.
  • Sensitivity to additives, chemical products and prone to ear infections.
  • Insomnia.
  • Any type of tactile sensitivity pertaining to the 4 senses – touch, smell, hearing and sight. (Certain colors would make my daughter complain of nausea!)

While not all of these symptoms are a sure sign that a toddler or young child has a learning disability, they are markers that could be watched, especially if another family member or parent has a learning disability.

One way you could actually catch early signs might be to use a tracking app such as the CDC’s Milestone Tracking App to follow your child’s milestones – it’s a free app and will definitely aid in knowing whether or not your child is reaching their developmental milestones.

Children with learning disabilities can sometimes “mask” their disability by naturally developing coping skills. This is one of the reasons why some are only diagnosed in higher grades.

Formal testing to distinguish whether or not a child has a learning disability is still necessary to ascertain to what degree they are affected.

There is no quick fix or cure for a learning disability; however, an early diagnosis will have a huge positive impact on the child or teens psyche.

Many children can go undiagnosed until adulthood and by then will admit they were traumatized due to being “different” and having to deal with feelings of “being stupid”, “not good enough” or labeled as being “lazy”.

no quick fix or cure for a learning disability
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Not being able to achieve even when they are putting in all the time and effort required can become disheartening for any child, teen or adult.

Each one of my children presented their own set of hurdles that we needed to overcome. The first was to realize that no amount of medication could cure them or help them concentrate.

I needed to get creative and refused them being sent to a special school that also catered predominantly for physically handicapped children.

For me, it was not an option, so I decided to rather homeschool them and focus on their unique talents and wonderfully complex brains.

But here is the cherry on top, years later they are all young adults and teens and:

  • My eldest daughter, who has auditory processing problems, is a multi-talented dancer, singer, actress
  • My second eldest, who has dyslexia, is a whizz at maths but struggles to spell and read
  • My youngest, who also has dyslexia, can sit at our piano and compose music without ever being taught to play, sings and dances as well.

Unlike the past when these children would have been written off or pushed aside, there are now numerous organizations set up to assist parents with children with learning disabilities.

In our technologically advanced world, a learning disability is not a “prosperous future” death sentence, but an invitation to step outside the box and create a world that will allow your child to thrive and grow into a resounding success.

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Written by Angelina Angileri

As a single mom of four incredible children, Angie always says that she has a PHD in “Surviving Life”. Having worked in both the health and financial industry, she eventually found that writing not only “feeds every fiber of her soul” but also hopes that sharing her story and “mamy” skills will inspire other mommies out there.