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Does Your Child Have a Learning Problem?
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

Every parent wonders (and many worry) about their child's ability to learn.

But the truth is, kids learn in many different ways and at different rates. And there's a very wide range of normal. While schoolteachers cannot be expected to tailor curriculum for each individual style, they should be teaching in a variety of ways so that every child in the class can grasp the daily lessons.

All children have ups and downs in their learning. And many outgrow these problems.

But sometimes kids have more than the usual amount of difficulty. They may have problems with seeing or reversing letters and words; developing language skills; or processing and understanding information. Others may experience troubles with speech and coordination skills. Some may also have problems concentrating or sitting still.

Some children are born into families with a history of learning disabilities. Other children may have risk factors that make them more likely to develop a problem. Some of these risks include low-birth weight, stress before or after birth, infections of the nervous system or severe head injuries. Learning disabilities are common. It's estimated that one in 10 public school students may be in need of some form of special education, according to The Association for Children and Adults with learning Disabilities.

A specialist can determine whether a child has a learning disabilityæand if so, what kind. Depending on budget constraints, schools may have a full- or part-time learning specialist. The special-education department in your school district should be able to refer you to a specialist.

If you suspect a problem, the first step is to have your child's pediatrician give him or her a complete physical examination to rule out any medical problems, such as poor vision or hearing loss. Next, find out what resources are available in your school district to assess your child's progress. By gathering information from as many sources as possible, including anecdotes from teachers and parents; observing the child in the classroom, and performances on IQ, achievement and aptitude tests, a learning specialist can determine the nature of the problem.

Once a diagnosis is made, the school must develop an individualized education plan. The Education for the Handicapped Children Act of 1975 mandates that all youngsters with learning disabilities be given a "free, public and appropriate education."

Many parents are concerned that diagnosing kids with a learning disability unfairly labels them for life. Try to think of it this way instead: By pinpointing a problem and helping kids with it, you're giving them the tools and emotional support they need to feel good about themselves.

Learning disabilities do not have to hold someone back. Inventor Thomas Edison, scientist Albert Einstein and political leader Nelson Rockerfeller were all learning disabled but rose above their problem to achieve greatness.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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