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Pediatric Neuropsychology Clinic Bridging Neuropsychology and Education
Lisa Sporri, Ph.D., M.Ed. PSY 24454 3641 Sacramento Street, Suite B San Francisco CA Tel. 415.264.4313
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Learning Disability

It has been estimated that between 5 to 15% of the population has a learning disability. A learning disability affects the brain's ability to receive, process, analyze, or store information. These problems can make it difficult for a student to learn as quickly as someone who isn't affected by learning disabilities. Simple stated, a child with a learning disability’s brain is “wired” differently, causing difficulties in learning skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics. The three most common learning disabilities are: Reading Disorder, Mathematics Disorder, and Disorder of Written Expression.

Reading Disorders

We have gained knowledge in our understanding of reading disorders and have identified the following deficits underlying problems in reading: 
  1. Phonemic analysis
  2. Word identification
  3. Reading fluency
  4. Reading comprehension
Identifying the specific processes that are causing a child difficulty reading becomes vital in developing an effective intervention plan.  Recent research supports the benefits of reading interventions and indicates that effective reading interventions may change the brain’s activation patterns of children with LD similar to that observed in strong readers. There are a small number of commercially available interventions that research has supported gains in phonetic awareness and decoding. They include Orton-Gillingham approaches, Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Programs, Earobics, and the Wilson Method.  

Mathematics Disorders
There has been less research on mathematics disorders for both understanding the underlying deficits and interventions. Subsequently, there is significant disagreement in the literature of the underlying deficits. However, the following areas have been observed underlying problems in math:

  1. Semantic memory
  2. Deficits in sequencing multiple steps
  3. Visual-spatial deficits
  4. Working memory
  5. Linguistic skills

Given this evidence, several subtypes have been recognized: semantic/long-term disorders subtype, procedural/working memory subtype, and visual spatial motor subtype. Research on mathematic Interventions indicate that interventions be individualized and target the specif cunderlying deficit.  

Disorder of Written Expression
Disorders of written expression are the least studied and understood of all of the learning disorders. Written expression is a complex process that involves multiple cognitive processes including spelling and writing words, formulating and expressing ideas,and organizing ideas into sentences, paragraphs. Thus the following underlying problems have been identified: 

  1. Handwriting
  2. Semantic knowledge
  3. Executive functions
  4. Memory processes
  5. Metacognitive processes

Listed below are warning signs indicating a possible learning disability (Adapted from Common Signs of Learning Disabilities LD Online)

  1. Learns to speak later than his/her peers
  2. Pronunciation problems
  3. Slow vocabulary development
  4. Difficulty rhyming words
  5. Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
  6. Trouble interacting with peers
  7. Difficulty following directions or routines

Grades K-4 

  1. Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  2. Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
  3. Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
  4. Slow to remember facts
  5. Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  6. Impulsive, difficulty planning
  7. Unstable pencil grip
  8. Trouble learning about time
  9. Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents

Grades 5-8

  1. Reverses letter sequences (soiled/solid, left/felt)
  2. Slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies
  3. Avoids reading aloud
  4. Trouble with word problems
  5. Difficulty with handwriting
  6. Avoids writing assignments
  7. Slow or poor recall of facts
  8. Difficulty making friends
  9. Trouble understanding body language and facial expressions

High School Students and Adults 

  1. Continues to spell incorrectly
  2. Avoids reading and writing tasks
  3. Trouble summarizing
  4. Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  5. Weak memory skills
  6. Works slowly
  7. Poor grasp of abstract concepts
  8. Misreads information