Learning disabilities are all around us. Kids and teens are diagnosed with them. This often carries into adulthood. CRC Health tells us that of the 3 million students who get special education services in public schools, about half of them are diagnosed with a learning disability. Those who have them are more prone to dropping out of school, likely out of frustration, but also because they do not receive adequate services. It is believed by the scientific community that learning disabilities may be caused or impacted by environmental elements such as being exposed to second-hand smoke, or alcohol use by the mother during her pregnancy. However, more research is needed. What is universally acknowledged is that those with learning disorders have brains that work differently from the average student.
What It Is
The renowned Mayo Clinic tells us that “a learning disorder is an information-processing problem that prevents a person from learning a skill and using it effectively. Learning disorders generally affect people of average or above average intelligence. As a result, the disorder appears as a gap between expected skills, based on age and intelligence, and academic performance.” Perhaps in many cases it is not that kids and teens cannot learn a skill and utilize it well, but it might take longer, and they might have to learn a different way than the average student, due to differences in brain wiring. Often a doctor who works with kids and teens with learning disabilities also works with those with brain-wiring disorders such as ADHD.
What it Looks Like
Some of the most common learning disorders are in reading, writing, math, and non-verbal skills, according to the Mayo Clinic. In terms of reading, the child may have issues with memory, keeping pace with other children in the same grade, remembering what they read, interpreting what they read, and spelling issues. As to the written word, a child with a learning disability in this area may write more slowly and it may seem difficult for him/her, producing handwriting that is difficult to read. They may have trouble putting their thoughts into the written word, and when they write, it is not well organized and difficult to understand. They also have trouble with spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. A child with a math learning disorder has issues understand how numbers function and how they relate to each other, calculating problems, using the correct mathematical symbols, understanding word problems, and organization and recording information while solving a math problem. A child with a nonverbal skills learning disability is normal except in visual-spatial skills, visual-motor skills, and others needed in social or academic functioning. A child may present with difficulties in interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues in social interactions, using appropriate language socially, physical coordination which may be a bit off, attention and planning and organizing, writing, and high-level reading comprehension.
It is not known exactly what causes learning disorders, but some factors might be at least influencing it, if not causing it. Examples would be family genetics, prenatal risks, psychological and/or physical trauma, and exposure to environmental toxins, like lead. Some signs to look out for may be not mastering skills in reading, spelling, writing, or math when expected to, having trouble following directions and remembering what someone told him/her, loses or misplaces homework often, does not understand the concept of time well, does not want to do homework in reading, writing, or math, does not complete homework assignments often, and may be acting out at school as well as at home.
Medication and How That Affects the Disorder
As stated above, a doctor who will see your child for a learning disability may be the same doctor that sees your child for ADHD. Hence, he/she might recommend medications for depression and anxiety, which accompany the child struggling with a learning disorder. Please see the articles for depression and anxiety for more detailed information about such medications. Also, a recent study was conducted with a cholesterol-lowering drug called Lovastatin and children with learning disabilities, and found significant improvement in working memory function and verbal memory, etc. Side effects for this drug may include stomach pain, nausea, heartburn, constipation, headache, lack of energy, muscle pain, and memory loss/forgetfulness. As always, buyer beware – effects may amplify symptoms instead of helping!
How Holistic Measures Can Assist in this Disorder
As usual, diet can make a significant difference in a child or teen with a learning disability. It stands to reason that every child should have a healthy diet (plus supplements) without much junk food, and rich in healthy nutrients which one finds abundantly in veggies and other clean whole foods (avoid overly processed foods like standard mac and cheese, etc. as these will not adequately support normal and healthy development). Mindfulness practices, like yoga and meditation, which encourage and support people to focus on the present moment, will be a definite asset to a child with learning disorders, especially those requiring focus. Kids and teens with learning disabilities are more likely than other kids to have food allergies/sensitivities, so avoiding sensitive foods is a good idea. Cutting way down – or out – refined sugar plus wheat is another great idea to help your child develop in a healthy way and improve focus.
Certain supplements have been studied. These include omega-3 (fish oil, cod liver oil), vitamin D, and methionine, one of the amino acids. Remember that amino acid therapy is known for repairing brain chemistry as opposed to manipulating neurotransmitters. A deficiency in methionine can affect learning. Recent research “found that 51 percent of autistic children showed evidence of methionine deficiency,” according to a recent article in Parenting Special Needs Magazine. Zinc can play a role in brain function, as it protects against oxidative stress and slowing processing of information.
Remember - for optimal results, please work with a competent health care provider!
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