Learning Difficulties

Pencil and test

Learning difficulty (sometimes called a learning disorder or learning disability), is a classification which includes several conditions in which a person has difficulty learning in a typical manner. Such difficulties can make it hard to learn in the same way or as quickly as others. They are by no means indicative of intelligence level, but are simply an indication of a need for alternative learning methods. The severity of various learning difficulties can range from mild to severe. These difficulties generally cannot be "fixed"or "cured," and individuals who struggle with learning difficulties may face unique life-long challenges. Nevertheless, behavioral teachings can help develop strategies to foster future success, and having learning difficulties does not necessarily prevent people from holding intellectually demanding positions.

Common Causes of Learning Difficulties

The causes for learning difficulties are not always well understood or even apparent. That said, some causes of learning impairments include:

  • Accident(s) after birth - may be caused by malnutrition, head injury, and/or toxic exposure
  • Heredity - may run in the family
  • Poverty - may be a result of a lack of parental reinforcement or affordability of academics
  • Problems during pregnancy and/or birth - may result from fetal exposure to alcohol or drugs, oxygen deprivation, anomalies developed in the brain, low birth weight, injury or illness or premature or prolonged labor

One major factor for many people who face learning difficulties is that they are unable to express their feelings easily in words, so their actions may have to speak for them. Their behavior(s) and mood(s) may change and their inability to express themselves, and could result in depression, sadness, anxiety and other mental health issues.

How Psychotherapy Can Help with Learning Difficulties

A diagnosis of any learning difficulty may be potentially devastating to a person and/or their family. Both the person and their family members will need to learn coping skills for the difficulty itself and the emotional repercussions. Stress associated with learning difficulties can accumulate, which may make the coping process even more difficult. Since learning difficulties are often present over an entire lifetime, it is essential to learn effective and appropriate coping mechanisms for successful management. In psychotherapy, solid behavioral techniques often work best for individuals who struggle with learning difficulties. For children, play therapy may be helpful if the therapist uses it to teach interaction techniques. Children and adults may also do well in therapy groups and/or support groups.

Learning Difficulties in the DSM

Learning difficulties are classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) as Learning disorders. Learning disorders in the DSM have the following subcategories:

  • Reading disorder: a condition in which a person displays difficulty reading primarily from neurological factors (i.e. dyslexia)
  • Mathematics disorder: a condition in which a person has difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics (i.e. dyscalculia)
  • Disorder of written expression: a childhood condition in which a person has poor writing skills
  • Learning disorder NOS (not otherwise specified)

Dyslexia in Child - Case Example

Farook, 6, is having trouble keeping up in class because of his dyslexia, and his grades in school are suffering as a result. His parents worry about his learning difficulty negatively affecting his entire life, and preventing opportunities he might otherwise have access to. After seeing a specialist who focuses on children with dyslexia, both Farook and his parents learn that by applying certain learning techniques, he can easily keep up in class. Farook is also able to meet successful adults who have dealt with dyslexia, and he and his parents becomes more confident about his future.

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Last updated: 07-03-2015

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