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Learning Disorders
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Child & Adolescent Development: Overview
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Introduction to Specific Learning Disorder

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders released in 2013 made changes to the Learning Disorders category. Prior to this edition, there were 3 separate disorders including Reading Disorder, Mathematics Disorder, and Disorder of Written Expression.

students in classNow, there is a single disorder, Specific Learning Disorder, which has multiple academic areas (reading, written expression, and mathematics) and then skills within each of those areas that can be impaired. There are also 3 levels of severity that can be diagnosed which guide the amount of assistance that will be needed to allow the student to compensate or function well within that area.

It is important to remember that, regardless of the name of the learning disorder, it is a true clinical disorder that is likely founded in abnormal brain development. These are not just labels given to excuse poor performance in otherwise normal students. There are actual issues with the way that information is stored, processed or produced in the brain.

That people with learning disabilities may have difficulty making good grades during their school years is obvious. What is less obvious is the social and psychological effects that often follow. Students with learning disabilities tend to drop out of school prior to graduation at higher than normal rates. Their self-esteem and sense of being able to master various subjects is negatively impacted.

Special assistance and learning programs are often available through schools (both public and private) for students with learning disabilities. Participation in these programs can be very helpful to students' academic and psychological well-being. It is a good idea to advocate to have children tested for learning problems as soon as it becomes apparent that grades in specific subjects are not where they might be.