Also known as "specific learning disabilities". The federal definition of a learning disability, as set forth in U.S. P.L. 94-142 is as follows:
Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.
The U.S. Department of Education also includes as learning disabilities perceptual handicaps, brain injuries, dyslexia, minimal brain dysfuntion and developmental aphasia. It does not include problems that result from such developmental delays as DOWN SYNDROME. Another important aspect of a learning disability is that the child's school performance does not equate with intelligence quotient. For example, a child with an I.Q. of 120 (20 points above average) should not be failing school. If she is, this discrepancy between intelligence and performance may indicate a learning disability.
Experts disagree on how many children have learning disabilities, but conservative estimates are that about 2% of all children have a learning disability.
Just as any other child may have a learning disability, adopted children may suffer disabilities in learning. Some children who are learning disabled have trouble with math while others have trouble with reading and writing. Others have trouble thinking things through clearly.
There is evidence that some children born exposed to such drugs as cocaine may ultimately suffer learning disabilities, although this is by no means certain. The child exposed to drugs prenatally may suffer memory deficits, inability to understand certain concepts, emotional conflicts and a wide array of problems that are attributed to the prenatal environment. Some research indicates that adopted children may have a higher level of learning disabilities, but unfortunately, researchers have lumped in children adopted as babies with children who were adopted at older ages. So we do not know if the problems may be genetic or due to abuse or neglect-or both.
Parents who choose to adopt children whose birthmothers abused drugs or alcohol should be prepared to help the children with learning disabilities that may be present later on. It should be noted that some drug-addicted children are very bright and considered "gifted" and low intelligence is apparently not always a result of drug abuse. Prenatal alcohol abuse, however, can lead to FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME in the child and varying degrees of retardation in the child.
The field of learning disabilities is very complex, and there is a firestorm of controversy over how to evaluate children and how to treat them. For example, should a learning disabled child be removed from the classroom for sessions with a specialist in learning disabilities, or should the child remain in the classroom, where the teacher deals with the child and uses outside consultations for help? If a child has difficulty processing ideas with sound, should his visual abilities be allowed to substitute, or should the problem area be worked on instead?
It may be very difficult to determine the cause of a learning disability. Having a learning disability could frustrate a child enough to create an emotional problem, and because children with emotional problems often have trouble paying attention to information and therefore learning, an unfortunate cycle is created. Sorting out the issues can take time and should only be dealt with by individuals who are experienced in both learning disabilities and emotional disorders.
If the root problem appears to be a learning disability, the child may also need psychological counseling as well to deal with emotional problems that have developed due to negative feelings about the disability. If the problem is primarily emotional, treating the emotional problem may help resolve the learning problem. However, the child may need some remedial work until she catches up to her peers.
In some cases, a parent may believe a child does not have a learning disability and a teacher insists the child does. In such a case, the adoptive parent should consider whether or not the child's adopted status is affecting the evaluation.
Of course, parents can be wrong about a learning disability and deny a disability that does exist and for which the child should receive help. (See also SPECIAL NEEDS.)
The Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities Inc. (ACLD) is an organization of over 60,000 parents, professionals and others interested in learning disabilities. It serves as a resource for individuals interested in more information. Individuals needing assistance or information should contact
The Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities Inc. (ACLD)
4156 Library Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
(See also SPECIAL NEEDS.)
Richard P. Barth, "Educational Implications of Prenatally Drug Exposed Children," Social Work in Education, 13 (1991): 130-136.
Susan Jenks, 'Drug Babies: An Ethical Quagmire for Doctors," Medical World News, February 12, 1990.
Cathy Trost, "As Drug Babies Grow Older, Schools Strive to Meet Their Needs," Wall Street Journal, December 27, 1989, A1.
Find more information on learning disabilities
©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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