#DidYouKnow- 3 Uncommon Types of Teen Learning Disabilities
When the conversation turns to teen learning disabilities, people often think of familiar conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or perhaps dyslexia. But there are several other, less familiar (or uncommon) types of learning disabilities diagnosed in teens and youth. No matter the diagnosis, learning disabilities can make it difficult, sometimes excessively so, for your teen to learn and gain all they need from their educational experience.
What are Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities also referred to as learning disorders, often present long before being diagnosed by a mental health professional. Challenges with learning can impact a teen’s self-esteem, desire to participate in school, and also their sense of self-worth. A learning disability occurs when someone experiences difficulties processing information. These information-processing challenges prevent teens and youth from learning, mastering, and using a particular skill effectively. Eventually, a gap or disconnect forms between what is expected for skill level at a specific age and one’s academic performance and ability.
Core Abilities Affected by Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities, both common and uncommon, affect your teen’s ability to master core skills such as writing, math, reading, and nonverbal skills and tools.
Writing requires complex skills. Mastering written expression involves using complex information-processing and motor and visual skills. When someone has a learning disorder that impacts written expression, it can lead to several challenges related to writing, including slow, labored writing, poorly organized text, trouble with grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and handwriting that is difficult to read or follow.
Learning disabilities that affect math skills can make even the most basic calculations frustrating and difficult. Math-related learning disabilities often affect one’s ability to perform basic math functions, making it difficult to learn, understand or attempt more advanced math skills. A learning disorder that affects mathematical understanding may cause problems with calculating math problems, understanding essential math functions, using symbols, understanding numbers and how they work, and the ability to understand and solve word problems.
Many learning disorders that involve reading challenges involve difficulties perceiving or understanding the written word as a combination of sounds. This can make it difficult for someone to understand how letters represent sound and how a combination of letters creates words and sentences. It can also lead to challenges with memory and information manipulation.
Although some youth may master basic reading skills, they may still experience challenges with spelling, recalling what they have read, reading at a “typical” pace for their age, comprehending what they read, and making inferences based on what they have read.
Nonverbal skills include important tools such as memorization, special awareness, and using or interpreting non-verbal cues. A teen with a learning disability in nonverbal skills appears to develop primary language and memorization skills in early childhood. With age and development, problems present in other areas crucial to social and academic functioning, such as visual-special and visual-motor skills.
A teen with a nonverbal learning disability may experience difficulties with physical coordination, attention, planning, organizing, interpreting facial expressions and nonverbal cues, using appropriate language in social settings, using fine motor skills, and higher-level written expression, reading, and comprehension.
What Causes Learning Disabilities?
Learning disabilities in teens may evolve from a variety of sources. Currently, there is no single identified cause but rather a combination of potential causes and risk factors that may contribute.
Teens who experience psychological abuse or trauma during early childhood may experience challenges with brain development. This can increase their risk of developing a learning disability.
Genetics and family history
Similar to mental health diagnoses, a child with a family history of learning disabilities is at a greater risk of developing a disorder as they grow.
Injuries to the head or brain, as well as infections that affect the brain and nervous system, may play a role in increasing one’s risk of developing a learning disability.
Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to lead and other toxins, have been linked to an increased risk of learning disabilities in some youth.
Neonatal and prenatal risk factors
Poor fetal growth, exposure to alcohol and drugs in utero, low birth weight, and premature birth have been linked with learning disability development.
3 Uncommon Learning Disabilities
Not all learning disabilities are prevalent throughout the population. In fact, there are several that occur in a limited number of cases. As a result of their relative infrequency, many parents, caretakers, and even some educators are unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of these specific conditions. Knowing more about how to recognize uncommon teen learning disabilities can help parents and guardians know when to seek help and treatment for their child at a treatment center like Hillcrest.
Dyscalculia is a learning disability that makes it difficult for youth and teens to learn, understand and “do” math problems. Statistics suggest dyscalculia is equally as likely to occur in boys as it is in girls. Symptoms of dyscalculia generally present when a child begins to do math work in elementary school. Dyscalculia is a very specific type of learning disability as it only affects a child’s ability to learn math. Someone with dyscalculia may do well or even excel in other subjects that do not involve mathematical calculations.
The symptoms of dyscalculia may change slightly as a child grows. In young children, early symptoms may include difficulties learning to count, recognizing patterns, and recognizing numbers. In older children, dyscalculia may present as difficulties telling left from right, remembering numbers (like phone numbers or zip codes), and measuring distances. Other potential symptoms include problems reading a clock or making change in money-related transactions. Dyscalculia occurs in approximately 3% to 5% of the population.
Nonverbal learning disability (NVLD)
Learning disabilities categorized as nonverbal are characterized by difficulties with visual-spatial and math skills and problems with social skills due to challenges with reading and understanding nonverbal cues. Nonverbal learning disabilities are not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders due to a lack of clinical consensus on defining the condition and its symptoms. As a result, few studies have provided data on the prevalence of NVLD in the general population.
NVLD among teens has generally been considered rare, and few are familiar with the condition or its symptoms. However, some new research suggests it may occur more often than previously believed. It is currently estimated that between 3% and 4% of children younger than 18 have NVLD making it more prevalent in youth and teens than autism spectrum disorder.
Aphasia is a language disorder that can affect one’s ability to use language. It can impact one’s ability to understand, speak, read and write, but not necessarily all of these challenges. Many people are familiar with aphasia as a side effect of stroke. However, it can occur due to other circumstances or illnesses, such as traumatic brain injury and some disease processes.
Aphasia in children is generally present from birth and, therefore, not directly comparable with adult aphasia that evolves from the above reasons. Children with aphasia experience difficulties learning and developing language skills. Current statistics on acquired aphasia in children are unavailable.
It is also important to remember that learning disabilities often co-occur with other mental and physical health challenges. When a teen lives with co-occurring disorder symptoms, it is essential to address both conditions as part of a comprehensive treatment program that considers the impacts both illnesses have on your teen’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
What are Treatment Options for Teen Learning Disabilities?
If your teen has a learning disability, their medical or mental health provider may recommend a variety of treatment options. The ideal treatment or therapeutic option will depend on your teen’s specific condition and the severity of their symptoms. Common examples include:
- Extra help-A tutor, reading, or math specialist can help your teen learn and practice academic, study, and organizational skills.
- Individualized education program (IEP)- Public schools in the United States are required by law to provide IEPs to students who meet specific criteria for learning disabilities. IEPs set learning goals and define strategies and services to support school-based learning success.
- Classroom accommodations-Examples of accommodations in the classroom may include the use of technology to support reading and writing, fewer math problems in tests and assignments, extra time to complete work and examinations, seating near the teacher to encourage focus and attentiveness, and offering audiobooks to assist with reading assignments.
- Therapy-some teens with learning disabilities may benefit from therapy at a teen-focused program like Hillcrest. Occupational therapy and other therapeutic models can help teens develop coping tools and address other underlying mental health conditions that may exacerbate their symptoms. Specific therapy programs, including occupational therapy and speech-language therapy, can improve motor and speech skills.
- Medication-As noted above, several mental health conditions often co-occur with learning disabilities. Common co-occurring diagnoses include anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Your child’s mental health provider may recommend medications to manage severe anxiety or depression. Mental health medications designed to control ADHD symptoms may help improve focus and concentration in school.
Getting Help for Learning Disabilities at Hillcrest
Many learning disabilities co-occur with other mental health conditions. In addition to the therapeutic and treatment models mentioned above, seeking treatment to address co-occurring mental health challenges provides your teen with the greatest opportunities for treatment success. At Hillcrest, we will work with your teen and your family to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your teen’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Although some learning disabilities cannot be cured, it is possible to learn and develop skills and tools to manage learning disability symptoms effectively. To learn more about how Hillcrest can help, contact a member of our admissions team for more information about our Los Angeles teen mental health center.