Specific Learning Disorders in Children

Learning disorders are some of the most common neurodevelopmental LearningDisorders-Main-Landscapeconditions that children face. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is the guidebook on classification of diagnoses published by the American Psychiatric Association indicated that the prevalence of specific learning disorders across academic domains of reading, mathematics, and written expression is between 5%-15% in school aged children.

There is significant discussion both in the literature, and among clinicians and researchers, regarding how to appropriately classify and subsequently diagnose a specific learning disorder. Traditionally, it was assumed that a specific learning disorder existed when there was a significant discrepancy between a child’s cognitive ability and achievement in reading, mathematics, or written expression. However, within the US, changes have occurred over the past decade regarding the criteria used for determining a specific learning disorder which is now based on a multi-tier process involving early identification and intervention and the child’s response to the intervention.

Where children might exhibit learning disorders:

According to the DSM-5, there are three specifications of learning disorders that children might exhibit: Specific Learning Disorder With Impairment in Reading, Specific Learning Disorder With Impairment in Written Expression, and Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Mathematics. It is quite common for children to exhibit multiple learning disorders.

Potential related deficits:

There are definite concerns with a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral regulation if they have a documented learning disorder. Prior studies have indicated that up to 75% of children with a diagnosed learning disorder demonstrate significant social skill deficits expressed by peer rejection and social isolation.

What can be done:

It is our strong recommendation that in order to most effectively address a child’s specific learning disorder, it is important that the child undergo a comprehensive evaluation in order to effectively classify and make sense of the patterns of difficulty that the child presents with as well as to rule out additional existing factors of concern, and to best determine what specific interventions are warranted. Recommended interventions are specifically based on the area of weakness a child exhibits both across the testing as well as within the child’s academic environment.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Child misbehaving in school

Behavior In The Classroom

Many times children with behavioral concerns, attention issues, emotional concerns, or learning disorders will exhibit negative behaviors within the classroom setting.  Behaviors, by nature, are reasonable and driven by some factor.  The majority of the time, there is a purpose and a reason as to why a child engages in a negative behavior. What this indicates is that it is vital to figure out what the driving force of the behavior was as well as what the consequences of the behavior are.

If a parent or teacher has significant concerns about a child’s behavior, it is truly important to figure out what is going on.  Many times in these situations a Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) is required.  An FBAis when some behavioral specialist with the school will go and observe the child over several days and several times during the days.  The individual will first identify the percentage of time the child is off task in comparison to a few peers.  It is always important to have the percentage of off task behavior with several other children in the classroom.  This way there is anecdotal data indicating that child ‘X’ was off task xx% while the other children on average were off task only xx% which could indicate that the child in question actually is off task more than peers.

Child misbehaving in schoolOnce off-task time is established the focus is then on identifying the antecedents and consequences of the behaviors at hand.  There almost always is a driving force (the antecedent) which causes the behavior.  In addition, there usually is a reaction, either positive or negative (consequence), which results in increasing the likelihood of the behavior in the future.

Once the FBA has concluded and information has been disseminated to the team, the next step is to create an action plan to decrease negative behaviors while increasing positive, on-task behaviors.  This is when a functional intervention plan is created.  This plan utilizes the data created by the FBA to set up reinforcement of on-task behaviors, identify triggers and situations that might increase the negative behavior, and set up manageable goals.  A goal must be manageable and attainable.  For example, if a child is off task on average 80% of the day, a goal of being off task 10% of the day would be unrealistic.  What might be established is that with reinforcement and behavioral management, the goal for the first few weeks would be that the child is off task only 70% of the day, then slowly decrease it until the goal is consistent with the amount of time that the rest of the class is off task.

The take home message about behavior in school is that in order to change behavior we have to first identify what the behavior we want to change is, how often it occurs, and why it occurs (what triggers it and what does the child get out of it).