What Causes Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities in children are common and usually have an unknown cause. It is only natural for parents to question the cause of their child’s disability and to wonder whether something they did caused the disability to occur. Many professionals believe that there are numerous causes of learning disabilities, just as the learning disabilities differ among children.

Scientists, medical researchers, and educators alike have multiple theories about the causes of disabilities, including:

  • Heredity
  • Medical conditions
  • Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Exposure to toxins before or after birth
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Premature birth
  • Lack of nutrition during pregnancy or after birth
  • Head injuries after birth
  • Differences in the structure of the brain

The last of these potential causes, differences in the structure of the brain, has been viewed with MRI equipment that shows patterns of the brain which differ during phonological tasks from children who do not have learning disabilities. These differences in structure are present at birth and are usually inherited.

An important distinction that should be made by parents and educators is that children with learning disabilities are not less intelligent than other children their age. When a child goes to a school for special needs like John Cardinal O’Connor School, it isn’t because they are not intelligent enough to learn at a traditional school. Instead, it is to provide them with the best teaching methods to help them learn in spite of their learning disability. The goal of special education is to find the right match between the needs of the child and the teaching methods that will allow them to learn in the way that works best for the individual.
Although the children who attend schools for learning disabilities have different types and degrees of learning disabilities, there are also similarities that are shared by many. While some children have difficulty sounding out words, others may have trouble following simple instructions even after they have been repeated many times. Both of these are language-based learning disabilities that require a different teaching strategy to help the child learn.

Some experts say that learning disabilities are not the result of economic disadvantage or cultural differences, while others argue that these factors can result in poor nutrition or exposure to other conditions such as lead paint that have been linked to development of LDs in numerous cases.

One area that most experts agree on is that, regardless of the cause of a child’s disability or how it makes them learn differently, an education focused on overcoming learning barriers from an early age is essential. The right teaching methods for the individual will help them overcome obstacles and prepare them for a self-reliant, successful future. Although poor instruction methods are not the cause of learning disabilities, they are often the reason that many of the children who learn differently fail to be successful in their academics.

There is no way to predict with certainty that a child will be born with a learning disability, and there is no way to prevent it. The only option parents have for helping their children is to learn as much as possible about their child’s disability, and provide them with the support and education that is right for them.


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