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Do children outgrow learning disabilities?

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Most learning disabilities manifest when a child nears school age. Some may show earlier, like some speech/language delays, which may later be diagnosed as an auditory processing or other language related learning disability. Other learning disabilities may not manifest as obviously until practical application is needed, such as math computation or reading comprehension.

Parents worry about overall life implication and if their child will outgrow a learning disability. The short answer is- no. Learning disabilities cannot be outgrown since they are neurologically based. Just like growing one’s hair longer won’t change the overall curliness or straightness of it, getting older won’t change the neurological make-up of the brain. What can happen with early diagnosis of a learning disability is educational and/or therapeutic intervention, which can retrain the brain to compensate for, cope with, or learn new strategies to reach the desired end product a non-learning disabled brain can reach through conventional teaching.

Impact of early intervention

Early diagnosis and intervention is critical for a child with a learning disability. Learning disabilities are unconnected to intelligence; they have to do with neurological wiring of the brain. The sooner a learning disability is diagnosed, the earlier educational therapy can be implemented and a child can learn alternate strategies or other therapeutic intervention actions to train the brain with a new learning skill.

Basic knowledge of child development milestones is critical for parents to act as a general measuring stick to their preschool child’s development. Caution should be taken so that children are compared only to standardized developmental milestones, and not child to child. Every child develops skills in different milieu at different rates, so comparing child to child helps no child. General developmental milestone comparison charts are broad, and based on observation and testing of thousands of children. Age ranges for milestones are wide, taking into consideration children who are precocious to those that eventually develop a skill in the general developmental progression. Children whose skills fall below the age norms may be candidates for learning disability consideration.

The first step is to check with the child’s health care provider. Medical professionals have the skill and knowledge to help a parent decide if a child may need testing to determine the possibility of a learning disability. In some cases, the pediatrician can diagnose a disability (such as ADHD) which may help fast track a child to therapy. Medical professionals also have a good working knowledge of the pool of educational testing services available in their area, or if testing through the school district is the appropriate diagnostic method.

Testing and treatment

A parent, teacher, or other professional can refer a child for educational testing within the school district. Every state has an established process and a legal time frame for all the steps in the process. Parents have specific rights during and after the testing process. The school district must inform the parents of these rights, but it is the parent’s responsibility to learn them.

Most school districts have intervention tiers, or levels, of intervention services to help determine if a child has a disability that may require intense intervention. Usually the tiers start with the least invasive strategy, such as some extra skill reinforcement within the classroom setting. Based on intervention records, more intense levels of intervention may be implemented, the last being a formal testing setting.

Educational testing results are a great tool to establish if a child has a learning disability. The paper trail provides a record of which subject matter shows a shortcoming in learning and that makes it easier to find the particular brain deficiency causing the learning disability. While learning disabilities affect all school subjects, they will affect some more than others.

Once an area of disability is diagnosed, an appropriate intervention plan is devised and implemented to help the child. Regular monitoring of successful strategy implementation, and other interventions, along with periodic testing, help determine if the plan is succeeding or may need some change.

With early therapy, new learned strategies can be applied in classroom settings sooner, thus helping the child achieve academic and/or social success and alleviate frustration, resentment, poor self-esteem, and frequently resulting manifestations (behavior problems, depression, poor peer relations, etc.).

Although the brain’s wiring cannot be changed, children can learn and implement strategies so they can retain and apply skills for success in school and life. Some interventions may require many years of education therapy, and others may not, depending on each child’s individual needs. For example, a child with an articulation disability may receive speech/language services until the child’s speech deficit is remediated. They are then dismissed from speech services.

A child with a math disability, who receives intervention to learn skills required to pass courses needed for high school graduation, may no longer need special help once the courses are successfully completed. Once the child has completed the math graduation requirement, they can be removed from an educational plan for that specific intervention. The brain’s wiring has not been changed, but the child has learned how to apply skills needed to show math competency in the mandated areas. Hopefully the skills will carry over into life after high school.

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