Mental Health

Learning Disability

A learning disability is a disorder that affects one’s ability to effectively learn or use basic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics. Knowing how the brain works, will help you to understand what can go wrong. Basically, there are four steps our brain goes through when processing information; input, integration, memory/storage and output.

Input – the brain receives information through either auditory or visual channels
Integration – the brain integrates or organizes the information
Memory/Storage – the brain retains the information so that it can be used appropriately
Output – the information is presented either verbally or visually (writing, visual expression)

When your teen is suffering with a learning problem, one or more of these steps are being affected.

Learning disabilities are quite prevalent in our schools. According to LDA (Learning Disability Association of America), about 1 in 7 people suffer from a learning disability and “among school-age children, more than 6% are currently receiving special education services because of learning disabilities”. 1

Learning disabilities are not indicative of intelligence. Your teen can have normal to above normal intelligence and still suffer from a learning problem. Knowing the signs and getting help immediately is the best way to deal with the situation.

Signs of a Learning Disability

Although the various types of learning disabilities can display different warning signs, there are common signs to all of them.

* Short attention span/easily distracted
* Frustration
* Disorganization
* Hard time remembering things
* Difficulty understanding directions
* Falling grades

Types of Learning Disabilities

Some teens may suffer one particular type of learning problem, while others may have difficulty in a combination of areas. While ADD/ADDH is not a learning disability, it does have an impact on learning. A lot of teens who are diagnosed with ADD/ADDH also suffer from another type of learning disability as well. The most common types are listed below.

* Involves mixing up words/letters while reading and/or writing language
* Genetic – most teens will have a relative with this disorder as well
* Signs include reading slowly, trouble with spelling, substituting words with one another

* Difficulty understanding and applying mathematical concepts
* Signs include having problems with time, value, simple math, sequencing and money to name a few.

* Difficulty in writing
* Signs include ineligible writing, mixing small/upper case together, mixing print/cursive together, spaces words incorrectly, misses words and/or letters while writing. Usually the teens writing will be slow and they might hold a pen/pencil awkwardly.

* A disability that involves problems with motor coordination and Sensory Integration Disorder (a neurological disorder in which the brain has difficulty integrating sensory information)
* Signs include stumbling, breaking things, trouble with fine motor skills, sensitivity to touch and/or sounds

Treatment for a Learning Disability

Learning disabilities are a life-long battle. Although they cannot be “cured”, with the proper support and treatment teens can learn to effectively cope with them and improve their daily lives. First and foremost, check with your teens medical doctor to rule out any physical causes such as problems with their sight and/or hearing.

If you suspect your teen is showing some of the symptoms, talk with your teen’s school. All schools have special education programs that are there to help with these types of disorders. You will be able to sit down with your teen’s teachers and other staff to set up an IEP (Individualized Education Program). This is a program designed specifically for your teen to address their particular needs. When appropriate, your teen will be involved in this process as well.

It’s also important to know that there are laws set up to help protect your teen. Section 504 is a federal law which was created to prevent discrimination for people with disabilities. Schools are required to show what accommodations they will be providing for children with such disabilities.

Physical Problems



The current understanding of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD—this is the current favored spelling) is that the first is a subset of the second, which is an overarching category that describes three specific disorders and others that have not been typed. The placement of the slash is meant to indicate that hyperactivity is not a manifestation in every type of AD/HD.

There are three distinct categories of symptoms in AD/HD, and the particular symptom or combination of symptoms is what leads to the diagnosis of a particular type of AD/HD. The three symptom categories are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. This is true for teens as well as younger children.

Parents should be aware that each of these symptoms may be present to a lesser degree than in AD/HD as a component of normal behavior at particular stages of child development. The fact that impulsivity, for example, is a characteristic of AD/HD subtypes does not mean that all impulsivity is abnormal or indicative of a disorder. But whereas children in the normal range learn to limit their impulsivity children with AD/HD need additional help and attention to control and direct their impulsivity.

The way that these symptoms appear with AD/HD is as follows:

• Children with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive subtype have symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, but do not have issues with attentiveness.

• Children with predominantly inattentive subtype (the name that is now used to mean the same thing as Attention Deficit Disorder was in the past) are inattentive, but not hyperactive or impulsive.

• Children with combined subtype exhibit hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness—all three of the symptoms.

• Children may also have AD/HD not otherwise specified. This is used when a child has issues with one or more of the three symptoms to a degree that is not developmentally appropriate but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for any of the three defined subtypes.

Statistics on AD/HD

In 2008, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report stating that approximately five percent of American children age 6 to 17 have been diagnosed with AD/HD, according to parental reports. Because the study only covered diagnosed cases, the incidence is likely to be higher. The study found that boys were twice as likely to be diagnosed with AD/HD as girls, and that teens were more likely to have been diagnosed than were younger children.

Diagnosis of AD/HD for Teens

The diagnostic criteria for AD/HD is not different for teens than for younger children. The criteria require the existence of six symptoms of either inattention or  six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity.

In either case, the symptoms must have been present for a minimum of six months, and be present to a degree that is developmentally inappropriate and causes some impairment of function. At least some of the symptoms must have been present prior to age seven, and the effects must be apparent in at least two settings, such as both at home and at school. In the case of hyperactivity-impulsivity, the symptoms must also be disruptive.

These limitations help to avoid diagnosing temporary behaviors that might be a response to a particular finite situation and resolve in several months. They also help differentiate AD/HD from an athletic, exuberant, or occasionally day-dreaming child.

The symptoms of inattention include careless mistakes, trouble focusing, seeming not to listen, lack of follow through, trouble with organization, avoidance of long tasks, frequent losing or misplacing of possessions, distractibility, and forgetfulness.

The symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity include fidgeting or squirming, inability to stay seated for long periods, restlessness, inability to do activities quietly, “Energizer Bunny” energy, excessive talking, interrupting, difficulty waiting, and intrusive behavior.

Help for Teen AD/HD

If you suspect that your child may have AD/HD, the first thing you need is a diagnoses to make sure that the symptoms are not indicative of some other issue. This can be done by a health care provider, such as a pediatrician or psychologist.

Treatment of AD/HD will vary somewhat depending on which of the types is diagnosed. Depending on the situation, a combination of medication and behavioral therapy may be suggested.

If you live in Florida, you might be interested in the study of Teen ADHD at the Florida Clinical Research Center in Bradenton/Sarasota LI. If so, you can get more information here: