Early Signs of Learning Disabilities

In my opinion, there are a few red flags that can help parents distinguish between child behavioral problems and learning disorders. I have listed the key milestones in the age range of 1-5 and key behaviors to look out for.

To be able to detect early learning disabilities, one must understand a child’s milestone at each age.

Age 1:

  1. Sit up right,
  2. Respond to simple verbal requests,
  3. Imitate spoke words, and may be saying “mama” and “daddy”
  4. Able to understand simple commands
  5. Have a clear concept of what “no” is!
  6. Able to follow small commands such as “come here”, “go to mommy/daddy”, “look over here”, etc.
  7. Imitate what they see others doing (walking, hand waving, blowing kisses),
  8. Using objects correctly such as drinking from their own cup,
  9. Can show interest in a story by pointing to it and listening.

18 months

  1. Significant increase in motor skills such as running, walking up stairs, building towers, holding a crayon.
  2. Can now point to pictures in books and repeat small phrases
  3. Enjoy pretend play, and turning pages of books.

3-4 Years of Age

  1. Can balance on each foot,
  2. Catch a ball (most of the time),
  3. Copy shapes,
  4. Communicate in sentences,
  5. Retells stories,
  6. Has basic concept of grammar.

Age 5

  1. Masters of running and climbing,
  2. Using a fork and spoon,
  3. Printing some letters,
  4. Drawing a person with a body.
  5. Tell longer stories,
  6. Speak in sentence of five or more words,
  7. Use future tense
  8. Can say their name and address.

(For more information on motor, cognitive, language and social development visit http://www.parentsknow.state.mn.us/parentsknow/ChildDevelopment/Newborn/PKDEV_001043?redirectNodeId=Newborn )

         Learning disabilities can affect different areas of education. These learning disabilities are grouped in three different categories: speech and language disorders, reading/writing/math skills, and functioning problems such as coordination and motor skills.  Early interventions improve student learning outcomes! To be able to detect these early, a parent must observe a child’s behavior and note anything that is not age appropriate.

         A red flag for children with these dilemmas is inability to concentrate. Children are easily distracted however, this can also be a sign of processing and retention problems. Children with ADD and ADHD often have a correlation with learning comprehension difficulties. (Many children with ADHD are hyperactive and cannot sit still, making it difficult for them to pay attention but remember this is also frequently seen with children with learning disabilities since they try to avoid the behavior altogether.) Examples of language-processing difficulties include wandering eyes when someone reads a book, inability to follow a picture on a page or cannot describe what is happening in the picture when prompted.  These children also lack curiosity to create and understand concepts that would be age appropriate.   

         Children with language related disabilities have trouble distinguishing phonemes. Children should be able to recognize and sound out words by age 5-6. Children with language disabilities have trouble recognizing the sounds that make up words they are trying to spell or may mix them up (even when they’ve seen the letter or word repetitively).  They may also have pronunciation problems with words they use everyday (lisps are included in this category). Having  trouble learning numbers, letters, and days of the week are also a red flag. These children have the inability to recognize or have trouble retaining the information.

          Problems with motor skills such as buttoning, zipping, using scissors, catching or hitting a ball are skills that should be fluent by the time they are 6 and 7 years old. Children who have trouble with these skills may have problems with coordination or motor skills. Occupational therapy at a young age allows the child extra help to develop these essential skills. Some problems may include visual-spatial coordination problems, and motor problems. An easy way to observe a child and their motor skills is their ability to grasp a pencil, or crayon and cutting a piece of paper with scissors.

         The tasks that are most difficult for these children may be accompanied by behavioral problems. Your child may be trying to tell you they have difficulty in these areas through avoidance, distraction and overall refusal to do them.

         If during these developmental milestones you see signs of delay or struggle, it is important to point these out to the doctor in order to evaluate any significant problems the child may be struggling with.

For more information:





Multitasking and Learning

        Unlike generations before, the Millenials  have been exposed to technology from an early age.  Playing with mom’s cellphone, having shows programmed on an iPad, and robotic toys are all norms for this generation. Multitasking between answering texts, scrolling through twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is a part of everyday life for these 8 to 25 year olds. During lecture halls, students have other windows open in their browsers (I’m guilty of this too). An occasional text or two may be sent out while the teacher speaks. Lastly, the emails that had piled up throughout the day miraculously go away by the end of a history or science lecture. However, multitasking while learning can have negative outcomes on a person’s ability to process and retain information.

        Studying and learning are complex tasks. Processing information entails the use of (among other things) reasoning, rationalizing concepts, and language. The brain must then encode and retain this information. Learning demands use of the prefrontal cortex. Texting, checking Facebook, replying to an email are also complex tasks that require the use of the same area of the brain making it more difficult to divide the brain into focusing on these two tasks at the same time! Multitasking while learning may kill two birds with one stone, however, has a few key downfalls.

         First, more time is needed to complete each assignment because of the amount of time a person uses when distracted on other activities. Think of how much longer it takes to write an essay while the TV is on. Compare it to the amount of time it takes when you’re in the library. While studying it is ok to take breaks, however, if one isn’t truly focused on the information that needs to be learned, you’ll spend more time going back to it to try to remember or understand the concept. Jumping back and forth from one task to another lengthens the amount of time needed to complete each task. Another example is as simple as a time when someone was telling a story and you were trying to text while listening. Chances are you had to re-read your text before sending or asked the person to repeat the story again after sending off the text!

         Next, it is mentally exhausting, ( whether a person feels that way or not), to be focused on two complex tasks for a long period of time. Studying times vary and so do class times, but neither is less than 45 minutes.  The brain becomes less attentive as it starts receiving information overload! Your brain signs off before you do. When too many tasks are being focused on, you can get a “brain freeze”. I term it that because the brain stops accepting new information and does not encode anything beyond the point where it became overloaded. Make sure to give yourself 20 full minutes of studying and then a 5 minute break in between (if you can sit for 30-45 minutes, that is even better with a 10 minute break!)

           Lastly, the divided attention makes it difficult to retain the information that is being learned and memory will fail at trying to recall a concept,or idea. This failure first begins while the memory is being encoded, or saved. If you’re studying vocabulary, the only words you’ll find easier to remember are the first and last ones (since they had your full attention). It is much more difficult to retain information that was being processed at the same time as a text or email.  When the information was first introduced to the brain, it was also encoding the language used to respond to that text or email ! Chances are, you won’t remember either quite clearly!

Carolina Scaramutti, M.S.

For further information and suggestions on creating a quiet place to study, here are some suggested articles to read: