Learning disabilities can become a frustrating part of life. These disabilities are difficulties in processing information and should not be confused with mental health issues. However, one can mask the other, and having learning disabilities may be a risk factor for mental health problems.

At times, learning disabilities are misdiagnosed and simply thought of as poor academic performance at school. When children and teens cannot do well at school, they may feel bad, which could affect their mental health. Adults may have learning disabilities, too; either they are born with it and were not diagnosed, or it is acquired later in life.

So what are learning disabilities? How do they affect a person’s mental health? What are the interventions? This article discusses what you need to know.

What Is a Learning Disability?

Learning disabilities (LDs) are disorders that affect a person’s ability to comprehend, speak, or use written language. It also affects the ability to solve mathematical calculations, have coordinated movements, and pay attention. In short, learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect how a person processes information.

Learning disabilities usually occur in young children and are not usually recognized until the kid reaches school age. Because LDs manifest in a child’s academic performance, it’s crucial to know, especially for the parents, that having a learning disability is different from lacking the intelligence or motivation to do well in school.

A child can be hardworking or smart, but learning may be challenging because they have difficulty processing information. Not only that, but an individual may have difficulties in learning because of other hindrances such as hearing, visual, and speech impairment. But all these impairments are different from learning disabilities. 

Types of Learning Disabilities

There are many types of learning disabilities. The most common one you might have heard of is dyslexia, a learning disability that affects language-based processing skills such as reading and writing.

Unbeknownst to most of us, there are many types of learning disabilities. The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA) classified five types of special learning disabilities.

  1. Dyslexia. This is a type of learning disability that affects language-based learning. A person with dyslexia may have poor reading fluency and reading comprehension. There may also be a struggle with spelling, writing, and understanding the alphabet sounds.
  1. Dyscalculia. It is a learning disability where a person may have difficulty learning numbers, counting, solving mathematical computations, understanding math, telling time, and many more.
  1. Dysgraphia. This type of LD results in poor handwriting. The handwriting may be hard to read, oddly sized, or is poorly spaced as expected of the person’s age. Individuals with dysgraphia also find it difficult to think and write simultaneously.
  1. Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit. People with this type of learning disability have difficulties with semantics (how to interpret words) and syntax (sequencing words).
  1. Non-Verbal Learning Disability: People with nonverbal learning disabilities may have difficulty understanding non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. They may also have poor social skills, like not understanding the concept of sarcasm. 

Other Disorders That Co-Exist with Learning Disabilities

It’s possible for learning disabilities to be present along with other types of health disorders. If this occurs, this is a known co-morbidity.

At times, it’s hard to differentiate between a learning disability and mental health problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s a common occurrence that some may mistake a learning disability for a psychiatric problem.

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Kids with ADHD may have a problem maintaining focus, ergo, the term attention deficit. Forty-five percent of children have co-existing learning disabilities. But ADHD is not a learning disability; it is a developmental disorder.
  • Dyspraxia. People with dyspraxia have problems with muscle coordination and control. This affects a person’s motor skills, affecting their ability to maintain balance.

It also affects their fine motor skills, making it hard for them to grasp objects. As a result, dyspraxia can be mistaken for dysgraphia (poor handwriting). The condition often co-exists with other disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia.

  • Executive Dysfunction. Individuals with problems with executive function find it hard to plan, organize, manage time, understand concepts, and make sound judgments. Problems with the executive function co-exist with some learning disabilities or ADHD.

To clarify, learning disabilities aren’t mental health issues, but both of them are closely related. People with learning disabilities may have a delay in learning, which can show in their academic performance as children and performance at work as adults.

Without doing good with these aspects in life, people with learning disabilities may feel like a failure, and this can cause them to stress out. This puts them at a higher risk of developing mental health problems like anxiety and depression. 

How People with Learning Disabilities Develop Mental Health Problems: The Risk Factors

People with learning disabilities are at risk of developing mental health problems. It can be caused by biological factors, stressful life events, poor coping skills, and social relationships. We all are unique, but people with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to criticism, and the way they cope with stressors is different.

Difficult life events combined with high stress levels increase the risk of developing mental health problems, even in people without learning disabilities. This results in changes in behavior like mood swings, irritability, and agitation. Below is a more straightforward explanation of how people with learning disabilities may develop mental health problems:

  • Biological Factors. Medications may be prescribed to enhance concentration and attention for individuals with learning disabilities. Taking different types of medication can contribute to mental health decline.
  • Stressful Life Events. Individuals with learning disabilities are more likely to experience stressful life events due to their disability, such as not landing their dream job. As a result, they do not become financially stable or are unable to form healthy relationships, which can also lead to mental health decline.
  • Poor Coping Skills. Learning and coping may be different for people with learning disabilities. This makes them more likely to resort to poor coping mechanisms like substance abuse when they experience stressful life events.
  • Social Relationships. People with learning disabilities may inevitably experience stigma and discrimination at least once in their life. Why? Because people around them do not understand what is really going on.

Signs to Look for in Children with Learning Disabilities Experiencing Mental Health Problems

It’s essential for parents and teachers to be aware of learning disabilities and, most importantly, learn how to detect signs of a mental health problem, especially in children. This should be a concern, and the signs to look for are:

  • Worrying too much
  • Experiencing sudden fear
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Having mood or anger issues
  • Feeling sad all the time
  • Doesn’t like to spend time with their friends
  • Does not like to go to school (because of the bullying they experience there)
  • Changes in their appetite
  • Thoughts of self-harm 

Advice to Parents

Once parents notice these signs, it’s time to consider consulting with a licensed mental health professional. Even adults who are feeling down and are concerned about having learning disabilities should seek the help of a therapist or counselor. If your child is being bullied and has no idea what to do, read this article.

Therapists utilize different types of intervention to address unknown thoughts, feelings, emotions, and reactions. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help explore emotions and evaluate difficult thoughts to learn how to move forward. 

How Are Mental Health Problems in Persons with Learning Disabilities Treated?

Mental health interventions for a person with learning disabilities do not differ from conventional ones. The most common form of mental health interventions are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT, also known as talk therapy, explores the relationship between thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and actions. A therapist uses CBT in combination with different strategies to influence positive thinking. CBT can help address mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-esteem problems, major depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy. It is a long-term therapy that analyzes emotions and reactions. The treatment focuses on experiences from childhood to adulthood. These are analyzed to improve social relationships.
  • Family Therapy. This type of therapy can benefit the whole family experiencing emotional and mental difficulties with a family member with a learning disability. Family therapy can help with reducing the strain on relationships and caregivers.

Where Can I Find a Mental Health Professional Who Can Help with My or My Child’s Learning Disability?

There are many licensed mental health professionals out there. But finding the right therapist for a person with a learning disability may be a challenge. If you’re from Kentucky or Ohio, Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) has a great team of mental health professionals with different specializations.

You can book an appointment online through KCC Direct Services. Once you book an appointment, the staff will contact you to assess your situation to match you with the right mental health professional who can help with your needs.

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