Learning disabilities can become a frustrating part of life. These learning 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 may 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 does it affect a person’s mental health? What are the interventions? Here’s what you should need to know. 

What Is A Learning Disability?

Learning Disabilities (LD) 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 as it should be. 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 learning disabilities show with the academic performance, it’s crucial to know, especially for the parents, that having a learning disability is different from lacking the intelligence or lack of motivation to do well in school. 

A child can be hardworking or smart, but learning may be a challenge because they have difficulty processing information. Not only that, but an individual may have difficulties in learning because of other impairments such as hearing, visual, and speech. 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 poor reading comprehension. There may also be a struggle with spelling, writing, and understand 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 learning disability 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 syntactic (problems with sequencing words). 
  1. Nonverbal 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 that learning disabilities and other types of health disorders occur at the same time. 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 (ADHD): Kids with ADHD may have a problem maintaining focus, ergo, the term attention deficit. 45% 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 maintaining balance. It also affects their fine motor skills, making it hard for them to grasp objects. As a result, it can be mistaken as dysgraphia (poor handwriting). Dyspraxia often co-exists with other disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia.
  • Executive Function: 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 make it clear, learning disabilities arent mental health issues, but both of them are closely related. People with learning disabilities may have a delay in learning, and it can show in their academic performance for children and performance at work for 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. 

Risk Factors Of How People With Learning Disabilities Develop Mental Health Problems:

People with learning disabilities are at risk of developing mental health problems; why so? 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 coping 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. Here is a more straightforward explanation of how people with learning disabilities may develop mental health problems:

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

  • Worries too much
  • Experiencing sudden fear
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Have 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 at school)
  • 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 to have 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 Disability Treated?

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

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): It is also known as Talk Therapy to explore 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 aimed to analyze emotions and reactions. It focuses on experiences from childhood to adult; 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 strains in relationships and caregivers. 

Where Can I Find A Mental Health Professional?

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, 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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