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Learning Disabilities: What are they and Coping Skills

While the umbrella term, learning disability, is meant to cover all neurologically based processing problems, learning disabilities are unique to each young person.

The manifestation of an adolescent’s learning disorder can present in a variety of ways. It is essential to be aware of the fact that learning disabilities are in no way caused by outside stimuli in relation to a young person’s nurturing (i.e. educational opportunity, or inadequate parenting). Learning disabilities, alone, are not sensory impairments, emotional disturbances, or intellectual disabilities.

Challenges in processing visual and/or auditory information are one way a learning disability might manifest in an adolescent. This can make understanding language, writing, spelling, and/or reading particularly difficult for a young person. Another common manifestation of a learning disability is through prioritizing and organizing, which may show up as difficulty following directions and/or difficulty with mathematics. The long processing time required for retrieval of and storing information can also be indicative of a learning disability. According to the DSM-V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), there are four disorders related to learning disabilities which include: Reading Disorder, Mathematics Disorder, Disorder of Written Expression, and Learning Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS).

Learning disabilities must be properly diagnosed. This can be done through a cognitive assessment evaluation conducted by a qualified school psychologist, adolescent clinical psychologist, or clinical neuropsychologists who have specific training in the assessment of learning disabilities. Due to the fact that every young person is different, learning disabilities can be incredibly nuanced, requiring personalized and uniquely tailored guidance.

Coping Skills

There are coping skills that are specifically relevant and helpful in relation to each type of learning disability. There are, however, some general coping skills that can help the majority of young people living with learning disabilities.

  1. Breaking down tasks to help make the overall goal feel more reachable. Creating many small steps can help alleviate some of the possible overwhelming feelings that may accompany the completion of a large task for a young person with a learning disability.
  2. Follow a schedule to help stay on track. Many young people who have a learning disability will have to work harder than those who do not to complete the same tasks. While this may seem frustrating, if a manageable schedule is created and followed, the extra work can be easily completed. Additionally, practicing creating and following a schedule can help strengthen one’s ability to prioritize and organize.
  3. Obtain an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to help in educational settings. IEPs can help a young person get the proper accommodations for success in a school setting. Depending on the young person, this can lead to extended time on tests, different testing formats, and/or extra one-on-one assistance with assignments.
  4. Maintain a social life to help develop your social skills and have fun. Adolescence is a time when young people practice relying on people other than family members for emotional support. Maintaining a healthy social life will help a teen with a learning disability create a network of peers for support and guidance.
  5. Consult a psychiatrist as in some cases certain medications can be helpful.

It is not uncommon for a teen with a learning disability to feel self-conscious in regards to their disability. When in doubt, seek the help of a trained professional. There are a plethora of coping mechanisms and tools a teenager with a learning disability can utilized that are specific to his or her own needs.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.