Learning disabilities affect one in seven people, according to the National Institutes of Health. These disabilities can take many forms, including those affecting math, motor and memory skills, but most often involving difficulty with language and reading. While these disabilities can be troublesome for a child’s report card, they can be devastating to his or her emotional wellness, eroding self-esteem and spurring frustration, anxieties, anger and even depression.

Learning disabilities can be difficult to diagnose because children learn at vastly different rates and varying styles, especially during preschool and kindergarten years. But the primary characteristic of a learning disability is a significant difference between a child’s achievement in some areas and her overall intelligence when compared with other children her age.

Learning disorders affect how the brain processes information and typically occur in children with normal to above-average intelligence. The cause is unknown, but many experts believe it to be neurodevelopmental in nature, a combination and interrelatedness of genetics and environment.

Though a lifelong condition, recognizing a learning challenge early and responding appropriately can help your child compensate and learn to work with the problem. Following are some red flags to watch for in children under age six:

Delayed speech
Difficulty rhyming
Pronunciation problems
Difficulty recalling or learning new words
Difficulty learning to read or spell
Trouble learning numbers or the alphabet
Uneven concentration
Difficulty following directions and daily routines
Poor grasp of a pen or crayon
Trouble interacting with peers
Poor physical coordination
If your child displays two more of these difficulties, discuss it with his teacher or pediatrician or a qualified therapist. If needed, one of these professionals can arrange for an initial collaborative school meeting or formal assessment with a neurodevelopmental expert.

An assessment will help you rule out or address any disorder or physiological problem causing or contributing to the learning challenge, and it will help you and others involved in your child’s life determine an effective course of action before she falls behind.

Most importantly, remember that a learning disability doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of struggle. Children’s motivation comes from confidence and competencies acknowledged. With early detection and intervention, your child can realize success in learning and life.

As published in the November 30, 2003 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.