Identifying Learning Disabilities


"My son has been diagnosed as having learning disabilities. I have consulted with a neurologist about possible ADD since distractibility and lack of focus are also an issue at school. How can one differentiate between lack of focus related to dyslexia and that related specifically to ADD?"

Dr. Larry Silver specializes in treating children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

With ADHD, the distractibility relates to the environment. That is, the child has difficulty blocking out either sounds or visual stimuli. Thus, he/she has auditory or visual distractibility. The child tries to work in class or at home but is easily distracted. Also, with ADHD, this distractibility is chronic. Preschool, kindergarten, and first grade teachers would have noted it, and it would be pervasive so that teacher, parents, and other adults would see the same behavior.

If the problem is LD, the inattention relates to frustration or being lost. For example, the teacher gives out a worksheet. The child has difficulty with reading instructions and does not want to do all of the writing, so he/she looks around the room or doodles. Thus, the problem is avoidance rather than distractibility. Also, the pattern will be different. The "distractibility" began at a certain time or occurs in certain situations. For example, no one described until second or third grade; only happens at school and not at home; only occurs when doing homework but no other time.

It is important for you to clarify. Medication will help ADHD. Special education services will help LD.

Larry Silver, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is a former acting director and deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as the author of Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on AD/HD and The Misunderstood Child: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities.
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