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EARLY CHILDHOOD LEARNING DISABILITIES

INTRODUCTION
Early childhood is the period between the age of 0 and 6 years and
therefore learning disabilities are any neurological conditions that decrease
the ability of a child to acquire, evaluate process or retain information from
birth to 6 years. Such disabilities are generally manifested in pronouncing,
writing, spelling, reading, calculating, recollecting and interpreting
information, but can also be expressed physically through impaired fine
motor skills (Deiner, 2012). Consequently children with learning disabilities
will perform poorly in class in deference to grades and overall participation.
Research indicates that there are various factors that contribute to learning
disabilities, starting with genetics where the trait has been shown to be
dominant in some families.
Factors that reduce the rate of brain development or cause damage to
the brain both prenatally and after birth have also been regarded as
causative factors to learning disabilities. For instance low birth weight, drug
or alcohol abuse during pregnancy, malnutrition, and head injuries during
infancy have all been implicated in causing learning disabilities. Furthermore,
prolonged maternal and/or infant exposure to environmental toxins has been
cited as a potential causative factor, particularly toxins such as carbon
monoxide, pesticides, pollutants and heavy metals such as lead and mercury
that inhibit cell development and function (Deiner, 2012). Learning
disabilities are generally presented through slow speech development, below
average vocabulary and pronunciation, difficulty understanding basic

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instructions, difficulty identifying numbers, shapes and colors, poor short


term memory, uncoordinated motor skill difficulties and difficulty in
perceiving time.

TYPES OF LEARNING DISABILITIES


Learning disabilities can be grouped according to the affected
information processing or the resultant attributes of the processing deficit.
Information processing is affected in four key areas namely: input,
integration, memory, and output. Information processing deficits on the
other hand are presented as particular learning disabilities that can either
occur independently or in a comorbid state. The categories of information
processing deficits are: reading, writing, math, fine motor skills, language,
auditory and visual. In addition, learning disorders can also be manifested in
the affective domain through disparity in constructs as seen in learning
disabilities such as autism, Asperger syndrome, ADHD and ADD.
Developmental Dyslexia
This is a disorder that affects approximately 75% of all children with
reading disabilities (Deiner, 2012). Dyslexia distorts the reading process by
reducing the accuracy and/or fluency in the recognition, reading speed,
prosody and understanding of words. This normally results in phonemic
difficulty and a subdued sound-symbol correspondence which makes it
difficult for dyslexic children to understand sentences. Developmental
dyslexia is generally hereditary and therefore therapy should involve a

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comprehensive intervention and counseling that involves all members of the


family (Wolraich, 2003). Individual treatment depends on the severity of the
disability but is contingent of a personal education plan which is tailored
according to the affected areas such as transposing, word recognition,
correspondence or phonemics. In addition, remedial instruction should be
applied to expedite the learning process while individual tutoring will enable
the tutor to address specific areas of concern. Positive reinforcement should
be awarded when the child meets a predetermined milestone in order to
improve their self-esteem (Benson & Haith, 2009).
Dysgraphia and Agraphia
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM-IV) criteria, dysgraphia is a subdued performance in writing skills in
deference to the age, intelligence, and education appropriate standards that
can be quantified using a functional assessment test. The disability results
in considerable impairment of the learning process that is typified by poor
handwriting, grammatical errors, poor sentence structures, incoherent
paragraphs, several spelling errors and misplaced punctuations. Agraphia on
the other hand is the inability to write and spell during writing resulting from
impairment of the capacity to transform graphemes into language. Children
with agraphia cannot encode information into letters and written words
during the linguistic stage of writing. Children with dysgraphia have a
diminished ability to transcribe graphemes into written words in the motorexpressive-praxic stage of writing (Wolraich, 2003).

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Children with written expression learning disabilities have atypical


difficulty in spelling exemplified in mixing upper and lower case letters,
overdependence on verbal cues and transposing letters such as p, q, b, and
d (Deiner, 2012). Such children are prone to writing fatigue and therefore
treatment involves physical training to improve their fine motor skills,
educational therapy to develop the ability to encode and transcribe
information, and the use computers to minimize writing fatigue. According to
the International Dyslexia Association, children can also undergo kinesthetic
memory by writing letters exclusively through memory to improve their
motor skills and transcription aptitude.
Dyscalculia (Numlexia)
Children suffering from this disability have difficulty learning simple
math concepts, spatial reasoning and understanding measurements, as well
as perceiving time. In addition, the condition creates difficulties in learning
mathematical facts, arranging and manipulating numbers, as well as
comprehending how to synthesize solutions from simple arithmetic
problems. Dyscalculia arises from natural, hereditary or developmental
factors although the disability can also occur as a result of head trauma
during infancy in which case it is referred to as acalculia. C Benson & Haith
assert that at present dyscalculia affects approximately 5% of the
population, but the scope of the disability varies among individuals with
some children exhibiting dissociation between arithmetic difficulties and
mathematical reasoning (2009, p.112). For instance a child might not be able

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to give the sum of two numbers but will know the number of M&Ms needed
to fill up a small container. A combination of positive reinforcement and
neuro-sensory educational therapy has been shown to be effective in
treating dyscalculia, where the child can have fun in a mathematically
stimulating environment by solving mathematical puzzles and games for a
reward. Introducing low direct current to the temporal, parietal and parietal
lobes through transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) during numerical
learning has shown to improve the understanding and retention power of
mathematical concepts (Wolraich, 2003).
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
ASDs are pervasive developmental disorders that are manifested
through poor social relationships, poor communication skills, repetitive
behaviors and cognitive impediments. They are forms of autism with a
variation in the manifestation of symptoms and the three main types of ASD
are: Asperger's syndrome, Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise
specified (PDD-NOS) and Autistic disorder.

Autistic Disorder
As a neural development disorder, autism is exemplified by impaired
communication, limited and cyclic actions and poor social development.
Autism has been shown to have a significant genetic crux and is considered
to affect approximately 0.5% of the global population (Deiner, 2012). The
disability is characterized by inability to communicate through natural

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speech which is easily identified in early childhood through unusual gestures,


poor coordination, and delayed speech which normally decreases as the child
grows. Autistic children also have a predisposition for echolalia as well as
poor use of language and spelling. Furthermore, autistic children may
engage in repetitive behavior which according to the Repetitive Behavior
Scale-Revised (RBS-R) can be exemplified in arranging objects in stacks or
rows, repetitive movements, sameness, ritualism and self-injury.
Poor social relations are a key component out autism and this can be
evidenced early in childhood through minimal response to social stimuli.
Autistic infants rarely smile, make eye contact or use gestures to express
themselves. Older autistic children between the ages of 3 and 5 have
difficulties understanding their peers facial expressions and emotions,
making friends, or articulating their thoughts and emotions due to language
impairment. The inability to socialize creates profound in autistic children
which further aggravates their isolation. Social deficiency is also a dominant
factor in autism spectrum disorders.

Asperger's Syndrome
This is a mild form of autism also referred to as high-functioning autism
that is more prevalent among boys than girls. This disorder is marked by
impaired social skills, poor physical coordination, restricted behavior and an
obsession to a particular person, animal or object such as a toy which is
often a subject of their verbosity. However, unlike autism, children with

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Asperger's Syndrome have normal development in language and cognitive


functions (Deiner, 2012).
Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS)
A majority of children with ASD fall under this category which is
considered to be milder than autism but more pervasive than Asperger's
syndrome. PDD-NOS or subthreshold autism is characterized by impaired
social development, higher language skills to autism but lower than
Asperger's syndrome and lower repetitive behaviors when compared to
Asperger's syndrome or autism. Children with PDD-NOS generally have
difficulty in one domain such as language or social development while other
domains fall below the standard threshold of developmental disorders
(Benson & Haith, 2009).
ASDs do not have a cure but treatment is used to neutralize deficits
according to the individual condition. However, combining special education
therapy and behavior therapy is a standard treatment procedure which if
introduced early enough can enable the child to gain total independence
(Deiner, 2012). Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is used to mitigate the
manifestation of persistent difficulties such as repetitive behavior, speech
and language therapy is used to improve the childs communication skills
while social skills therapy is essential in enabling the child to gain social
independence through improving their self esteem and overall body
language.

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention deficit


disorder (ADD)
ADHD is most prominent behavioral disorder in early childhood affecting
approximately 4% of children in early childhood. Similar to Asperger's
Syndrome, ADHD is more prominent in boys than in girls and occurs in
cormobidity with one or more other development disorders (Benson & Haith,
2009). The condition can be categorized as inattentive where children under
this category have low attention spans in schoolwork and games, are
oblivious that they are being spoken to, do not follow instruction, are
careless and forgetful as well as easily distracted. Hyperactive children are
unsettled when seated, noisy, talkative, and overactive. Impulsivity
symptoms children are impatient and generally speak out of turn (Deiner,
2012). ADD on the other hand has similar characteristics to inactive ADHD
although there is also the occurrence of lethargy, procrastination and fatigue
especially when demanding mental schoolwork is involved. Treatment of
ADHD and ADD requires both behavioral therapy and medication to yield
successful results (Deiner, 2012). Medications include stimulants such as
Focalin, Vyvanse and Ritalin which pacify the child and extend their attention
span. Behavior therapy is an effective way of mitigating destructive behavior
through positive reinforcement and social support (Benson & Haith, 2009).

CONCLUSION

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Early childhood learning disabilities are neurological conditions that can be


categorized through their information processing deficits. Developmental
Dyslexia limits the reading process by reducing the accuracy of recognition,
reading and understanding of words leading to phonemic difficulty.
Dysgraphia and Agraphia are exemplified in a below standard performance in
writing skills and spell during writing. Children with agraphia cannot encode
information into written words while those with dysgraphia have a
diminished ability to transcribe graphemes into written words. Dyscalculia is
the difficulty of learning simple math concepts and perceiving time which
currently affecting approximately 5% of the population. Autism spectrum
disorders are a broad range of pervasive developmental disorders
characterized by poor social relationships, poor communication skills,
repetitive behaviors and cognitive impediments. They form three main types
namely: Asperger's Syndrome which is the mildest, PDD-NOS and autism
which is the most severe. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a
behavioral disorder that frequently occurs in boys than in girls. The condition
can be categorized as inattentive, hyperactive or impulsivity with the central
denominator in all three categories being a short attention span. ADD is a
subset of ADHD that is typified by inattentiveness lethargy, procrastination
and fatigue.

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References
Benson, J., B. & Haith, M., M. (2009). Diseases and disorders in infancy and
early childhood. Missouri: Academic Press.
Deiner, P. (2012). Inclusive early childhood education: development,
resources, and practice. New Jersey: Cengage.
Wolraich, M. (2003). Disorders of development and learning. New York:
PMPH-USA.

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