Students with academic skills disorders are often far behind their classmates in developing reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. The diagnoses in this category include:
– Developmental reading disorder (basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension)
– Developmental writing disorder (written expression)
– Developmental arithmetic disorder (math calculation, math reasoning)
Many aspects of speaking, listening, reading, writing, and arithmetic overlap and build on the same brain capabilities. It is not surprising, then, that people can be diagnosed as having more than one area of learning disability. For example, the ability to understand language underlies learning to speak. Therefore, any disorder that hinders the ability to understand language will also interfere with the development of speech, which in turn hinders learning to read and write. A single gap in the brain’s operation can disrupt many types of activity.
Developmental Reading Disorder
This type of disorder, also commonly referred to as dyslexia, is quite widespread. In fact, reading disabilities affect 2 to 8 percent of elementary school children. When you think of what is involved in the “three R’s”–reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic–it is amazing that most of us do learn them. Consider that to read, you must simultaneously:
– Focus attention on the printed marks and control eye movements across the page
– Recognize the sounds associated with letters
– Understand words and grammar
– Build ideas and images
– Compare new ideas to what you already know
– Store ideas in memory
A person can have problems in any of the tasks involved in reading. However, researchers have found that a significant number of children with reading disorders share an inability to distinguish or separate the sounds in spoken words. Some children have problems sounding out words, while others have trouble with rhyming games, such as rhyming “cat” with “bat.” Yet, scientists have found these skills fundamental to learning to read.
However, there is more to reading than recognizing words. If the brain is unable to form images or relate new ideas to those stored in memory, the reader can’t understand or remember the new concepts. That may lead to other types of reading disabilities, especially when the focus of reading shifts from word identification to comprehension.
Developmental Writing Disorder
Writing too, involves several brain areas and functions. The brain networks for vocabulary, grammar, hand movement, and memory must all be in good working order. If they are not, a developmental writing disorder may result from problems in any of these areas. For example, a child with a writing disability, particularly one with an expressive language disorder, might be unable to compose complete, grammatical sentences.
Developmental Arithmetic Disorder
Arithmetic involves recognizing numbers and symbols, memorizing facts, aligning numbers, and understanding abstract concepts like place value and fractions. Any of these may be difficult for children with developmental arithmetic disorders, also called dyscalculia. Problems with number concepts or other basic math concepts are likely to show up early. Disabilities that appear in the later grades are more often tied to problems in reasoning.