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10 Common Myths About Learning Disabilities, Debunked

Children with learning disabilitiesAlthough research has shed a great deal of light on learning disabilities in recent years, they are still widely misunderstood. Many of the following myths have believers even in the professional community. Get the facts in Learning Disabilities: A to Z: A Complete Guide to Learning Disabilities from Preschool to Adulthood, by Corinne Smith, Ph.D., and Lisa Strick.

1. Myth: Mostly boys get learning disabilities.
Fact: Boys and girls are both at risk. Boys, however, are more likely to “act out” when bored or frustrated, so they get referred for evaluation and services more often than girls do. Parents of girls (and quiet boys) with learning problems may need to be assertive about getting appropriate help for their children at school.

2. Myth: Children can outgrow learning disabilities. If a child is having trouble in school, it is best to watch and wait.
Fact: Learning disabilities are permanent, biologically based conditions. While the skills of students with LD do improve over time with appropriate instruction, some deficits persist into adulthood. These children benefit most from early intervention.

3. Myth: Children with dyslexia (the medical term for “reading disabilities”) literally see backward.
Fact: The vision of these students does not cause their reading delays. Problems like reversing letters (saying or writing “b” for “d” ) or reading “saw” for “was” arise from inefficient information processing in different parts of the brain. Since they are not vision problems, learning disabilities cannot be cured by eye exercises or glasses.

4. Myth: Allergies can cause learning disabilities.
Fact: Children with LD have no more allergies than children who do not have LD, and the disabilities do not go away when allergies are treated. Although coughing, itching, and sneezing can make it harder for any child to do his best, there is no evidence that allergies alone interfere with the ability to learn basic skills.

5. Myth: Sugar makes children hyperactive.
Fact: Research does not support this idea. Well-controlled experiments find that children whose parents claim they become “hyper” after eating sugar show no differences in learning or behavior from when they haven’t consumed sugar. The stimulating environments in which sugary treats are offered — birthday parties, for example — probably contribute more to over-exuberant behavior.

6. Myth: Wearing colored lenses or putting special plastic overlays on the page can improve reading ability and comprehension.
Fact: There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that these devices produce dramatic or instantaneous improvement in reading results. Before paying for any kind of LD treatment, parents should ask what reliable research supports it. Anecdotal evidence (such as stories and quotes from people who swear they have been helped by a product or process) does not amount to scientific proof.

7. Myth: Artificial coloring, flavors, and preservatives in food, or aspirin and salicylates (natural compounds in fruits and vegetables), can cause hyperactivity.
Fact: While any child can benefit from improved nutrition, only a very small group of hyperactive preschoolers (about 3 percent) are helped by eliminating these substances from their diets. For the great majority, changes of diet have no impact. Vitamins also have no effect on learning disabilities.

8. Myth: Left-handedness causes learning problems.
Fact: Left-handedness itself is unrelated to learning. However, if a child becomes left-handed due to a brain impairment that makes it difficult to use her right hand, nearby brain areas affecting higher levels of learning may also be affected. When there is no impairment of this kind, left-handers learn as well as right-handers.

9. Myth: Children who skip the crawling stage will have reading delays.
Fact: Crawling has nothing to do with reading. Teaching a child to crawl (or perform any other motor activity) will not improve future response to reading instruction.

10. Myth: Learning disorders arise from problems with language.
Fact: About 60 percent of children experiencing reading delays have phonological-awareness (sound-processing) or other language weaknesses. The remaining 40 percent are slow to read because of difficulty maintaining attention, visual-perception disabilities, and/or problems with mastering basic learning strategies.

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