Abnormal Psychology

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The Nature of Psychopathology and Abnormal Psychology
The Diagnosis of Mental Disorders

Common Types of Learning Disabilities

Acording to WETA's website, www.ldonline.org/, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, auditory and visual processing disorders, and non-verbal learning disabilities are a few common learning disabilities:

Dyslexia is a common type of reading disorder.

  • Current definition: neurobiological in origin and conceptualizing the reading disability as a specific type of disability rather than one of several general disabilities. Difficulties with accurate and fluent word recongition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities a result of phonological awareness deficit. Associated features include problems in reading comprehension and poor vocabulary development resulting in a lack of actual reading. In other words, people who exhibit dyslexia tend to spend more time working on the mechanincs of the letters and words than on the comprehension of the material.
  • Dyslexia is considered a learning diasbility because it can make learning extremely difficult for individuals who are diagnosed with it. The severity of the learning disability also has an effect on the individual. If it is severe enough, special education may be recommended for the individual (International Dyslexia Association, 2007).
  • Neurological basis of the disorder has been confirmed through functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (also known as fMRI) and magnetoencephalography. The images indicate that the left hemisphere posterior brain system does not respond properly to reading.
  • Many schools may use a model called the Response to Intervention (RTI) to identify children with learning disabilites. This model takes children who show a reading level below what they should be and given these children individual supplemental reading instruction. If the children's reading level does not improve as it should, a learning disability in reading may be identified as positive. Schools are encouraged to start screening the children as early as possible to catch any signs of a learning disability so the child can receive the help they need to continue on with their education (International Dyslexia Association, 2007).
  • If the individual does not go through the RTI evaluation, a formal evaluation is required. In a formal evaluation, assessments will be provided to the individual who is suspected of having the disability. If there is any indication that an individual has a learning disabilty, an individualized intervention plan would be put in place to accommodate the individual's unique learning needs. These assessments could be provided either in a school setting like the RTI or in a formal, professional setting with specialists on the matter.
  • When many people hear the term dyslexia, they think that means people with this disability 'read backwards.' This is not necessarily true. It is true that the letters may become jumbled to a dyslexic individual, because they may have difficulty remembering the sounds the letters make or forming memories of the words (International Dyslexia Association, 2007).
  • The following link from NPR's All Things Considered discusses the possibility of a genetic link for dyslexia.
  • Many people have been diagnosed with Dyslexia, including celebrities such as Orlando Bloom, Jay Leno, Kiera Knightley, Robin Williams, and Albert Einstein
  • Dyslexia is a life-long disorder. Treatment for individuals with dyslexia may help individuals learn to read and write as they normally should. It is important for teachers and tutors to introduce a multi-sensory learning method for individuals with dyslexia. It also helps if the student receives immediate feedback so they can develop word recognition skills. Individualized help for individuals with dyslexia is good because it allows the individual to continue the learning process at his or her own pace (International Dyslexia Association, 2007).


According to WETA (2010), Dyscalculia is a mathematics disorder.

  • Current definition: Dyscalculia is a broad term for severe difficulties in math. It includes all types of math problems ranging from the inability to understand the meaning of numbers to the inability to apply math principles to solve problems.
  • According to National Center for Learning Disabilities, this is a lifelong disorder as well. Since math disorders can be so different, the effects they have vary from individual to individual.. For example, an individual who presents difficulties in processing language will have different issues than a person who has difficulties in regards to spatial relationships (National Center for Learning Disabilities, [NCLD] 2006).
  • In early childhood, children with dyscalculia may show issues in regards to making sense of the numbers, sorting objects by their physical appearances such as size, shape and color, or recognizing patterns. These children may also show some difficulties in learning to count and matching numbers as well (National Center for Learning Disabilities [NCLD], 2006).
  • School-aged children with dyscalculia may show difficulties when trying to solve basic math problems involving simple addition and subtraction. It may also be difficult for these children to remember certain math facts and be able to apply them to solve a math problem. A weakness in the visual-spatial skills may also arise at this point. In this case, the child may know the math facts but experience difficulties in putting them down on paper and work them out (NCLD, 2006).
  • For adolescents and adults who have not mastered the basic math skills, moving on to more difficult math problems can prove to be difficult for them. Language processing disorders canmake learning math difficult as well because the individual may not understand the math vocabulary presented to them (NCLD, 2006).
  • Some symptoms of Dyscalculia may include but are not limited to:

    • Frequent difficulties with arithmetic, confusing the signs: +, −, ÷, x
    • Difficulty with everyday tasks like checking change and reading analog clocks
    • Often unable to grasp and remember mathematical concepts, rules, formulas, and sequences.
    • An inability to read a sequence of numbers, or transposing them when repeated, such as turning 56 into 65.
    • Difficulty keeping score during games

  • Acording to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, students who are evaluated for math disorders are usually interviewed about their range of math abilites. Tests may be given to the student to determine whether the students abilites are at the level in which they should be at while also noting specific strengths and weaknesses (2006).


  • Treating dyscalulia requires the student to fully understand their own strengths and weaknesses in regards to the math disorder. Parents and teachers can work together to form strategies to help the student improve their math skills. Tutors are usually a good way to help the student outside of the classroom. Repeated practice of straighforward ideas can make learning the math concepts easier for these children. Some other strategies include using graph paper so the individual can organize their thoughts better on the paper, finding different ways to approach math facts, starting with specific concrete examples before moving on to more abstract principles, and placing the child in a place with little distractions with all the materials needed for the study (NCLD, 2006).

According to WETA (2010), Dysgraphia is a writing disorder:

  • Dysgraphia can be defined as a deficiency in the ability to write, regardless of the ability to read, and is not due to intellectual impairment. Dyspgraphia is a neurological disorder and usually appears when a child first learns to write (Voice of America, 2008).
  • The cause of dysgraphia is unknown. Early recognition of dysgraphia can help the individual by having them perform special exercises when writing to increase muscle strength and memories of what it feels like to write certain letters (Voice of America, 2008)
  • Teachers can help children with dygraphia by allowing the student to take tests by recording their answers into a voice recorder or typing out their answers on a typewriter or computer instead of writing it down on a piece of paper (Voice of America, 2008).
  • According to Russell (2007), there are three subtypes of dysgraphia:

    • Dyslexic dysgraphia: when spontaneously written work is usually illegible while copied work is usually okay. Someone who presents dyslexic dysgraphia does not mean they also have dyslexia, although they are often found together.
    • Motor dysgraphia: usually linked to deficient fine motor skills. Most written work is usually illegible, even if it has been copied. Long periods of writing may be painful and the letters will get worse as the person continues to write. Spelling is not affected with motor dysgraphia.
    • Spatial dysgraphia: usually has idifficulties understanding the space available on the page. Again, written work, both spontaneous or copied is usually illegible.

  • According to Voice of America (2008), some symptoms of Dysgraphia include but are not limited to:

    • a mixture of upper and lower case letters in a written work
    • pain in the hand and arm as well as muscle spasms
    • irregular letter shapes and sizes within a written work

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

  • According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, auditory processing disorder interupts the way in which the brain recognizes and interprets sounds. Children with APD often do not recognize the subtle differences in sounds, even though they may be loud and clear to another individual. Loud environments may cause these issues to become even worse (2004).
  • The causes of APD are presently unknown. It may appear that a child with APD can hear normally, but they may have problems using the sounds they hear for speech and language. APD can be associated with conditions such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism, autism spectrum disorder, specific language impairment, pervasive developmental disorder, or developmental delay (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD], 2004).
  • According to the NIDCD, Children with APD may have normal hearing and intelligence but can show any of the following symptoms (2004):

    • issues in regards to paying attention and remembering information that has been presented orally
    • issues in regards to carrying out multi-phase directions
    • appear to have poor listening skills
    • require more time to process information
    • academic performance may be lower than normal
    • some behavior problems may be present
    • language issues may also be present (the child may confuse certain syllables and have difficulties with learning vocabulary)

  • Professional observation is neccessary to determine whether a child has APD. An audiologic evaluation will be given to the child to determine the softest sounds the child is capable of hearing as well as other tests to show whether the child can recogize sounds and words in sentences (NIDCD, 2004).
  • Treatments are still being studied for child who have APD. The NIDCD lists the following as some available treatments for children with APD (2004):

    • Auditory trainers allow the child or adult to focus on the information being presented by taking out any of the background noise that would otherwise be a distracter to the individual. An example of this would be a chile wearing a special headset in the classroom and the teacher using a sort of microphone connected to the headset so the child will hear only what the teacher has to say.
    • Envionment modifications may also be suggested to aide those individuals with APD. Here, the acoustics in the room can be modified, or even something as simple and placing the individual in a different spot in the room.
    • Exercises in language building skills can be introduced to the child to help them improve their vocabulary.
    • Auditory memory enhancement helps the child to look at the basic information presented and to put the extra details aside.

Visual Processing Disorder

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (2003), the brain can process visual information in many different ways. There are several different categories in which an individual with this disorder may have difficulties in. The individual is also not limited to having difficulties in just one of these categories.

  • These categories include:

    • Visual discrimination is when the individual uses the sense of sight to notice and compare the features of different items to distinguish one item from another. An individual with difficultes in this category may have difficulties in regards to observing a difference between two similiar letters, objects or patterns (NCLD, 2003).
    • Visual figure-ground discrimination involves discriminating the difference between a figure and its background. An individual having difficulties in this category may have problems finding a certain piece of information on a page full of words or numbers. They may also have difficulties seeing an image if there is a competing background (NCLD, 2003).
    • Visual sequencing involves the ability to distinguish between symbols, words, and images. Individuals experiencing difficulites in this category may find themselves unable to stay in the correct spot while reading (skipping lines or re-reading the same line over and over again), have difficulties in regards to using a seperate answer sheet, reversing or misreading letters and words, and even understanding math equations (NCLD, 2003).
    • Visual motor processing involves using feedback from the eyes to coordinate movement of other body parts. Individuals may show difficultes in regards to staying between the lines while writing (or coloring), copying from a board onto a piece of paper, moving around without bumping into things, and have issues in regards to playing sports that require timed and precise movements in space (NCLD, 2003).
    • There are two types of visual memory in which individuals may have difficulties with. The first one has to do with the ability to recall something that was seen a long time ago. The second one has to do with the ability to recall something that was seen recently. An individual may show difficulties in regards to remembering how to spell familiar words, remember phone numbers, reading comprehension, as well as typing on a keyboard or pad (NCLD, 2003).
    • Visual closure is the ability to know what an object is when only certain parts of that object are visible. An individual might show difficultes recognizing an object in a picture that is not represented as its whole self (for example, showing a picture of a truck with no wheels), identifying a word with a letter missing, and recognizing a face when just one feature (such as the nose) is missing (NCLD, 2003).
    • Spatial relationships is the ability to identify an object in space and relate it to oneself. An understanding of space is required in this category. An individual who may show difficulties in regards to getting from one place to another, spacing of words and letters on a page, judging time, and reading maps National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2003).

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