Parents Are Key to Early Detection of Learning Disabilities

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Early intervention helps children with learning disabilities realize their full intellectual potential. The Learning Tree, written by early childhood expert Stanley Greenspan, M.D,. helps parents and educators identify a child's unique learning profile and focuses on practical ways to enhance "thinking-based" rather than "memory-based" learning.

Tremendous progress has been made in identifying and providing effective therapies for children with learning disabilities, yet a recent poll commissioned by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation reveals that a majority of parents and educators still have an alarming lack of knowledge about learning disabilities and their root causes. This can put many children at risk of late diagnosis and delayed treatment, losing valuable years of early intervention.

The confusion may stem from the fact that a "learning disability" is not a diagnosis, but rather a symptom of a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive and process information. This often leads to problems in learning how to read, write or do math. While a learning disability can't be "grown out of" or cured as some mistakenly believe, the encouraging news is that the earlier it is identified, the sooner strategies can be introduced to help compensate for the particular processing problem.

"Children who learn differently or with difficulty need our help to tap into their full intellectual potential," writes psychiatrist and early childhood development expert Stanley Greenspan. In his new book The Learning Tree, Overcoming Learning Disabilities From the Ground Up Dr. Greenspan helps parents identify symptoms of processing disorders in their children early, and shares strategies that help compensate for the various processing issues that can impede a child's love of learning.

"Each child has a unique profile," writes Greenspan. "The solution is to identify the essential sensory or processing skills that need to be strengthened. For example a child may have a very strong visual memory--if you show her a series of cards, she'll readily remember the picture and words written under them--but she may have poor visual-spacial processing. Some children may have motor problems but be very good with abstract visual problem-solving." The Learning Tree teaches parents to be aware of these processing differences when interacting with their children and outlines playful exercises parents can use to engage their children to reinforce the missing developmental steps that are interfering with learning.

Yet even with enhanced awareness, some cases of learning disabilities remain undetected until as late as the fourth or fifth grade. How did it go unnoticed in the earlier grades? Is the school at fault for not identifying it sooner?

"Here is the irony," writes Greenspan. "Sometimes children have such good memories that in the early grades they slide by on them and don't develop an understanding of the concepts. In fact, they don't really know that they don't understand the material because they can recite it to you. When the concepts become more abstract, maybe around fourth of fifth grade, and memory alone isn't enough, learning disabilities can show up seemingly out of the blue."

"On the other hand," Greenspan continues, "kids who have to work to understand at an early age because they don't have great memories sometimes develop a deeper insight into the concepts so that they can keep them in mind. As the concepts become more abstract, the analytic abilities that their poor memories made them nurture support their learning. They often flourish in college. There is more than one Nobel prize-winning physicist with a poor memory who struggled in the early grades because of the rote teaching method but compensated by developing strong abstract thinking skills."

It is important to banish the misconception that learning disabilities are a result of laziness or lack of intelligence. With early intervention and the help of engaged parents and teachers, children with learning disabilities will realize their full intellectual potential.

About The Learning Tree, Overcoming Learning Disabilities From the Ground Up: Written by Stanley I. Greenspan and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, The Learning Tree offers practical advice for parents of children from infancy through high school to identify the symptoms of a learning disability, and offers exercises to reinforce the missing developmental steps that interfere with learning. Published by Da Capo Press.

About Dr. Stanley Greenspan: Dr. Greenspan's clinical work as Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School resulted in some of the most effective developmental therapies used today. His many influential books for children with special needs include The Challenging Child and Engaging Autism. He is renowned for creating the widely used Floortime therapy. For further information please visit: (


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