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What Is the Connection between Mental Health and Learning Disabilities?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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The connection between mental health and learning disabilities might develop as depression if disabilities are not identified and addressed early. Children with learning disabilities face a greater risk of mental health problems as they mature. Teens might exhibit poor mental health and learning disabilities by turning to drug or alcohol abuse. Learning-disabled adolescents also face higher drop-out rates, trouble with the law, and higher rates of teen pregnancy.

One link between mental health and learning disabilities stems from social interactions. People affected with learning disabilities sometimes misinterpret body language, facial expressions, and simple conversation. These deficiencies might cause them to act inappropriately in social situations, leading to teasing or alienation. Problems could intensify if attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) accompanies learning disabilities.

Depression might develop as a side effect of withdrawal from social activities. Signs of major depression might continue for weeks, while mild depression typically lasts longer. A child might be unable to express feelings of sadness, which could be interpreted as part of his or her personality as a loner. Teens who withdraw might react with aggression or anger.

Self-esteem also plays a role in the connection between mental health and learning disabilities. A child might lose interest in school as he or she falls behind, prompting frustration and a sense of inadequacy. Physical symptoms might develop that result in missing school, putting the child further behind academically. The learning-disabled child might feel stupid and act up to gain attention.

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Mental-health experts advise parents to watch for signs of depression in children identified as learning disabled. Any change in grooming, eating, or sleeping patterns might indicate the onset of depression. Loss of interest in activities and lethargy also could represent signs of depression. Some children suffering from depression have trouble concentrating or making decisions. They might also talk of suicide, which signals the need for professional help.

Learning disabilities might stem from a central nervous disorder that prevents normal processing of information. If combined with ADHD, a short attention span typically complicates receiving and communicating verbal or written information. Some children with ADHD can be treated with medication to improve their ability to focus.

Signs of learning disabilities include transposing numbers or letters when reading or writing. A child might be unable to recognize the difference between a B and a D, for example. He or she might also exhibit coordination difficulties when attempting simple tasks. Trouble with the concept of time, difficulty following directions, and losing items might also indicate a need to test for learning disabilities.

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