Summer Fun in RecoveryAs parents and caregivers, we all want to ensure that the children in our lives receive the best possible care and are able to navigate the world with ease. However, sometimes children struggle in ways that can be challenging. Specifically, it can be difficult to determine whether or not a child's behavior is typical or indicative of a more serious issue.

Capital Area Pediatrics is proud to offer pediatric services that support families who are navigating the complexities of pediatric healthcare, from typical check-ups to more specific services. As part of this, we are committed to ensuring that children who are struggling with learning and attention disorders receive the care they need to thrive.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of learning and attention disorders in children. With an understanding of these indicators, parents and caregivers can take the necessary steps to get their children the help they need.

What It Means To Have a Learning or Attention Disorder

A learning or attention disorder refers to a neurological-based condition that can affect the brain's ability to process and understand information, concentrate, or behave appropriately. More specifically, learning disorders can interfere with learning basic skills like reading, writing, or processing numbers. Attention disorders, on the other hand, typically refer to difficulty maintaining focus or controlling impulses.

These disorders can affect a child's life in both the short and long term. In school, a child may struggle with their academic performance or have trouble following directions. They may also be more prone to frustration and act out in class or on the playground. Additionally, they may find it difficult to make and keep friends.

Because of this, attention and learning disorders are sometimes mistaken as certain psychiatric disorders. Though they can co-exist with mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression, it is important to understand that the two are not the same.

Common Learning Disorders

  • Dyslexia is a learning disability that can impede a child's ability to comprehend and learn new words, which can have an impact on their reading, spelling, and writing skills. Children with dyslexia may experience difficulty reading despite having the intellectual potential to be a more advanced reader. Experts estimate that approximately 5-17% of the US population has dyslexia.
  • Dyscalculia is a disorder that affects a child's ability to understand number-based information and mathematical concepts. Children with dyscalculia may experience difficulty understanding numbers and how to perform mathematical calculations.
  • Dysgraphia is a disorder that affects a child's handwriting ability and fine motor skills. Children with dysgraphia have a difficult time forming letters and/or spacing them correctly, and as a result, may struggle with basic handwriting tasks.

Common Attention Disorders

While there are a variety of attention disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common. This disorder impacts the brain's ability to focus and can cause someone to be easily distracted, have difficulty concentrating, or exhibit hyperactive behaviors, such as fidgeting or talking incessantly. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that around 6 million children across the country have ADHD(opens in a new tab).
There are three presentations of ADHD, including:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation involves difficulty sustaining focus, paying attention, and staying organized.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation presents with excessive movement, talking, and difficulty controlling impulses.
  • Combined presentation, as the name suggests, is a combination of the two presentations listed above.

You may also be familiar with the term ADD, or attention deficit disorder. ADD and ADHD have been used interchangeably for decades, and indeed refer to the same condition, but ADD is no longer considered an official diagnosis. However, some people do still use the term to describe predominantly inattentive ADHD.

Spotting Disorders and Learning Disabilities in Children

As a parent or caregiver, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of learning and attention disorders. If you notice that your child is having difficulty in school or with learning academic skills, it may be a sign that they are struggling with an underlying issue. Some common signs of these disorders include:

  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Difficulty with math
  • Difficulty paying attention, especially in the classroom
  • Difficulty listening to or following directions
  • Difficulty with time management and completing assignments on time
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Poor memory
  • Fluctuating moods
  • Inability to cope with frustration
  • 'Hyperfocus,' or the tendency to concentrate exclusively on one task or activity
  • 'Time blindness,' or inaccurate perception of time

It is also worth noting that with ADHD in particular, girls tend to be underdiagnosed. This is in part because girls often learn to conceal(opens in a new tab) their ADHD symptoms or express them differently than boys, making it more difficult to recognize.

The Importance of a Timely Diagnosis

It is important for children to get the help and resources they need as soon as possible if they are struggling with a learning or attention disorder.  Unfortunately, diagnosis of these disorders can often be delayed due to misconceptions or lack of awareness.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA(opens in a new tab)) allows for children with a 'specific learning disability,' such as dyslexia, to receive special education services in the public school system. This can involve personalized instructions, accommodations, and modifications to help the child access their education. It is important for children to receive a diagnosis early so that they can get the help they need to succeed in school.

Unfortunately, many children go undiagnosed because their symptoms are overlooked or misattributed. This can lead to long-term difficulties in school and beyond, such as low self-esteem, low academic performance, and behavioral issues. In addition, ADHD is known to co-occur with other conditions, such as conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, or mood disorders.

If you suspect that your child may be struggling with a learning or attention disorder, it is important to discuss this with their doctor.

How To Get Help For Your Child

At Capital Area Pediatrics, we understand how difficult it can be for parents to navigate these issues, which is why we are here to help your family regarding these disorders. Please request an appointment for a consult.  Based upon historical information from you, as well as a behavioral-learning intake packet that we ask you to complete prior to your consult, our providers can help piece out what the potential issues are as well as diagnose some common disorders. If your child’s story is more complex, we will be able to refer your family to a trusted partner for further in-depth evaluation.

We are also proud to provide resources to every family who visits us. Resources can include referrals for in-depth testing of children suspected of having a disorder, reputable books and websites, at-home strategies that can be implemented, as well as educational support as you begin managing a learning disorder or ADHD diagnosis.

Whether a diagnosis is made in-house or via a referral, our providers can assist your family with basic medication management. By doing so, our goal is to keep your child's care within the medical home as much as possible. We do our best to make it easy to make medication follow-up appointments and get refills, see the whole picture of what is going on with your child, and make referrals for complex care when needed.

We understand that managing learning and attention disorders can be difficult, but with the right help, children can learn new strategies and become more successful in school and life. If you think your child may be struggling with a learning or attention disorder, contact Capital Area Pediatrics to schedule an appointment today.  We are here to help you every step of the way.

If your child needs pediatric care, Capital Area Pediatrics offers top-tier pediatric care to families at five surrounding locations throughout Northern Virginia. Our dedicated team is committed to providing everything from newborn care to mental health services for your child. All of our providers are accepting new patients and would be happy to reconnect with our existing families. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.