'They just learn differently': Recognizing the signs of learning disabilities

KOMO photo.

SEATTLE, Wash. - There is always a lot of excitement with the start of every new school year. But there is also a lot of apprehension.

This can be especially true for students who have learning difficulties or disabilities. Experts estimate one in every five students has a learning difficulty, which can include things like ADHD or dyslexia. Experts also say many of these cases go undiagnosed, or worse: they're mistaken for laziness or apathy.

"The number one myth is that these kids aren't as smart as their peers," Kevin Hager with the National Center for Learning Disabilities says. "The number two myth is that they're lazy."

Hager says both are often untrue.

"Much of the time these kids are trying much harder than they're peers," Hager says. "They just learn differently."

Recognizing the difference and taking action can help a student flourish and succeed in school. Parents like Michelle Smalley know this first hand. She has a child with ADHD and dyslexia.

"These kids are just as bright," Smalley says. "It's a difference in how they learn, and that's what has to be addressed."

Signs your child may have a learning difficulty include: no desire to read; a tendency to avoid school; and a drop in self esteem around the start of the school year.

Well-intentioned parents may mistake these signs for a lack of interest in academics. Smalley and Hager say it's usually because the student doesn't realize why it's harder for him or her to keep up in class.

The Ad Council has created a website to help parents of students with a possible learning difficulty. You can find information at

If you suspect your child has a learning difficulty, start by having an open and reassuring conversation with them. Parents can then consider approaching a school counselor or doctor for ways to help improve the classroom experience.

KOMO News is helping you and your children get ready for the school year. Need more tips about going back to school? Check out our back-to-school page.

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