|Vol. 24, No. 14||August 1, 2002|
Behavioral Problems May Equal Learning Disabilities
by LORI WILLIAMS
Baylor College of Medicine
The class clown or playground bully might need a trip to the doctor rather than the principalís office.
"Behavior problems often are the first sign of an underlying developmental problem," said Sherry Vinson, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Children often will attempt to hide a learning deficit through disruptive behavior, she said. Often, once the developmental problem is identified, it can be specifically addressed and the behavioral problem lessens or disappears.
Some behaviors that are usually the first sign of a developmental problem are tantrums, aggression toward others, destructiveness, hyperactivity, food refusal and withdrawal. The child might also show self-aggression, inattention or immaturity.
"If a child is expected to do something she cannot do, a problem behavior may result," Vinson said. "For example, the child with delayed language development may act up to avoid language confrontation. Delayed children often seem as if they are not choosing to obey."
The subtleties of learning disabilities are difficult to distinguish, said Vinson, also a developmental pediatrician at Texas Childrenís Hospital and a former elementary and middle school teacher.
Developmental problems range from difficulty in one area, such as mathematics or reading, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism. The only way to determine the problem is through testing, she said.
Vinson said it is not unusual after testing to find that a child who has been barely passing each grade level is actually a gifted student who has a specific problem with one subject area.
"It also means that just because your child is making straight As, he or she is not automatically exempt from having a learning disability," she said. "There are many types of problems that could be involved."
When behavioral problems appear, psychoeducational testing should be arranged through the childís pediatrician. This testing can be done for children 3 years old and above through the local school district and for children under 3 through the Early Childhood Intervention Program, found at www.nectas.unc.edu.
"Determining the problem usually leads to the solution," Vinson said. "Parents often think their child is brilliant and the behavior problems are due to boredom. That happens sometimes, but itís more likely that a learning disability is involved."
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