Theoretical Perspectives on the Causes of Learning Disabilities


Understandably, one of the first questions parents ask when they learn their child has a learning disability is Why? What went wrong? Mental health professionals stress that since no one knows what causes learning disabilities, it doesn’t help parents to look backward to search for possible reasons. There are too many possibilities to pin down the cause of the disability with certainty. It is far more important for the family to move forward in finding ways to get the right help.

Scientists, however, do need to study causes in an effort to identify ways to prevent learning disabilities. Once, scientists thought that all learning disabilities were caused by a single neurological problem. But research has helped us see that the causes are more diverse and complex. New evidence seems to show that most learning disabilities do not stem from a single, specific area of the brain, but from difficulties in bringing together information from various brain regions. Therefore, causes of learning disabilities may be as diverse as the types of learning disabilities.

Clearly, the causes of learning disabilities are a nebulous area of research. There is lack of explicit cause and effect relationships, and studies have not been able to indicate any single factor directly responsible for causing learning disabilities. The condition is better understood by considering associated factors rather than cause and effect relationships. Research and practice in the field of learning disabilities have primarily focused on diagnosis and remedial education. To this end, it is necessary to explore the root cause of learning disabilities to be able to prevent them.

The field of learning disabilities has been plagued, almost since its inception, by fads and unproven theories. Little is actually known about the causes of learning disabilities, but we can presume that the students who exhibit them are as diverse as the indicators of the condition (Deutsch-Smith, 2004).

What is known about the etiology (cause) of learning disabilities is that abnormal brain structure and function play a significant role. Different abnormalities cause different types of learning disabilities. These neurological abnormalities can result from a variety of sources. The focus of this NASET LD Report will be to discuss the different theories regarding the etiology of learning disabilities.

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