Nav: Home

Learning disabilities: Kids and families struggle beyond the academics

June 28, 2018

Most research on learning disabilities focuses on remediating specific academic skills like reading and math. But struggles at school and with homework can create an enormous amount of stress and anxiety for children and families, finds a study published June 4 in the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

"At least half the time when I give feedback from an evaluation, a parent becomes teary," says neuropsychologist and study leader Deborah Waber, PhD, who directs the Learning Disabilities Program at Boston Children's Hospital. "The effect on families is not trivial, and it's been under-appreciated. It's always good to ask families about stress and anxiety if they report concerns about academics."

Waber and her colleagues developed a survey-based screening instrument to gauge the effects of learning problems on the child's and family's quality of life. They first sent a 35-question survey to 151 families whose child had been referred to them for evaluation of learning disabilities. They then shortened the survey to 15 questions and sent it to families in a single lower- to middle-income school district in the greater Boston area.

Of the 325 parents or guardians who completed the revised survey, 93 had children who had been identified as having learning problems and were receiving special education support on formal Individualized Education Plans. The remaining 232 had children in general education.

Survey questions focused on such issues as parents' anxiety about their children, children's anxiety and frustration over school work, children taking a long time to complete homework, having to limit family activities because of homework and family stress caused by the child's learning problems.

Psychological fallout

The two groups showed a dramatic difference. Compared with the general education group, parents of children with learning problems reported significantly more quality-of-life problems related to academics, for both the child and the family. Quality-of-life problems fell in the "at risk" or "clinically significant" range in half of the learning problems group, versus only 15 percent of the general education group.

The quality-of-life impacts of learning problems were greater for middle-school-age children than younger elementary-age children, and were greater in boys than girls, with the gender difference widening in the older grades. However, families of children with and without learning problems gave relatively similar ratings to teachers and school support systems, suggesting that they did not blame shortcomings of the school for the child/family distress.

Waber and her colleagues now routinely give the survey to parents whose children are being evaluated in the Learning Disabilities Program. They plan to follow up a year later to see whether quality of life has improved and, if so, to what extent the improvement is related to how the schools responded to the evaluation. Since the survey is easy to administer through an online link, Waber hopes to see others adopt it.

"We hope its use will make schools, other educators and pediatricians more aware of the distress children with learning problems and their families may be experiencing and take steps to address it," Waber says.
-end-
The study was supported by the Program for Patient Safety and Quality at Boston Children's Hospital and an anonymous gift. Coauthors were Ellen C. Boiselle, PhD, Peter W. Forbes, MS, Jonathan M. Girard, BA, and Georgios D. Sideridis, PhD of Boston Children's Hospital.

About Boston Children's Hospital

Boston Children's Hospital, the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center. Its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. Today, more than 3,000 scientists, including 8 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine and 12 Howard Hughes Medical Investigators comprise Boston Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children's is now a 415-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care. For more, visit our Vector and Thriving blogs and follow us on social media @BostonChildrens, @BCH_Innovation, Facebook and YouTube.

Boston Children's Hospital

Related Stress Articles:

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.
Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
Beware of evening stress
Stressful events in the evening release less of the body's stress hormones than those that happen in the morning, suggesting possible vulnerability to stress in the evening.
How plants cope with stress
With climate change comes drought, and with drought comes higher salt concentrations in the soil.
Gene which decreases risk of social network-related stress, increases finance-related stress risk
Researchers have discovered that the same gene which increases your risk of depression following financial stress as you grow older also reduces your chance of depression associated with friendship and relationships stresses when young- your social network.
Innate stress
A team of researchers from the Higher School of Economics and the RAS Vavilov Institute of General Genetics has been able to statistically monitor the impact of the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) on the subjective evaluation of well-being among men.
Is a stress shot on the horizon?
Rats immunized weekly for three weeks with beneficial bacteria showed increased levels of anti-inflammatory proteins in the brain, more resilience to the physical effects of stress, and less anxiety-like behavior.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.