Cause of Learning Disability

When parents get to face the fact that their child has a learning disorder, they cannot help but ask how their child got it, why, and what caused it.

Scientists are in the process of studying the causes of learning disability (LD) as they are also in the pursuit of finding ways to prevent it.

To date, there is actually no known exact cause of learning disability amidst chasing down probable and contributing factors leading to LD. There are simply too many matters to consider before pinning down its cause with detailed accuracy.

Mental health experts stress this to parents who insist on looking at the past for reasons that could have led their child to this condition. It is strongly advised that the family accept the situation, look positively forward and help find ways to improve the child’s condition instead.

Scientists once believed that all learning disabilities rooted from one specific area of the brain. Further research backed by the NIMH proved that the causes are far more complex and varied than arising from a single neurological malfunction.

Research showed that different regions of the brain encounter difficulty to piece together the information making it hard to “intellectualize” them.

A leading theory gaining popularity explains that learning disabilities emanate from slight disturbances in brain structures and functions. Oftentimes, these disturbances are believed to begin prior birth.

Errors affecting the development of fetal brain

As the fetal brain develops from a few universal cells during pregnancy, it grows into a new and complex structure known as neurons. These are billions of intricately interconnected nerve cells with specialized structures. It is during this cell evolution that things may go haywire in the developmental process that can alter or affect the formation or interconnection of the neurons.

Brain stem forms in the early pregnancy stages which controls breathing and digestion, the propellers of life. What goes to develop later is a deep ridge that separates the thinking part of the brain or cerebrum into two – the right and left brain hemispheres. Other areas follow to develop associated with the senses such as sound, sight, and those with thinking, emotion and attention.

Nerve cells grow and move to their necessary places to form brain structures forming networks along other brain parts. Information is shared through these networks transmitting them to other regions of the brain.

Development of the brain is very vulnerable to disturbances during the entire pregnancy. The fetus may not survive when disruption happens in the early stage, or if it happens to survive, the borne infant may suffer various disabilities and even mental retardation. If disturbances occur on the later stages of pregnancy where cells have started to develop accordingly, these disruptions may leave errors on cell location, connection and composition. Some scientific experts are convinced that these errors affecting fetal brain development are the culprit of learning disorders. All brain structures are present during birth.

Cracking brain development interferences

NIMH scientists and other fellow researchers are engaging in long hours studying the brain development’s natural process in the hopes of understanding the complex process and structure better when disruption or irregularities arise. By gaining full understanding of the process, scientists can start to identify and pinpoint exactly where things will go wrong.

In the course of these studies, other factors are being looked into such as genetic issues, abuse of substances, problems encountered during pregnancy and harmful toxins that can affect brain development.

Genetic Issues

It is a fact that learning disabilities have a tendency to run in the family that makes it a genetic issue. Children with difficulty in reading when it comes to hearing sounds of words usually take after a parent experiencing related difficulty. But of course, the parent’s difficulty already takes a different form in the child. This can be seen in a parent with a writing disorder having a child who has expressive language disorder. It goes to show that specific learning disorders are unlikely to be inherited directly. A slight brain dysfunction of a parent can lead to a child having full blown learning disability.

Aside from genetics, learning disability may actually be influenced by the environment of the family seeming the condition to be hereditary. If a parent has expressive language disorders, tendency is they do not communicate with their children well, or their language is distorted, they end up in less talk. This makes the child unable to acquire a sense of good language while growing up, making the child appear learning disabled.

Substance Abuse: Alcohol, Smokes and Drugs

Pregnant women are strongly advised not to take drugs, drink alcohol and smoke tobacco or cigarettes as these will affect the baby’s health since these are directly passed onto the fetus. The U.S. Public Health Service warns against the dangers of this unhealthy practice.

Data show that mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more prone to delivering smaller babies less than 5 pounds. This little weight makes the baby susceptible to health problems. LD is one of them. Alcohol also shrinks the chances of a baby to be born normal since alcohol can distort neurons that are just starting to develop. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a result of heavy alcohol intake during pregnancy. This is a condition that causes intellectual impairment, physical defects, low birth weight and hyperactivity in a child. Alcohol can also affect the child’s learning, memory and attention. It is better to steer clear from alcohol during pregnancy.

Conceiving women doing drugs especially cocaine in smoke-version called “cracks” are posing extreme dangers to their baby. These drugs can affect the development of the child’s brain receptors. Research shows that drug abuse causes receptor damage. The receptors are responsible for transmitting signals to the brain from our sensory motors directing us to react to our environment. If the receptors are damaged, there is difficulty in understanding sounds, speech and letters. This makes researchers believe that learning disorders and even ADHD are associated with faulty or damaged receptors.

A young pregnant girl who continues to engage in teenage alcohol abuse may give birth to a child with learning disabilities, among other things.

Pregnancy and delivery problems

One possible factor that can be attributed to learning disability is pregnancy complications. There are cases that the pregnant woman’s immune system gets to react to the fetus and treats it as an infection. This can lead to disruption in the child’s formation of brain cells forming in the wrong portion of the brain. Another factor is when the umbilical cord gets twisted around the baby’s neck temporarily interrupting the supply of oxygen during delivery. This sudden absence of oxygen can impair the baby’s brain functions that can lead to conditions of LD.

Environmental Toxins

A year after a child’s birth, production of neural networks and new brain cells still occur. A one-year old child’s cells are still prone to development disruptions.

As researchers explore relative factors leading to LD, their studies also look into environmental toxins that can be detrimental to a child’s brain development. The presence of harmful toxins found in the environment like lead and cadmium are still the highlights of neurological studies. Cadmium, an element used to create steel products, can mix with the soil where we grow food, while lead, a former component in gasoline and paint, can still be traced in water pipes. The National Institutes of Health sponsored a study to see the effects of exposing animals to lead. Rats exposed to lead showed significant changes in brainwaves reflecting slow learning ability. Lead exposure caused the animals to exhibit prolonged learning problems even when the lead has long been taken out.

Children with cancer undergoing radiation and chemotherapy can also be subject to learning problems since their cells get affected in the process. LD is more exhibited in children with brain tumors going through radiation.