Muscular dystrophy is an umbrella term used to describe a class of genetic disorders characterized by progressive muscle weakness. Some types of muscular dystrophy can also be associated with learning disabilities or cognitive problems.
What are learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities are neurological processing problems, which make it more difficult to acquire skills or knowledge, and learn to read and write, or do math. They can also interfere with organizational skills, time management, abstract reasoning, memory, and attention span. Some people with learning disabilities have a difficult time interacting with others and building relationships.
Causes of learning disabilities in muscular dystrophy
The cause of learning disabilities associated with muscular dystrophy is not well understood. It is thought that the same mutations that cause muscle weakness may also interfere with normal brain function. Some of the proteins that are faulty in muscular dystrophy patients also have important functions in the brain. Structural proteins are responsible for regulating many of the cell-to-cell interactions, which are vital for normal brain function.
Diagnosis of learning disabilities
Children with muscular dystrophy should undergo standard testing with a developmental or pediatric neuropsychologist to determine whether they have learning disabilities. Outside of these evaluations, teachers and caregivers are usually the first to notice when a student is struggling, either mentally, developmentally, or socially, and can recommend that tests be performed.
Management of learning disabilities
While there is no cure for specific learning disorders, many strategies can help students improve their math, reading, and writing skills. A learning specialist can help determine the most effective strategies for a particular student. This may mean using repetition or memorization, or using a picture to illustrate a word. Learning to convert one sort of problem into another format may help some students (such as changing a math problem into a word problem, or vice versa). In multimodal learning, students use their other senses (such as touch, taste, and smell) to help with the learning process.
Students may also need:
- an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 education plan
- adaptive or assistive technologies in the classroom, such as keyboards for writing
- additional time to take tests and exams
- special considerations about tardiness, absences, shortened school days, and missed class work and homework due to physical therapy sessions
- tutoring or additional time to turn in assignments
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