Psychologist Dr. Andrew Kahn Shares How To Tell If Your Child Has A Learning Or Thinking Disability - Exclusive

About 70 million Americans have learning or thinking disabilities, which include difficulties like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia (via Understood). Sometimes it can be hard to spot signs of a learning or thinking disability in a child since they can often be elusive and look different in everyone. In fact, according to Dr. Andrew Kahn, "It is very common for neurodivergent children with more subtle presentations of learning differences to go undiagnosed in childhood, or to be diagnosed significantly later than children with more noticeable forms of misbehavior or learning difficulties." This is especially true for young girls, as research suggests that girls go undiagnosed more often than boys.

In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Andrew Kahn shared the signs parents and educators can look out for to identify if a child has a learning or thinking disability. Dr. Kahn is a licensed psychologist at Understood, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the neurodivergent community. He specializes in working with individuals who think and learn differently and has worked within the public school system providing training, evaluations, direct consultation, and therapeutic support to students, their families, and staff for almost 20 years.

There is nothing wrong with you

First of all, it's important to understand that learning and thinking differences are simply variations in how the brain processes things. It doesn't mean there is something wrong. "One of the main reasons why children may be undiagnosed is because of parents' concern about being labeled or stigmatized," says Dr. Andrew Kahn. "While stigmas can feel scary, it's important that parents still seek support from a physician or psychologist to ensure their child gets the support they need to thrive."

Everyone is different, so there is no one tell-tale sign that someone has a learning or thinking difficulty. However, there are some key things to look out for. Dr. Kahn advises parents to take note of behaviors and write them down, including where and when you notice them, in addition to asking your child's teachers if they have noticed anything. Some things to look out for include difficulty paying attention and sitting still, as well as interrupting others or talking constantly. Other signs might include losing their train of thought, trouble following directions, or issues in social situations, like not understanding social cues or saying inappropriate things. Another indicator could be having issues with certain subjects, like math, reading, or writing.

Ways to seek support

According to Dr. Andrew Kahn, many signs of learning and thinking differently can be subtle and internalized, such as "task avoidance, withdrawal, refusal to speak, fearfulness, anxiety, or signs of depression. ... It is always important to observe children's behavior with a critical eye, as behavior is often misperceived as 'naughtiness' or intentional, rather than as evidence of an overwhelmed child lacking skills to manage their stress and differences."

If you feel lost and don't know where to start, Understood has a free step-by-step tool that can help available on their website. It's called "Take NOTE," which stands for noticing, observing, talking, and engaging. The tool walks you through signs of neurodivergent behavior to look out for; tips for how to practice observation; advice for seeking support from doctors, teachers, and mental health professionals; and how to speak with your child. "As a parent or guardian, it's important to remember you are the first expert on your child," says Dr. Kahn. "If you notice signs of learning differences, trust your gut and explore them."

The mission of Understood is to help those who learn and think differently discover their potentials, take control, find community, and stay on positive paths along each stage of life's journey.