What Steps to Take If Your Child Thinks She May Have a Learning Disability

Updated on December 06, 2014
T.T. asks from San Antonio, TX
12 answers

what steps do I take now that my child has expressed concern over having a learning disability / OCD??

I was talking to my 13yo last night and she said "I can't help but count, I count stuff I don't need to count, my steps, garage doors on the way home, cars, dogs, words the teacher says, and sometimes it gets in the way. but I cant help it."

Is this something to be concerned about? Should I take her to her family doctor to get her opinion? Should I just tell her to pay more attention? (this would be my go to option)

But I am really at a loss of what to do. Do any of y'all have any advice or experience with something like this?

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your input. I plan on calling her doc Monday morning. I do not have any experience with anything like this, she has had difficulty concentrating in school before, but sitting with her and working with her helped. But this is the first time she told me she is having a problem like this, she didn't use "learning disability" I did on this post, not with her. I was at a loss as to what exactly her excessive counting was. I looked up OCD it seems way more extreme that what she described. Anyway, I'll talk with her more this weekend and I'll call her doctor to start whatever process we need to start. Thank you all for your time and input.

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answers from Philadelphia on

If she is telling you this is interfering with her life and that she must count/ can not help but count, then it is a problem and should be taken very seriously. OCD can eventually take over a persons life if they do not learn coping skills to deal with it.

My friends child had obsessive thoughts and after only a few visits with a child psychologist that deals with OCD her child now has it under control and her thoughts are no longer controlling her life.

If I were you, I would open the phone book and call a few child psychologist that deal with OCD. Tell them about your daughter and see what they say. Hopefully, through your phone conversation, you will be able to tell if they are a good fit or not. (My friend probably called a half dozen before she found one she liked.)

Fyi... There is not a specific test for this that your doctor can preform. Go online and have your daughter take an OCD quiz. You will know in 5 minutes.

Best of luck.

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answers from Boston on

Yes, start with the doc. If it's anything, it's more of an OCD thing and not an LD. It may very well be something she can learn to control with some therapy.

I have a habit of counting letters in words and phrases by breaking them down into groups, and the groups have rules. Some phrases and words fit the rules nicely, and that's satisfying to me. Some don't, and it bugs me. For example, the word Massachusetts bugs me if I group it one way but not another (M-assa-chus-etts satisfies my "rules" while Mass-achu-sett-s" violates the rules). I also rearrange words into new words and some arrangements are really satisfying because they form new words of the same number of letters and words..."Keep Right" becomes "rip the keg" and having 3, 3-letter real words fits the rules. I also count sidewalk breaks, the steps I take when I walk or jog, my cadence when cycling, doors, etc.

Anyway...what I do probably sounds crazy but it's something I do almost unconsciously. It becomes conscious if I'm stressed or bored...if I'm in a good conversation, reading a good book or engrossed in my work, I don't do it. I don't even notice it anymore. It used to bug me when I started doing it (maybe around age 10 or 11?) but it's just background noise now.

Do let her know that lots of perfectly sane, intelligent people do this kind of thing...playing with patterns, numbers and words...and that it's normal and can be a non-issue. It's clearly becoming an issue for her, so work with a professional who can help her find ways to turn off those patterns when they get distracting, but it doesn't mean she's crazy or anything ;-)

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answers from Boston on

I think you and your child should shy away from diagnosing anything - your daughter has decided she has a learning disability? But you cannot dismiss it either and "tell her to pay more attention." She's telling you that she is counting excessively and obsessively, and it's bothering her. If it's interfering with her life - and it sounds like it is - she could benefit from professional help. But you all need to get clear on definitions and diagnoses - a professional can help you with that. Encourage your daughter to describe her symptoms only, rather than suggest a diagnosis of "learning disability" or anything else.

I'm not sure the pediatrician can do anything. This doesn't sound like anything that's his/her specialty, although if there's a need to rule out other things, that might make some sense.

I think that this may well be a mental/emotional issue and that you should consult a good child or adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist. There are many behavioral techniques that can be used to lessen the obsession to count. A good friend's son has significant OCD tied in to Tourette's Syndrome, and he benefited from a pediatric neuropharmacologist as well as a behavioral psychologist. Medication was part of the treatment but not the only part. Adolescence was a very difficult time because changing hormone levels really messed with his brain. Your daughter may have this issue at 13.

My cousin has significant OCD but unrelated to a medical condition. In his case, therapy is the indicated option. Any psychologist will have a relationship with a physician (psychiatrist) who can prescribe meds if indicated, so don't worry too much about an MD vs. a Ph.D. It's more important to get someone your daughter can related to. Be prepared that she may resist this - it's important for her to understand that she is not crazy or making this up, and she can't just snap out of it or pay more attention so it goes away.

She's giving you very clear signals that she needs help. Reassure her that she did the right thing by telling you and that, together, you will work to get answers.

If you need a referral to a psychologist, you can start with either your child's doctor or your own, or talk to the school psychologist about someone who takes your insurance coverage.

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answers from Chicago on

Hi T.,

If it is actually OCD, that will fall under the umbrella of mental health, not learning disabilities. If it is very distracting to her at school, it could cause a delay in her learning.

Start with your pediatrician and see what he/she thinks. I know my pediatrician would recommend seeing a psychiatrist who may or may not prescribe medication, or just start with talk therapy.

I would not delay.

Best wishes!

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answers from Denver on

I would take her to your doctor, but I wouldn't put any labels on it prematurely. Don't tell her you'll get her tested for OCD. Don't tell the doctor you want her tested for OCD. Simply describe the problem in plain language: she counts items and words even when it's not required, and it's getting in her way of focusing and doing her best. It may just be a habit she's gotten into, or perhaps it is truly obsessive behavior that might require professional intervention. It sounds as though she's already paying attention - too much attention - and she may need some help in redirecting her thoughts and focus. Your daughter has expressed her concern, and it will be supportive and encouraging to know that you are listening and willing to talk to her doctor with her.

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answers from San Francisco on

OCD isn't a learning disability. It's an anxiety disorder.

Yes, you need to be very concerned, and you need to take her to a doctor. OCD can become very debilitating, and it needs to be addressed early, before it gets any worse. The more OCD behaviors get "hardwired" into the brain, the harder they are to stop. And they can escalate to other behaviors. Your doctor can tell you more, and you should become educated about this.

There are medications she can take; she may need to see a psychiatrist. But start with taking her to the doctor. Make the appointment right away.

p.s. I do agree with Suz that most people have some amount of OCD, but it sounds like this is bothering your daughter. Ask your daughter how much this is bothering her. OCD becomes harmful once the person FEELS it is interfering in her life. If it's not bothering her that she counts, then it's okay. But she's starting this very early (13), and it sounds like it's bothering her.

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answers from Chicago on

Well, one question to ask is "is this something new" Also, does she get upset if she does not do these things, like she cannot continue until she does. It is possible that puberty is bringing this on. You could talk to the doc about it and see what they say.

My daughter is 15. She has expressed concern for ADHD. But I had her checked when she was 4 and when she was 7. Both times it came up no. The things she is relating to ADHD were there back then. Her issue is she has so many ideas and thoughts and wants to do it all but needs to prioritise the most important first. Then she can move on. She gets caught up sometimes in doing things instead of stopping and getting the other thing done.

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answers from New York on

Get her tested but she may not have what she thinks she has. My son keeps track of everything numerically. Always has even the way he sees family relationships are through numbers. He's a mathematical wiz and now attends college majoring in Math and Applied Physics. Math comes naturally to him. Counting things was just one aspect of him being better than most at math.

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answers from Norfolk on

Talking to your doctor is good.
Why not test her?
Either it'll prove she has it or hasn't.
Then you figure out what to do next.



answers from Richmond on

its ocd, not a learning disability, an urge to count everything gives them a leg up when it comes to math..and it can be used to help the child with other things..how far to this place..how many steps are in a feet or a yard or a mile?all a doctor is going to do is medicate the child, not show them how to make it work for them in every day math situations..K. h.


answers from Washington DC on

it's unfortunate that every quirk has become labeled. every single person in my family, and most of my huge extended family, has some version of OCD. in almost all cases it's mild and doesn't interfere with daily functioning. in a couple of cases it's combined with ADD and does require more aggressive treatment.
honestly, hon, i fail to see what 'telling her to pay more attention' will achieve. i mean, she's a teenager. i would assume she's tried that.
for most people, the counting thing isn't a big deal (i have it to a mild extent), but since she IS saying that it's interfering with her life, there's no way i WOULDN'T get an evaluation done. but i'd remain very calm and matter-of-fact about it. it's great that we have all these diagnostic and pharmaceutical tools these days, but it's had the back-handed effect of making huge swathes of the population who are well within the normal-functioning spectrum believe that they're flawed and in need of fixing.
it may be that your daughter just needs help with learning some coping techniques. for most, that's enough. but since you don't know what these techniques might be, nor if that will do the trick, you really need to get some further information.


answers from Chicago on

Should you tell her to pay more attention? Ummm...no.

Talk to her doctor first. They'll be able to make suggestions for testing or referrals.

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