My son has math issues and my daughter has dyslexia. How come my kids are struggling with different things in school? Aren’t learning issues genetic?

Elizabeth Harstad

Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician, Boston Children’s Hospital

It’s true that genetics plays a role. But there may be several other factors too. For example, environmental factors such as exposure to alcohol during pregnancy may contribute to a child having a learning issue (professionals might refer to this as a learning disorder or disability).

Learning issues often run in families. Several genes are likely involved. Some genetic traits such as eye color are passed down in families in a predictable way. But learning issues are not as predictable.

Having a close relative with learning issues may increase the chances of another family member having them. These people may have the same issue but not all of the same symptoms. Or they may have different issues that have some overlapping symptoms.

This helps explain why it’s hard for scientists to determine which factors cause which learning issues. Research on the complex relationship between genetics and learning issues is underway.

It can be challenging to raise more than one child with learning and attention issues. This is especially true for parents who have learning and attention issues of their own. As you’re exploring this site for strategies to help your children, remember to look for ways to help yourself, too.

About the Author

Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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