What you need to know

Can Learning and Attention Issues Be Cured?

By Bob Cunningham

Can learning and attention issues be cured? My son has them, and I’m wondering if he’ll always have them.

Bob Cunningham

Advisor-in-Residence, Understood

With a few clear exceptions, learning and attention issues cannot be cured. That doesn’t mean kids who have them can’t be successful. With the right support, your child can learn to work around difficulties and use strengths to his advantage.

No one is exactly certain what causes learning and attention issues. But we do know that it’s not just one thing. For example, there appears to be a hereditary, genetic component for many children. But learning and attention issues can also arise from some medical conditions. These include seizure disorders, Lyme disease and injuries to the brain.

Learning and attention issues can also be a side effect of treatments or medications for some medical conditions. In these cases, learning and attention issues can be “cured” in the sense that stopping the treatment or curing the underlying medical issue could get rid of the learning and attention issues.

Some children may seem to have learning and attention issues because they’ve missed a lot of school. As a result, they have gaps in their learning. Other students may be struggling in school because they’re not yet fluent in English. Teaching them in their native language, improving their English skills or giving remedial instruction could resolve their difficulties with learning and attention.

But those are exceptions.

For millions of children, learning and attention issues are a result of how their brains work. Researchers have been using brain-imaging and other tools to explore differences in brain structure and chemistry. This has improved our understanding of learning and attention issues. But it hasn’t led to a cure.

Remember that there are many things parents and teachers can do to help kids with learning and attention issues be successful. Effective strategies include:

  • Providing accommodations that change the way a child is taught or tested. Accommodations can include things like extra time on tests or changing where a child sits in the classroom.
  • Teaching specific strategies a child can use when something is difficult. These can be strategies like signaling to an adult that he doesn’t understand something or needs help organizing his materials and time. Or, for kids with sensory processing or attention issues, they could be strategies for moving while seated without distracting other students.
  • Using assistive technology or tools that help a child work around his challenges. A common high-tech example of assistive technology is using the text-to-voice feature on a computer or cell phone to help with reading. A common low-tech example is using a thicker pencil if fine motor control is a challenge.
  • Using educational therapy or coaching to help a child understand his own learning and behavior. This includes helping him monitor his own actions and advocate for himself with adults and peers.
  • Considering medication to address attention issues. Behavioral strategies can be a big help. But some kids benefit more when those strategies are paired with medication.

These interventions can help kids with learning and attention issues find success. But that’s not the same thing as a curing these issues. Parents need to be very skeptical of anyone claiming that a product or treatment regimen can cure learning and attention issues.

I don’t know any of the specifics of your child’s issues. But I do know that in addition to using interventions to help, it’s also important to recognize and develop your child’s strengths. That way, when his learning and attention issues make things difficult, he’ll also be confident that there are things he’s good at and that others like and respect about him.

About the Author

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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