Depression in Children with Learning Disabilities

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Depression in Children with Learning Disabilities


Schools play a significant and formative role in children’s cognitive, emotional, language, moral and social development. Academic skills; for instance, reading, writing as well as mathematics form the foundation upon which a child’s performance at school is evaluated. A child’s learning disability may create anxious feelings, inadequacy, or shame that can lead to behavioral disturbances in children who have attained school age. Undoubtedly, any negative view from school is likely to have an undesired impact on the social, emotional, and family function of the child. Depression can affect anybody, including children. Depression is one of the few conditions whose symptoms have been experienced by most people during their lifetimes. This literature review examines children with learning disabilities (LD), which is an area that has been researched over the past 30 years because of its association with depression. This study has focused on this topic because of the belief that children with LD experience low self-esteem, lower academic achievements, and neurological disturbance among others, which are all associated with depression.

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Review of Various Literature Sources

Previous study settings have both been in clinical and school areas. In their study, Wilson, Armstrong, Furrie, & Walcot, (2009) conducted their mental health study for people with learning disabilities from the ages of 15 to 44 years. Using a nationally gathered data, the investigators found that male learning disabilities were more likely to result into depressive episodes or anxiety while females were likely to report high levels of distress, poor mental health or suicide thoughts. The study also showed that about 6 percent of the main population suffers from depression in any given year. Approximately 20 percent of individuals suffering from learning disabilities are bound to experience depression. Interestingly, incidences of the children with the cases of learning disabilities may be as young as eight years old. Likewise, children who exhibit learning disabilities have academic difficulties proportional to their learning abilities. Such children often have impaired learning ability on important academic skills such as arithmetic, reading, spelling, and writing.

Alesi, Rappo, & Pepi (2014) conducted a research where they sought to compare the levels of depression and anxiety at school. They determined self-esteem in children with learning disabilities. The 132 children who participated in the research had an average of 9 years in the fourth grade of primary school. The outcome of the research indicated that children with learning disabilities as well as mathematical disabilities exhibited higher levels of depression, school anxiety as well as low self-esteem. The researchers established that depressive symptoms related positively to anxiety. Among the common types of LDs among those who were studied included mathematics disorders and reading disorder. The study showed that girls are more likely to be depressed than boys. As children grow older towards adolescent age, the differences continue to widen, and the rate of depression among females is likely to double if compared to that of males. According to Alesi and his colleagues, psychosocial risk factors such as self-efficacy and school self-esteem contribute to gender differences (Alesi et al., 2014).

The study gave significant evidence supporting the association between depressive symptoms and poor performance in school. There exists a direct and mediated link between a child’s levels of mood as well as academic outcomes. Symptoms of depression such as energy loss, lack of interest and poor cognitive ability negatively affect the performance of children at school. Importantly, it showed that cognitive biases affect how executive control works; thus, causing inadequate inhibition processes or scarce concentration. Besides, dysfunctional updating occurs in the working memory and forgetfulness sets in when executive control cannot function effectively. Moreover, the relationship between school achievement and depressive symptoms is also affected by lower self-esteem, perceptions of lower academic competence as well as personal notions of intelligence (Alesi et al., 2014).

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In another study, Daniesls (2012) conducted a study on coping exercise. Her study examined the role of professionals and experience in young people with learning disabilities and offered recommendations based on the findings. From the findings of the study, high achievers are more likely to exhibit positive school emotions. This observation, in turn, has increased the motivation and engagement in school activities or tasks. Therefore, it is appropriate to conclude that children who under-achieve in school are likely to show lower global self-esteem and become more anxious and with depressive symptoms compared to typical achievers (Daniels, 2012). The study also highlighted the main hurdles that children with learning disabilities encounter. The barriers were the inability to access psychological therapies, lack of confidence as well as concerns on how to develop a therapeutic relationship with people who have disabilities. The researcher suggested the need for young children to receive medication for depression instead of receiving psychological interventions. It is up to the individuals in the relevant professions to be ensuring that talking therapies realizes the needs of young people with learning disabilities. Finally, due to the challenges that may hinder accessing mainstream therapies, there is a need for prevention or early identification of depression in children with learning disabilities.

The study showed that cognitive factors are also important because they affect people with learning disabilities. Difficulties with problem-solving are associated with some of the conditions that contribute to mental ill-health. Likewise, children with cognitive problems exhibit increased dependency on others for decision making. According to Daniels’ study, young people with learning disabilities are more likely to have a negative perception about their environment, self as well as the future. Children with learning disabilities may be less optimistic about succeeding in challenging tasks. Such a group of children also may not find satisfaction in solving problems. The problems are due to the negative self-esteem that the children have.

Grills-Taquechel, Fletcher, Vaughn, & Stuebing (2012) conducted an investigation to determine the competing models that influence anxiety as well as reading success in children from different ethnic backgrounds. The researchers made the conclusion that the children’s fluent performance was accompanied by harm avoidance. The outcome was that children exhibiting low-self worth when faced with challenging or threatening tasks tend to portray negative moods. Equally, low-self worth hinders social interactions with other classmates because the children not only encourage a feeling of isolation, but they also show depressed behaviors. The researchers concluded that attaining the necessary levels of self-esteem can encourage and promote the ability to manage academic tasks when students apply effective study methods. Such levels also enable children to take part in an active learning process. It was also evident that anxiety disorders are among the commonest child mental health problems. There exists significant subclinical anxiety with its associated problems that adversely affect the development or worsens with time. For instance, children who suffer from anxiety may experience depression.

Finally, a study by Devine, Fawcett, Szucs, & Dowker (2012) to examine mental health problem in children and young people had startling outcomes. The outcomes were that approximately 40 percent of young people with learning disabilities were likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems (Devine et al., 2012). In contrast, the other young people who have undiagnosed learning disabilities may suffer from undiagnosed mental health problems. As the conditions remain undiagnosed, their treatment may not be found, and the negative effects continue to impact the daily lives of the young people.

Overall, the sources point to the fact that learning disabilities are often associated with psychological problems. In addition, psychosocial factors form an important area where children with learning disabilities are likely to be affected. Children diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental ill-health are those who are most likely experiencing adverse life events, higher levels of poverty, familial unemployment as well as maternal ill-health, all of which trigger depression. For instance, Daniels (2012) estimates an increment of between 20-33 percent of mental illnesses in young people with learning disabilities being attributed to the effects of social disadvantage and other adverse life events that children with learning disability face.

Young people with mild-moderate learning disability and depression have often attributed their depression to factors that are almost similar. The young people have cited factors such as social isolation, stressful life events as well as factors that are related to transition into the other stages of life such as social comparison as the sources of their depression (Alesi et al., 2014). Children with these problems may find it hard to express their feelings adequately. In the end, they become bored, grouchy, lack fun or feel empty. These characteristics can be diagnosed based on external symptoms such as disrupted sleep patterns, lethargy, and reduced concentration, loss of appetite, verbal decrease, and withdrawal. Unfortunately, these symptoms have always been attributed to other common conditions that are associated with learning disabilities, for example, epilepsy. Thus, depression has been overlooked. Likewise, there are instances when behavioral symptoms of depression have simply been referred to as distress or challenging behaviors, especially where a child is not able to express his or her feelings (Daniels, 2012).


It can be concluded that depression in children with learning disabilities is becoming a major problem that needs concerted efforts. The challenges arise from asymptomatic behaviors to lack therapies. The need to deal with these challenges provides an opportunity to do more research and come out with findings that are generally applicable. An aspect that can be researched in future research is the effect of race in the level of depression suffered by children with learning disabilities. Previous studies have had mixed results on the effect of race on depression. For instance, increased conflicts and lower cohesion in black families are likely to increase rates of depression. Therefore, gender and race can be considered as predictors of people with learning disabilities.

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