Depression and learning disabilities

iStock_000004579760XSmallStudies indicate that between 14% and 40% of learning disabled children suffer from depression. According to one study, 50% of children under 15 who committed suicide in Los Angeles County over a 3-year period, had been identified as learning disabled, compared to 5-8% of the general population who are identified as L.D.

Symptoms of depression in elementary-age children include withdrawal, aggression, school problems, poor self-concept and unsatisfactory peer relations. Symptoms of depression in adolescent approximately those of adults and can include hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, sleeping problems, drug abuse, and social withdrawal. Researchers do not agree on which is the primary condition; does being learning disabled lead to depression or are learning problems a symptom of depression?

High incidence of depression

Carol Wright-Strawderman, Texas Tech University, and Billy L. Watson, University of New Mexico, condcuted a study in six elementary schools in a large, southwest, urban area to determine the prevalence of depressive symptoms in children identified by the school district as learning disabled. A total of 53 children aged eight through eleven had been identified as learning disabled on the basis of a 23-point or greater standard score discrepancy between a measure of intellectual ability and at least one achievement area as well as lack of success in a regular, elementary classroom. Of the 53 children, 58% were Anglo, 30% Hispanic, 8% African-American, and 2% each Native American and Asian. The Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI), a frequently used self-report instrument with a high degree of reliability in differentiating children with and without depression, was used to determine the level of depressive symptoms in this group of L.D. children. Of the 53 children, 19 (35.9%) were identified as depressed on the basis of their score on the CDI.

No significant difference in the incidence of depression between boys and girls was found. However, when grouped into younger children (8-9 years) and older (10-11 years), the symptoms of depression were more numerous among the younger children. It is important to note that parental reports of depressive behavior did not coinside with the CDI results in this study. The researchers speculate that this may have been due to the low percentage of parents (47%) who responded to the survey. Previous studies have revealed a high correlation in parent and child reports of depression.

Because of the small number of children involved in this study, these findings should be interpreted with caution. In light of the accumulated evidence from previous studies, however, school personnel need to be aware that many learning disabled children appear to experience depression during the elementary years. This study indicates that as these children mature, depressive symptoms may decrease as children learn to cope with or receive help for their learning problems.

“The Prevalence of Depressive Symptoms in Children with Learning Disabilities” Journal of Learning Disabilities Volume 25, Number 4, pp. 258-264.

Published in ERN September/October 1992 Volume 5 Number 4

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