Issues That Impact Learning: Potential Causes & Methods of Diagnosis


difficulty-learningThis is a very broad topic that covers learning issues ranging from totally normal through to severe disabilities.  They can be grouped into major categories such as:

  • Internal – poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, & obsession
  • External – inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, oppositional, disruptive
  • Processing – difficulty with: reading; speaking; writing; listening; or interpreting nonverbal communication

More specifically, these issues refer to anything that impacts the rate of nerve growth or proper function.  They can be further broken down into classifications based upon:   help-for-student

  1. Which parts of the nervous system are involved
  2. What symptoms result from the abnormal nerve function
  3. What is causing the learning issue

Classifications & Methods of Diagnosing

Which classification system, clinician and diagnostic methods to use will be based upon your clinical goal.

  • Anatomic Location – This classification is helpful when the goal is to prepare for surgery or similar interventions. Here imaging studies, (MRI, CAT scans, Ultrasound, etc) will be particularly helpful diagnostic tools.
  • Symptoms – When the goal is to suppress or control symptoms with medications without attempting a cure, reviewing the patient’s history using the DSM-5 criteria is applicable.
  • Cause – When seeking an improvement in the underlying function or attempting a cure, diagnostic methods will start with a review of patient symptoms but will then shift to more laboratory and physical testing. Imaging studies may be used to rule out pathologies. Some of the newest imaging techniques targeting brain functions are specific enough to give insights into anatomic locations as well as certain causes.

If your goal is surgery, consult a surgeon. If your goal is to control symptoms using drugs but not to seek a cure, consult a medical doctor. If your goal is to improve function by addressing the causes, consult a doctor of functional medicine or a clinical nutritionist. 

complete-neuron-cell-diagram-wcPotential Causes

  • Nerve & myelin cell membrane integrity — structural parts of the brain that ensure proper nerve function and insulation that prevents nerves from ‘shorting out’ on one another.
  • Neurotransmitters —serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine (adrenalin)
  • Nerve inflammation—allergies, prostaglandins (chemical inflammation regulators), internal corticosteroid regulation
  • Nerve fuel supply— blood sugar regulation (hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia), ATP production (converting sugar to energy at the cellular level)
  • Nerve blood supply—high or low blood pressure, plaques, capillary regulation
  • Neuro-toxins— heavy metals, pesticides, food colorings, drugs, etc.
  • Nerve metabolism – thyroid, adrenals, kidneys and liver regulate chemicals that can influence nerve function
  • Brain scars — i.e. from brain trauma, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), stroke, anti-oxidant deficiency (vitamin E, C, A, etc.)

One Cause – Many Symptomsall-for-one

Many of the causes of behavior issues can give different symptoms for each person.  This is because some mechanisms result in stress to many parts of the brain simultaneously, but it is the nerves that are the ‘weak link’ that will exhibit symptoms first.  For example, some people have chronic inflammation of the brain. With one person, this will cause swelling in the part of the brain controlling depression, in another, the ‘weak link’ will be in their speech centers.

One Cause – Many Reasons3-musketeers

Each mechanism that is diagnosed as involved for a person with learning issues can have different reasons for why it is involved. For example, chronic brain inflammation may be from a gluten sensitivity. For another person, it is because they have an adrenal gland that cannot produce enough cortisone. For a third person, the chronic brain swelling may be because they have high mercury levels.  To improve function, do not stop looking when you find the first cause of a learning issue.  Seeking causes needs to continue to deeper levels.


Behaviors impacting learning include a wide range of issues.  What type of clinician you consult and diagnosis methods you use will depend on your clinical goal.  Each cause of a learning issue can give different symptoms for each person.  Each mechanism causing abnormal nerve growth and function, can be for multiple reasons.  Persistent diagnostic work increases the understanding of the multi-layered causes and the potential for successful outcomes.