Severe Learning & Mental Health Issues & Intervention Plans

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss some of the more severe and common learning and mental health issues that people face. We will also cover the treatment options and plans for intervention to assist someone with these conditions.

Think of a typical class size of 16 students. 4 are likely to have a mental health diagnosis like anxiety or depression, probably at least 2 have ADHD and 2 may have dyslexia. This means fully half the class is likely to struggle with a learning disability or mental illness. Understanding these learning and mental health issues and how to intervene will improve the stability and productivity of the class.

Common Learning Issues


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and it is characterized primarily by an inability to focus on any one task for too long. Fidgeting or other unconscious movements can be one way to tell if a student struggles with ADHD. While ADHD isn't officially a learning disability, it can cause difficulties in learning from the inability to remain focused and attentive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), behavioral therapies that address the behavior problems associated with ADHD should be the first intervention plan to assist a child with ADHD, before prescribing medication. Only a third to a half of diagnosed children receive the recommended combination of therapy and medication.

The CDC also says that boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls and that there has been a steady increase of ADHD diagnoses of about 3-5% each year. The latest research from 2011 states that about 11% of children have ADHD.


Dyslexia is an issue of the neurological processing of language that can affect reading comprehension, spelling and vocabulary. Dyslexia is a language based learning disability that can affect about 15-20% of students, according to the Dyslexia Center of Utah. About 80% of students' problems with reading can be attributed to this condition. About a third of students with ADHD also have dyslexia.

A variety of screenings and assessments are available to diagnose dyslexia, either by the school or by a trained psychologist. The intervention plan for a child with dyslexia usually involves intensive tutoring. There are several research based methodologies, but most of these focus on phonetics, or the process of learning to decode symbols into sounds.

treatment plan for dyslexia

This image illustrates how dyslexia can be identified and treated within the classroom.

Common Mental Illnesses


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health diagnoses and is marked by excessive fear, worry and stress. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) highlights various types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also has overlapping symptoms of severe anxiety.

Some of the intervention plans for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy and medication. For example, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the symptoms and their sources are identified and reframed in order to look at the condition from an objective point of view. They learn to adjust one's behavior accordingly and learn to incorporate coping skills.

a puzzle shaped head with facts about mental illness

This image shows facts about mental illness:

  • 1 in 4 are affected by mental illness
  • 8.6 million adults have suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death
  • 1 in 30 people experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Children with anxiety disorders are least likely to receive treatment
  • People of color have less access to care

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