Some children who do not perform well in studies may be 'born' with learning disabilities, according to an American specialist. Speaking at Chinese University of Hong Kong on 'Current Research into Learning Disabilities', Dr Mark Griffin said learning disabilities encompassed a wide range of disorders. 'These include listening, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics - and are frequently accompanied by deficits in attention and social behaviour,' he said. 'If the condition is not properly dealt with, it can lead to failure at school, poor relations with peers, low self-esteem and be detrimental to the student's future career,' he said. Dr Griffin added that this 'unexpected underachievement' by between seven and 10 per cent of the school-age population represented more than 50 per cent of children receiving special education services in the United States. He said reading disabilities affected one in five US children. 'It is a neural developmental problem - a problem of brain function,' he said. 'It's not an environmental problem. 'It isn't a problem you could trace back to the way you were brought up.' Students with these problems did not have a 'bad attitude' or motivational problem they would grow out of. 'You can't cure the problem,' Dr Griffin said. 'You can't get it away but you can give them a better strategy.' He said many cases were hereditary and boys and girls had an equal chance of having a 'linguistic deficit'. Many learning disabilities were not so bad that special education was needed. 'The students just needed someone to teach them 'a little differently'. 'What they need is specific and explicit instruction in reading, spelling, writing and maths, with techniques designed specifically for youngsters who have trouble with phonemic and phonological awareness,' Dr Griffin said. 'A lot of people who have learning disabilities are very successful when they go out to work as professors, doctors and lawyers,' he added. Remedial work should be started as early as possible - at five or six years old. Parents could therefore notice when their children really began to read and spell, write consistently and could pay attention, he said.