Learning Difficulties
By Alex Brooks |
Learning disabilities

If a child is not keeping up with the curriculum at school, or is displaying behavioural problems, they may be facing a learning difficulty. Instead of worrying about the label of "learning difficulty", it's important for parents to understand that each child learns in a different way and difficulties usually mean the child learns in a way that is not the same as an "average" student.

Every child can learn easily and well as long the teaching is right for their aptitudes and abilities, so it's important to assess any learning difficulties and tailor teaching programs to the individual to ensure they don't fall further behind.

What is a learning difficulty?

It's a broad term that teachers, schools and assessors apply to kids who can't meet the "normal" requirements of classroom learning in the same way as others. Learning difficulties fall into two categories:

  • Global learning difficulties

    If your child or pupil has global learning problems then she finds all aspects of learning and understanding difficult regardless of how she is taught. These children used to be called “slow learners”.

  • Specific learning difficulties

    These students are usually bright and of at least average intelligence but have trouble with learning. These are the pupils that far too often get forgotten about or misunderstood and need very careful assessment. They often need to be taught differently from the norm and it is very important that the teacher understands how these kids learn and teaches them appropriately.

Whats the difference between a slow learner and a learning difficulty

A slow learner is a child of below average intelligence, whose thinking skills are below normal for her age. This child will go through the same basic developmental stages as other children, but will do so at a significantly slower rate. However, this development, while being slower, nevertheless be relatively even.

On the other hand, a child with specific learning disability, is one of average or above average intelligence who has specific difficulties which can make learning very difficult. There may be deficits in any of the basic central nervous system functions, which have to do with the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. Their ability to pay attention, use memory, language, auditory and visual perception, motor coordination and planning, spatial orientation, impulse control and sequencing may be challenged.

In short, if there is a discrepancy between the child's potential and actual achievement, it's usually called a specific learning difficulty or disability.Slow learners will always be behind their chronological peers -- which doesn't mean they can't be expected to improve. It just means it will be slow. Children with a specific learning disability can, with the right help, be expected to attain chronologically appropriate academic levels in time.

Some symptoms that may show learning disabilities or difficulties

  • Reading

    Confuses similar words and letters, loses place, repeats words, does not read fluently, persists in using fingers to follow along, does not like to read.

  • Spelling

    Uses incorrect order of letters in words, has difficulty of associating correct sound with appropriate letter, reverses letters.

  • Mathematics

    Has difficulty associating numbers with symbols, cannot remember number facts, confuses columns and spacing, has difficulties with story problems, has difficulty comprehending maths concepts.

  • Physical

    These vary widely but can include things such as: perceptual motor difficulties, visual perception difficulties, poor visual decoding, general coordination problems with things like balance and eye-hand iissues, poor auditory memory and problems following sequence of directions, attention deficit and lack of adequate eye movement control.

  • Psychological

    These vary widely but can include things suh as emotional instability (violent reactions), difficulty learning by ordinary methods, low social acceptance, low self-concept or self-esteem, general disorganisation.
  • Social, emotional and behavioural

    These vary widely but can include things such as hyperactivity, hypoactivity (quiet, nervous, fidgety), impulsivity, poor concentration span, low frustration tolerance, emotional highs and lows and seems paradoxical, for example can recall events in minute detail but cannot remember number facts and spelling.

What should you do if you suspect your child has a learning disability?

The most important thing to do is have an accurate and helpful assessment of your child which will enable teachers, schools and parents to tailor an education to suit them. Not all learning delays are a problem if they are identified quickly and managed appropriately.

You can find a list of NZ registered assessors here.

Developmental Learning Centre can also help you to assess possible learning difficulties.

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