Recognising and coping with Learning Difficulties

“Every child has a different learning style and pace. Each child is unique, not only capable of learning but also capable of succeeding.”-

Robert John Meehan

Most notable for his role as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has lived with a mild case of dyspraxia for his entire life. Dyspraxia is a common neurological disorder that affects motor skill development, meaning that at 25 years old and the star of one of the largest franchises in movie history, Radcliffe still has trouble tying his shoelaces

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has authored over twenty cookbooks, and currently holds the title of world’s richest chef, with a net worth of over $230 million.  With that in mind, it might surprise you to learn that he only finished reading his first book in 2013. He was quoted as saying “I’ve never read a book in my life, which I know sounds incredibly ignorant but I’m dyslexic and I get bored easily.” 

 While his name and clothing brand are known across the globe, not many people are aware that fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has struggled with dyslexia for his entire life. He attributes much of his success as a clothing designer to his lack of formal training, which he claims allows him to see things in a way that other designers wouldn’t.

learning difficulty (also referred to as a learning disability) is a neurological condition that affects the brain’s ability to process information. It is used to describe the seeming unexplained difficulty a person having average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and at workplace and for coping with life in general.

A specific learning difficulty most often affects skills in reading, writing, listening,speaking,reasoning and doing math. Today all these are included under the umbrella of Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

Common learning differences in this category include:

  • Dyslexia: Difficulty with reading,writing,spelling, speaking
  • Dyscalculia: Difficulty doing math problems, understanding time and money, remembering math facts
  • Dysgraphia: Difficulty with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas
  • Dyspraxia: Difficulty with hand-eye coordination,balance ,fine motor skills
  • Auditory processing disorder: Difficulty interpreting what the ear hears (which is different from having a hearing impairment
  • Visual processing issues: Difficulty interpreting what the eye sees (which is different from having a visual impairment )

So, what are the red flags for learning difficulties?

The way that a learning difficulty presents itself will vary from child to child. Diagnosing learning difficulty is a process in itself and will include careful observation, history- taking and detailed assessment by a qualified professional.

Below are a few of the common signs that would warrant further investigation:

  • Difficulty organising themselves or their work
  • Making reversals or inversions in writing b/d, p/q
  • Difficulty blending sounds to make words
  • Confuses basic words while reading
  • Consistently misspells words and makes frequent errors
  • Spells the same word differently in a single document
  • Illegible handwriting with poor spacing and incorrect letter formations
  • Struggling to create neat, legible work, or produces work very slowly meaning they are falling behind in lessons
  • Difficulty learning math concepts
  • Difficulty recalling words or times tables recently learnt
  • Easily distracted

What can be done ?

Like in every childhood developmental difficulty, early intervention is the key. A school counsellor might suggest you to see a qualified child psychologist for undergoing a detailed psychoeducational assessment. After the type of learning difficulty is identified, you will be guided towards the supportive therapies like Remedial Education and Occupational Therapy

These therapies are based on the concept of Neuroplasticity. It refers to the brain’s natural, lifelong ability to change. Throughout life, the brain is able to form new connections and generate new brain cells in response to experience and learning.

Remedial teaching helps to identify difficult learning areas and bridge the gaps in the learning progress by providing supplementary information throughout the course of study.A remedialteacher guides not only the child but also the parents on how to deal with the issues (both academic and non academic) and overcome them. The course is conducted using school curriculum along with some other therapeutic practices to give the child a wholesome growth. Sometimes, an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) is created to define and map goals in a timely manner based on the child’s current strengths and abilities.

Occupational therapists help children gain independence and develop new skills to enable participation in daily activities, such as self-care, play and learning. When a child has been diagnosed with a learning difficulty, the therapist will work closely with them to optimize their engagement at school and in their home environment. Occupational therapists usually work on the underlying motor problems, attentional challenges or visual perceptual deficits that may be contributing to or causing academic difficulties for the child. Children with learning difficulties may also find it difficult to organize themselves or sequence the actions that are needed to complete their daily activities. An occupational therapist can help to establish effective routines and break down information into steps that the child will be able to follow. Occupational therapists often use programs such as Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) to reinforce correct letter formations. Programs like The Zones of Regulation and The Incredible 5 Point Scale are used to improve attention and self- regulation. Sensory Integration Therapy is effective for treating the underlying sensory processing issues affecting the learning abilities of a child.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”


Ignacio Estrada

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