Dear Parents and Friends of Royal School
This week we are going to look at learning difficulties. Right from the start, we would like to underline the difference between learning difficulties and learning disabilities. To understand better, let’s focus on the following definitions:
– specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) are socio-emotional or learning problems that distress a person’s ability to learn and follow conventions; they are neurological and occur independently of intelligence. They may co-occur with difficulties on the autistic spectrum (British Dyslexia Association, 2017).
– learning disabilities are lifelong conditions that affect understanding information, processing problems, coping in social situations or learning new skills needed for daily living (from reading and writing to time planning and abstract reasoning), though children with learning disabilities may prove smart or smarter than their peers at times.
The most common types of learning disabilities are Autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome and Spina bifida.
Starting with the early school years, parents observe their child and any behaviour changes, and they can identify if he/she has a problem with the learning process; teachers can also help with identifying any issues of the child’s progress not in accordance to his/her developmental milestones or age appropriate academic expectations. Teachers usually identify the type of learner a child may be: visual learner, auditory learner or kinesthetic learner, and with this first step completed, parents and teachers ensure each child learns according to his dominant-stronger learning feature. A child’s learning can be supported by using extra clear instructions (shorten sentences, speak clearly, slow down), by ensuring a face-to-face conversation (careful as eye contact can be intimidating), by including him/her in general topic conversations at home, and by encouraging them to get involved in family activities (social exposure). If a parent feels the child needs even more support, they can talk to the teacher about daily schedules, about priorities, and about praising them on a regular basis. We all thrive on that! At the same time, one aspect that clearly contributes to a successful school life is the routine including a healthy diet, enough exercise and plenty of sleep.
Usually, learning difficulties show once the child is in school studying reading, writing and/or math. A learning difficulty affects the way the brain receives, processes, stores and uses information. Unfortunately, there are individuals who are not identified or diagnosed and they continue having problems as teenagers or as adults; in such cases, the downside is that the individual’s potential for achievement can raise only according to his/her ability to achieve, therefore, undiscovered potential. The sooner these difficulties are recognised, the sooner the interventions may start. These interventions could include adapted materials, various methods of presenting new information, diverse evaluations, and specialised help depending on how mild or severe the difficulty is.
So far, researchers have not found precise causes for learning difficulties, but they believe genetic influences, brain development and environmental effects may be likely to have some impact on their development (www.GoodTherapy.org). Specific learning difficulties include a large variety and according to DSM-5 (2013), these are some of the general definitions:
1. Dyslexia refers to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding and poor spelling abilities. It may be accompanied by other difficulties with comprehension or math reasoning.
2. Dyscalculia implies problems with processing numerical information, learning arithmetic facts and performing accurate calculations.
3. Dysgraphia affects the writing abilities as it requires complex motor and information processing skills. It usually shows as spelling problems, poor handwriting and trouble with putting thoughts in words.
4. Dyspraxia known as developmental coordination disorder, affects the gross and fine motor skills, the physical coordination leading to clumsy performance not typical of age.
5. Language processing disorder is an impairment in the processing of the linguistic information that reflects in the ability to receive and express language, and it involves problems in verbal and written expressions.
6. Nonverbal learning disability is characterised by discrepancy between high verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills (LDAA, 2017)
7. Visual motor deficit affects the understanding of the information that a person sees or the ability to draw or copy (LDAA, 2017) missing subtle differences, losing place on paper, holding scissors or a pencil, poor eye-hand coordination (LDAA, 2017).
8. Executive function is a set of mental skills that basically help an individual get things done. Along with self-regulation, executive function depends on working memory (retain and use information), cognitive flexibility (think about something in more than one way) and self-control (ignore distractions and resist temptations).
9. ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, not necessarily considered a learning disorder, but it is a behavioural disorder that can affect children, teens or adults in everyday life, and it is characterised by poor attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Many young children are restless and impulsive, but this does not mean they suffer of ADHD; if their behaviours affect their school, social and family life, then the child may be suspected of ADHD. A large number of individuals diagnosed with ADHD also present the symptoms of a specific learning difficulty.
Once diagnosed, an individual will surely benefit from understanding that things are different for a reason, from a possible IEP (individualised educational plan), from cognitive therapy, occupational therapy, play therapy or from counselling. These techniques and support help improving and enhancing one’s life.