What parents need to know about children’s learning challenges

Learning challenges in children, often referred to as learning disabilities in the U.S., can be frustrating to parents and children, to say the least. Common questions are, “Why can’t my child do better?” or “What is wrong with me?”

Research has shown that there is a male to female learning disability ratio of 3 to 1. However, this research is currently being challenged stating that the ratio is about equal, 1 to 1.

A learning disability is a condition in the brain that causes difficulties in comprehending, processing, or recalling information.

Therefore, children’s ability to gain knowledge and skills at the same rate as their peers may be limited. Having a learning disability does not reflect intelligence; but it does mean children learn in different ways than is offered in a traditional classroom.

Common learning challenges

Some common learning challenges are as follows: Dyslexia – a problem with reading due to difficulty identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.

Dysgraphia – a coordination disorder that may affect fine motor skills and make it difficult for people to write by hand. As a result, their handwriting may look messy.

Dyscalculia – difficulty understanding arithmetic (i.e. manipulating numbers).

Slow processing – the speed at which the brain can sort out or manage information. Children with this problem may need more time to understand commands or directions. They may feel information is being presented too fast.

Working memory – difficulty using information for a short time. This may be demonstrated in following instructions with several steps or recalling a word that needs to be used.

Preferred learning styles

Students may also have preferred learning styles such as visual, auditory, or tactile (kinesthetic).

It is important to keep in mind that these disabilities may overlap and make it a bit hard to pinpoint the problem.

Learning disabilities are diagnosed by physicians, psychologist or audiologist who perform specific tests to determine disorders. A great classroom teacher may have observed a learning problem and put a plan in place to help a student. But they can only make recommendations to parents or referrals to other professionals.

Children with learning disabilities need customized lesson plans which may include segmenting information into chunks.

For example, the traditional rule for division is to “‘divide, multiply, subtract, and bring down.’’ To chunk would mean to spend as much time as needed on the first step, “Divide’’ to master it; then add the next step, “Multiply’’ and so on.

You may also consider decreasing the workload. Instead of 10 math problems, try to master five. Drills, for example, let children spell the same word five times, and learning games can also be helpful. 

Keeping kids motivated

It is important to keep children struggling with learning problems motivated and wanting to learn, as well as good self-esteem.

Explain to the child how he learns best. This may help him learn early to compensate for learning problems by using strengths to help weaknesses.

Not every child has to make straight A’s, but every child does need to be a hard worker. Getting educated, staying motivated and a solid learning foundation will equip him to go to the next level.

Learning problems can be challenging to both parents and children. But, with a little understanding about learning difficulties and how to improve them, you can learn how to succeed.

Your child is as intelligent as anyone else. He or she just has different ways of learning.

Dr. Diana Potter is the administrator at Mt. Calvary Academy in Daytona Beach.

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