Help For the Learning Disabled Child
In earlier posts I discussed the importance of teaching children to read as early as possible. I emphasized the importance of reading skills as predicting a child’s success in school and in success in life in general. I talked about this success in overall terms of a child’s level of literacy and how literacy relates to early success in learning to read. Children who suffer from some form of learning disability are not uncommon. In this post I will be discussing how parents should deal with children with learning disabilities. We start by asking “Is there help for the learning disabled child?” And the answer is “Yes”. If your child has a learning disability there is no need to despair.
Not All Children Have The Same Learning Abilities
Have you noticed that your child has a problem learning to read, write or do math problems, but is otherwise normal in all other regards? By this I mean does your child exhibit normal signs of getting along socially and being intellectually competitive in terms of his peer group. Still, you have noticed that your child is struggling to learn to read, write or do math problems and even falling behind his peers in these areas. The fact that your child may be struggling is probably noticeable if you are paying attention to your child’s demeanor and accomplishments, even if it is not apparent as to why your child is struggling. So let’s begin by asking a”what is a learning disability?”
What A Learning Disability Is Not
When I talk about learning disabilities I am not referring to problems that are the result of physical impairments (sight or hearing) or other types of social impediments (such as economic or family problems). Learning disabilities arise organically out of neurologically-based processing problems impairing your child from learning basic reading, writing or math skills. This impairment affects your child’s life in more ways than just academically. Learning disabilities are often hidden and undiagnosed, even in children of normal capabilities and for that reason are often referred to as “hidden disabilities”. The sad truth is that learning disabilities are not curable and remain life-long challenges. But with appropriate support and understanding, a child’s learning disabilities are not insurmountable and a child with a learning disability can achieve success in school, work and other social relationships.
Signs That A Child May Have A Learning Disability
There are many signs that a child may have a learning disability. Many of these signs are observable. Parents should always pay attention to any behavior of a child that suggests difficulty in normal learning behavior or coping with everyday situations. A child may show signs of more than one learning disability. Diagnosing a learning disability is complicated. A child may exhibit what appear to be some common signs of a learning disability but not actually having a learning disability. Determining whether a child actually has a learning disability rather than some other type of problem requires a professional evaluation.
What Are Some Signs of A Learning Disability?
Some of the more common signs of a learning disability that a parent often observes includes:
- The child has difficulties with reading and/or writing
- The child has difficulties with math8
- The child has poor memory
- The child has difficulties paying attention and is easily distracted
- The child has difficulties following directions
- The child has exhibits excessive clumsiness
- The child has difficulties telling time
- The child has difficulty staying organized
- The child is impulsive and acts without really thinking about possible outcomes
- The child acts out in school or social situations
- The child demonstrates difficulty in saying a word correctly out loud or expressing thoughts
- The child has problems with school performance from week to week or day to day
- The child often speaks like a younger child; using short, simple phrases; or leaving out words in sentences
- The child has a hard time listening
- The child has problems dealing with changes in schedule or situations
- The child has problems understanding words or concepts.
A parent observing any of these common signs of a learning disability exhibited on a regular basis over a relatively long period of time should not ignore these signs and should take definite steps to deal with them. These steps involve getting help from professionals, family, friends and reaching out to appropriate educational materials.
There are different types of learning disabilities. This plethora of conditions includes the following:
- Auditory Processing Disorder. This condition affects how a child processes sound.
- Dyscalculia. This condition affects a child’s ability to understand numbers, impairing a child’s ability to comprehend math, memorize and organize numbers, and tell time.
- Dysgraphia. This condition affects a child’s handwriting ability, such as not being able to write on straight line.
- Dyslexia. This condition affects reading and related language based processing skills.
- Language Processing Disorder. This is a condition in which a child has difficulty attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories.
- Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. This condition is characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills. Often it results in your child having difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues, such as facial cues or other body language cues.
- Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit. This a condition affecting a child’s understanding of information, where the child misses seeing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters
Many of these hidden disabilities may be present without a parent consciously noticing them. That is why it is important for parents to pay attention to a child’s behavior. An observing parent should normally become aware of signals of one or more of these conditions with careful and consistent observation.
Ways To Teach A Child With A Learning Disability
Research by Dr. H. Lee Swanson, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of California has identified specific teaching methods most effective for increasing word recognition and reading comprehension skills in children with learning disabilities.
He found that sound instructional practices include daily reviews, statements of instructional objective, teacher presentations of new materials, guided practice, independent practice and formative evaluations (testing to ensure child mastered materials).
He found that the most effective approach in increasing word recognition was through sequencing, segmentation and advanced organizers.
According to his research the best way to improve reading comprehension was using a combination of direct instruction and strategy instruction [teaching child to see patterns in words and to identify the main idea in each pattern], including following components: directed response/questioning, control difficulty of processing demands of task, elaboration of reading materials, modeling of steps by teacher, strategy cues.
Check out this video for 18 tips to help a child adjust to living with a learning disability.
And MOST importantly, don’t hide your child’s learning disability from friends and family. Communicate with family and friends about your child’s learning disabilities openly and in front of your child. By being open, you encourage your child to confront the challenges of a learning disability without being embarrassed or discouraged by them. Remember, the learning disability is not shameful, won’t go away and is life-long; therefor you and your child should openly deal with it as soon as it becomes noticeable. Don’t hesitate to draw on educational programs and literature if you need additional help. Always be open to knowing that you are not always the expert.
Finally, please leave a comment if you have questions about learning disabilities, or something said in this article. I would especially appreciate hearing from parents who have a child with a learning disability and have experience with effective teaching programs or materials.
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