Language Based Learning Difficulty or Second Language Troubles?
Trevor is a pre-schooler who can’t quite learn his letters, confuses his colours and shapes, and has difficulty learning nursery rhymes. Trevor becomes the primary school child who can’t match sounds to letters, misinterprets instructions, and has difficulty with word building. He enters middle school and has difficulty with reading comprehension, his written stories are brief with letter-sound confusions, and he shows difficulty with task completion.
Family members wonder… “Maybe Trevor just needs more practice.” “Maybe he will outgrow it.” “Maybe a different school or curriculum would make things easier.” Trevor tries, but it is not enough.
As Trevor experiences increased anxiety and frustration about schoolwork, so does the gap in his learning process. Trevor’s scenario spells HELP!
As we enter the new school year, there are children bursting with excitement to meet their new teachers, sorting their stationery, organizing their desks – ready for challenges. There is also another group of children, the Trevors, who feel anxious, resistant and very unsure by the thought of returning to school and climbing the next academic Everest.
One out of five children is like Trevor, and experiences the most common childhood learning disability, i.e. dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning difficulty (LLD) that can affect one or more of the following areas: reading (decoding, accuracy, speed and understanding), writing (handwriting, planning, organization, editing and expressive writing), spelling, math (flexibility in calculations, making estimations, money problems, understanding number patterns) and sensory processing (auditory processing, visual processing, sensory-motor processing).
In addition, social difficulties can immerge from the misunderstanding of language information, misreading social cues, self-doubt, and a lacking of self-confidence. Although the severity of LLD/dyslexia can range from being mild to severe, children with these symptoms/signs can be treated successfully with timely intervention.
Children with LLD/dyslexia will exhibit difficulties in more than one area. The predominant difficulties will be related to decoding printed words. Usually the learning profile of a child with a specific language-learning difficulty/dyslexia shows both a variety of distinctive strengths and weaknesses. Areas of strengths may include creativity, spatial memory and spatial reasoning. Related to literacy skills, children with dyslexia may seem to have a well-developed oral vocabulary and good listening comprehension, compared to extreme difficulties in reading comprehension and written expression. Warning signs of LLD/dyslexia may include:
Preschool (early warning signs)
Learning numbers or the letters of the alphabet
Remembering colours or shapes
Sounding out words
Persistent reading or spelling errors
Reversing numbers, letters or words
Remembering details and facts (including math facts)
Misunderstanding arithmetic signs
Middle School & High School
Reading fluency & comprehension
Organizing and expanding ideas in written expression
Understanding word problems
Organizing, planning or managing time
Completing or handing in assignments
Concentrating or paying attention
Learning a second language
Remembering and retrieving detailed information
Comprehending more complex information
These characteristics can vary from day-to-day or minute-to-minute. A common feature about children with dyslexia is the inconsistency in performance. If a child exhibits difficulty in several of these areas over time, there is reason to investigate whether he presents with a specific learning difficulty.
In many children, specific learning difficulties go undetected during their early formative years when they are still learning to read and written language output is limited. Reasons for late identification might include the absence of any (initial) obvious symptoms, the child’s ability to compensate for his difficulties, or difficulties are masked by English Foreign Language (EFL) when the language of instruction differs from the home language.
Once these children need to use their reading skills to study and the work tempo increases, they are faced with difficulties accessing the information on a reading level and reflecting their knowledge on a written level. The difficulty faced by such children often makes them go through extreme degrees of frustration, resulting in negativity towards schoolwork and low self-esteem. Parents are often confused and/or surprised by the mismatch between their child’s “real” capabilities and skills compared to his academic performance.
Early identification and intervention with children who show the warning signs of a specific learning difficulty/dyslexia are critically important. Children with a language-based learning difficulty are formally diagnosed by a qualified educational psychologist following a comprehensive assessment. Other specialists in the field of developmental learning difficulties who will be able to help include speech-language therapists/pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and reading specialists.
Working collaboratively with specialists and educators is crucial to ensure that the child has the best possible support network during the intervention period. Parents play an essential role in communicating information to professionals and school-based teams who plan intervention programs. Parents know their children in different ways than anybody else and can share key information to greatly increase the chances that the child will respond to programs and learn more effectively.
Parents can be reassured that children with a specific learning difficulty/dyslexia can become enthusiastic readers when given learning tools that fit their creative learning style. Early intervention consisting of a systematic and explicit instruction in phonological (and phonemic) awareness and phonics leads to the development of primary, automatic reading systems and allows a child to gradually improve on his reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
Parents who suspect their child might have a specific language-learning difficulties/dyslexia do not need to feel alone and isolated in this journey. HELP is available:
Hope and inspiration: Be your child’s motivator and celebrate each accomplishment with him. Keep developing his strengths while working on the weaknesses. These are the areas in which he can excel, build his experiences of success and his self-esteem. The goal is to make sure that the strengths and not the weaknesses define the child’s life.
Empower yourself: Increase your knowledge about specific language-based learning difficulties/dyslexia, signs and symptoms, available support and strategies to assist your child more effectively. You will be able to understand your child and his behaviour better. By gaining knowledge, you will be able to make informed decisions about the next step.
Link to a network: Parenting a child with learning differences is challenging. Parent Support Groups provide a platform for you to share ideas, concerns and experiences with other parents. Nowadays, website forums, blogs and Facebook groups can serve as a platform.
Professionals & programs: Get help and support from health care professionals who are specialists in the field of child development. Educational psychologists, speech-language therapists/pathologists, occupational therapists, and/or physiotherapists will be able to provide assistance in compiling an individualized therapy program/plan that will cater for your child’s specific learning needs.
Finally, everyone is born with stronger and weaker brain functions. For some, weaknesses may affect learning to read. The brain has the ability to change and reorganize itself and its function. This potential for change forms the basis for early identification and therapy. Thus, the Earlier the child is Identified, the Quicker the Implementation of a therapy Plan. Parents are encouraged to EQUIP themselves and take the next step.
A child does not need to fail before he can succeed.
Article Courtesy of:
kidsFirst Medical Center
T: +971 4 348 KIDS (5437)