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Helping children overcome common learning problems

Does your child struggle with school? Do they dread reading out loud, writing an essay, or tackling a math problem? It’s normal to make mistakes and even struggle a little when learning new things.

But repeated, long-lasting problems may be a sign of a learning disability and by understanding all you can about learning disabilities, you can ensure your child gets the right help to overcome classroom challenges and succeed in life.

Learning disabilities, or learning disorders, are terms describing a wide variety of learning problems. A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation and kids with learning disabilities aren’t lazy or dumb but are just as smart as everyone else except their brains are simply wired differently. These differences affect how the brain handles information and can create difficulties with reading, writing, and math.

Children and adults with learning disabilities see, hear, and understand things differently. This can lead to trouble with learning new information and skills, and putting them to use. If your child is in school, the types of learning disorders that are most obvious usually revolve around reading, writing, or math. Other types of learning disabilities involve difficulties with motor skills (movement and coordination), understanding spoken language, distinguishing between sounds, and interpreting visual information.

Normally, in the first few years of school, some children, in spite of adequate instruction, have a hard time to master the skills of reading and writing as efficiently as their peers so, the earlier a learning disability is recognised and addressed, the greater the likelihood for success in school and later in life.  Initial screening and then ongoing monitoring of children’s performance is important for being able to tell quickly when they start to struggle during reading and writing. Therefore, if teachers, guardians and parents are not actively looking to note any struggle, they might miss opportunities to intervene early.

Each learning disability has its own signs. A child with a reading disability may be a poor speller or have trouble reading quickly or recognising common words.

 A child with a writing disability may write very slowly, have poor handwriting, or have trouble expressing ideas in writing and organising text. A math disability can make it hard for a child to understand basic math concepts (like multiplication), make change in cash transactions, or do math-related word problems.

Understand that learning difficulties can affect more than school performance and if not addressed, they can also affect the overall health. A learning disability can make it hard to understand written health information, follow a doctor’s directions, or take the proper amount of medication at the right times. It can also lead to a poor understanding of the benefits of healthy behaviours, such as exercise, and of health risks, such as obesity.

This lack of knowledge can result in unhealthy behaviours and increased risk of disease.

We need to understand that not all struggling learners have a disability. Many factors affect a person’s ability to learn. Some students may learn more slowly or need more practice than their classmates. Poor vision or hearing can also cause a child to miss what’s being taught as well as poor nutrition or exposure to toxins early in life might contribute to learning difficulties.

 If appropriate interventions are provided, many of these challenges can be minimized. Parents and teachers should also be aware that their own words and behaviour around learning and doing math are implicitly learned by the young people around them and may lessen or worsen math anxiety. Effective intervention requires consistency and a partnership between school and home.

Sometimes children with learning disabilities have another learning disorder or other condition, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD can be confused with a learning problem since it makes it difficult for a child to pay attention, stay focused, organise information, and finish tasks which can interfere with schoolwork, home life, and friendships.

Many complex factors can contribute to development of learning disabilities for instance it is thought that learning disabilities may be caused by hereditary, teratogenic factors (for instance, alcohol or cocaine use during pregnancy), medical factors (premature birth, diabetes, meningitis of mother or offspring and chronic childhood ear infections), and/or environmental factors (malnutrition, poor prenatal healthcare) can alter the neurological development or structure of the brain as well, creating a learning disability.

 Home, family, and daily life also have a strong effect on a child’s ability to learn starting from a very early age.  Parents can help their children develop skills and build knowledge during the first few years of life that will support later learning. We need to engage our children in different learning activities from the start. Before they’re even speaking, kids are learning by just listening and watching as you talk about what you’re doing in your daily tasks. Point out and talk with children about the names, colours, shapes, sizes, and numbers of objects in their environment. Try to use comparison words like “more than” or “less than.” This will help teach your child about the relationships between things, which is important for learning math concepts. Even basic things, like getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet, can help children’s brain development and their ability to learn.

A developmental lag might not be considered a symptom of a learning disability until your child is older, but if you recognize it when your child is young, you can intervene early. You know your child better than anyone else does, so if you think there is a problem, it doesn’t hurt to get an evaluation. Note that with proper support people with learning disabilities can be successful at school, work, and in their personal lives.

The Author, Racheal Masibo, is an Assistant Lecturer at St John’s University of Tanzania (SJUT)-School of Nursing, P.O BOX 47 Dodoma Tanzania. Email: rackelmasibo@yahoo.com Mobile: 0717513598

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