A brief overview of difficulties impacting learningand the interventions that can help

Everyone – with or without a learning difficulty – learns differently. We know how frustrating it can be as a parent or a teacher to watch a child struggle with aspects of learning that come easily to other kids. Children affected by a learning difficulty need individualized support based on their unique learning style and the degree, frequency and intensity of the symptoms of their disability.  Often, professional learning support can make a big difference, as it helps children develop coping strategies and confidence. Typically provided in a one-on-one setting, these sessions help children improve in school and not only cope, but thrive.

Educational Psychologists conduct Psycho-Educational Assessments which identify and diagnose disabilities that impact learning. They also provide consultation to parents and teachers to support them in figuring out which interventions can help a child succeed and thrive in their academic environment.

Often Occupational Therapists and Speech-Language Pathologists are involved in the diagnostic process, as a multidisciplinary approach allows for different perspectives on a child’s development, which in turn leads to more concrete recommendations for intervention. When a child reaches the age of formal exams and tests, diagnosis is critical for to receive accommodations that allow children to show their full set of skills by reducing the impact of their disability.

Below we explain disabilities that (statistically) are expected in at least 1 in every 20 children.

Dyslexiais a receptive language-based learningdisability that can hinder reading, writing, spelling, math and even speaking. Dyslexia often results in poor reading fluency and difficulties with accurate comprehension despite normal or even above-average intelligence. Most of what happens in the classroom is based on reading and writing, so it is important to identify dyslexia as early as possible. With the proper support, such as one-on-one reading support or learning in small groups, most children with dyslexia canfind ways of coping with it, some even to the point where theybecome good readers and writers.

It has been observed that early intervention is one of the effective ways of achieving long-term improvements in a child’s reading and writing skills. Structured learning environments can help a child with dyslexia work at the right level at their own pace. Intervention by Learning Support Specialists and Educational Psychologists focuses on increasing awareness of the relationships between letters and sounds. Using visual cues alongside oral training has proven to be most effective, which can also be done by providing computer-based programs that can be used at home and in school. Improving a child’s confidence and reducing anxiety through therapythat caters to children (such as Art Therapy and Play Therapy) has also shown to lead to immediate improvements in a child’s academic performance despite being dyslexic.

Dyscalculia refers to a wide-range of lifelong learning difficulties involving learning and comprehending how to use and manipulate numbers. It also affects a child’s ability to understand concepts like time, measurement and spatial reasoning.  There is no single type of math disability and the effects of the disability vary greatly from person to person. There are two major areas of weakness that can contribute to math learning disabilities; visual-spatial difficulties and language processing difficulties.

Learning Support Specialists and Educational Psychologists can get involved to create a better understanding of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. This is critical in helping a child with dyscalculia achieve success in a regular classroom environment. Sometimes, mainstream classrooms do not allow for individualized and structured learning programs needed for a child with dyscalculia. If this is the case, educational programs that allow for small-group teaching are needed. Improving concentration skills and working memory through evidence-based intervention programs has shown to be effective. Art or Play Therapy may also be helpful to a child with dyscalculia who is prone to getting angry or frustrated when tackling math problems.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability which affects writing and can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and difficulties with putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or a page. This is associated with a combination of difficulties in orthographic coding (using rules of spelling and grammar) and difficulties in the area of fine motor development (finger sequencing). Often children diagnosed with dysgraphia are also found to have attention deficit disorder, dyslexia or speech impairments.

When supporting children with dysgraphia, Occupational Therapists work on developing fine motor skills, in combination with very intensive training of writing skills. Teachers can consult with Learning Support Specialists and Educational Psychologists in setting up a learning environment in which explicit instructions are broken down into smaller sections to increase comprehension. Sometimes students are also encouraged to use a computer instead of handwriting.

Dyspraxia affects motor skill development. Children with dyspraxia have trouble with planning movements and coordination in general. This can vary from simple motor tasks such as waving to more complex tasks like brushing teeth. Often, working memory is also impacted, leading to poor short-term memory. Low muscle tone, sensory overload and difficulty distinguishing left from right are also observed in some children diagnosed with dyspraxia.

Occupational Therapy identifies problem areas in a child’s everyday life that are impacted by dyspraxia. The therapist then works out practical solutions and provides tailored practice opportunities. Early intervention is vital with dyspraxia, as it can increase a child’s ability to develop skills that are considered more complex. Speech-Language Therapy is recommended when a child struggles coordinating muscles used to speak, which is often the case for children with this disability.

Developmental Dysphasia is a term that previously was used to identify specific language impairments with children. This diagnosis is now used when a child has a language delay or disorder for no apparent reason. Usually both speaking and understanding language are impaired.

Interventions usually include support from Speech-Language Pathologists who use a variety of methods and techniques to improve communication, speech and language skills. Therapy includes close collaboration with teachers to encourage generalization of newly-learned skills. In severe cases, small-group learning environments are beneficial.

ADHD is diagnosed when children show symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness. Contrary to popular belief, ADHD is not a learning disability but it is common amongst people with learning disabilities, and can interfere with learning and behavior.

Intervention can help relieve symptoms and make the condition much less of a problem in day-to-day life.With the support of a pediatrician or psychiatrist, medication can be an option for treatment. Evidence-based programs centering on skills such as concentration, focus and working memory can improve a child’s confidence in their academic and non-academic skills.

Behavior Therapy provides support for both teachers and parents of children with ADHD. Behavior Therapy usually involves behavior modification programs, using a system of rewards to encourage a child to gain control over certain symptoms of their ADHD. Art or Play Therapy can be useful when treating additional problems which may appear with ADHD, such as anxiety or poor self-esteem. Coaching encourages the discussion of ADHD as it can assist children in making sense of being diagnosed with ADHD, and in learning to cope and live with the condition.

Through this list (which is not exhaustive) we try to provide insight to very common disabilities that can impact a child’s development and academic success if not supported. If you look for more information on the above disabilities and its interventions, have other concerns,or are seeking support for a child, our team of specialists will gladly assist you in finding the best resources locally available.

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