• Kristine Lane

Identifying a Learning Difficulty


Many parents get a gut feeling when they suspect their school-aged child has a learning difficulty. This could be created by what they see at home, what they hear from the child, or what information has come from the school.

Sometimes, a learning difficulty can be presented in the form of:

  • Messy or unstructured handwriting

  • Struggling to express ideas – both written or verbal

  • Flipping of, or reversal of, letters or numbers

  • Choppy, incoherent, and/or slow reading

  • Trouble decoding words

  • Inability to comprehend what is read

  • Constantly failing grades and assessment pieces

  • Low NAPLAN and other testing results

  • Bad behaviour – both in and out of class

  • Inability to process and/or remember subject content

  • Inability to organise thoughts, work, assessment, or themselves

  • Not doing homework

  • Inability to follow instructions

  • Inattention

  • Struggling to sequence ideas or information

There is a whole range of learning difficulties, and it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what the underlying problem is, unless looked at or diagnosed by a specialist. Often, symptoms can overlap, or be masked by other behaviours, which is why specialist recommendations are better than a parental assumption or self-diagnosis. This helps the student’s teachers and school better support the child – rather than relying on a broad, brushstroke solution which can sometimes miss key areas.

Learning difficulties, whilst slowly being recognised as a cognitive disability under the Disability and Discrimination Act, are different to verified disabilities like Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Visual Impairment which fall under the Special Education banner in schools. Children with learning difficulties do require support, but at differing levels, and can sometimes be accommodated by simple differentiation in the classroom.

Some of the most common learning difficulties found amongst students are:

  • Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, and Dyscalculia

  • Working Memory

  • Auditory and/or Visual Processing

  • Phonemic Awareness, Decoding or Processing

  • Language disorders – either written or verbal

  • ADHD (whilst not considered a learning disability, it affects learning)

Parents’ first port of call in identifying a learning difficulty should be their child’s teacher/s to discuss observations and concerns, which can lead to on-site tests through their Guidance Officer or visiting Speech Language Pathologist. But the waiting list can be lengthy, and criteria specific. This is a good starting point, but they sometimes further refer to an outside agency anyway, so a GP referral to a Paediatrician, or going to an educational assessment agency, Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, or Educational Psychologist can be the more preferred course of action.

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