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
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
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.