How to help a child with learning difficulties

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Learning difficulties, though common, can prove to be challenging for children, because they may affect their academic performance, as well as their personal confidence.  

At the same time, parents may find supporting their children who have learning difficulties to be confusing, frustrating, or overwhelming.  

Sam Smith is Director of The CareJunction, an organization that provides therapeutic and counselling services and specialises in learning difficulties and social-emotional development.  Smith says there are a number of reasons a child may experience learning difficulties, and that if they do, their parents and teachers must work together to identify the root of the problem.  In some cases, learning difficulties are not based on a child’s ability to understand academic content.   

“Often society will use the term learning difficulties interchangeably with deficits in IQ or cognition. Children who are struggling academically may do so for a number of reasons, many of which are unrelated to the child’s IQ or potential to learn,” Smith explains.  

Other elements may be at play,  such as stress, lack of exposure to the language of instruction outside the classroom environment,  hearing or visual deficit, speech or language difficulty, or difficulties in muscle tone strength. Any or all of these can lead a child to perform poorly in school.

However, if parents and teachers are able to identify that a child has learning difficulties earlier on and give them the necessary support, such as seeking the help of external learner educational programmes, children are able to overcome their learning difficulties. 

“Our biggest challenge when children are identified [as having learning difficulties] is parents taking too long to enrol their child in learner support programmes which results in bigger gaps, increased performance-related anxiety for the child, and longer durations within remediation programmes,” says Smith. 

Additionally, it is important that parents and teachers work together in finding the best strategies to support a child with learning challenges.  Smith recommends. 

“There are a number of strategies that teachers can implement within the classroom to support learners – many of these second-tier interventions are strategies which we as the therapy team expose our educational partners to, to assist them in supporting their learners,” she says. 

These kinds of interventions can help a child close developmental gaps and become successful academic achievers within the mainstream system, adds Smith. 

“Often however implementation of learner support programmes such as therapy and adherence to these recommendations as well as parent support in this regard is critical to this,” she says.

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