How it affects Children, Parents and Educators
When the term Learning disability is mentioned people tend to picture children who cannot read or write properly when in fact it encapsulates many types of limitations. Learning difficulties, as it is also referred to, can be caused by both internal and external factors and it has not been definitively proven which has the biggest impact. Children who endure learning difficulties based on internal factors tend to do so on a larger, more profound scale than those who have been affected by external factors.
Dyslexia is one of the most commonly found and widely recognised learning disability. However, it is actually one of the least prohibitive difficulties which Australian students can suffer from. If found early enough a child with Dyslexia can be taught to overcome their innate difficulties with reading. When students are left for long periods without intervention the ease for solving their issues is made more complicated.
In 2009 an Australian study of children with learning disabilities revealed that 7% showed difficulties between the ages of 0 and 14 years-of-age. Of the 4.1 Million children studied for the report over 89,000 were found to have a profound disability, 73,771 had severe limitations, 10,840 had moderate and nearly 40 thousand had mild limitations. It painted a startling picture for not just parents but for carers, medical professionals and educators.
Other Australian surveys have shown that 10 to 16 per cent of students present with learning difficulties according to their teachers. Many of these students have difficulties that are beyond the scope of normal teaching practice as their individual needs surpass what is logistically possible for a classroom teacher to provide. Official numbers of rates of learning difficulties amongst Australian students is closer to 4%.
Identifying a Learning Difficulty
Children are clever and those who have learning difficulties are quite adept at hiding them. They are usually quite aware of their inability to perform certain tasks, tackle particular subjects and even understand curriculum content and their biggest skill is avoiding them. The easiest way to identify a student with learning difficulties is to watch their avoidance techniques.
- Going to the bathroom frequently
- Talking out of turn
- Purposefully getting into trouble around exams or heavy periods of study
- Forgetting glasses, books, pens, textbooks, homework etc
- Copying others work
- Being the class clown or making light of the reason why they have not completed the work
Techniques to assist students with Learning Difficulties
Short of engaging the services of professional child development psychologists or having the resources to pair a child with a teacher aide one-to-one there are a number of ways to assist their identified learning difficulty. It is important to match supporting techniques to the child’s issue.
- Create colour categorised timetables for older students to keep them organised
- Visit an optometrist and purchase multiple pairs of glasses
- Have their hearing tested to ensure they have no physical impairments
- Talk to them and ask them to identify areas where they have trouble
- Give them checklists for classes or subjects to keep them organised
- If they have trouble with English read to them, with them, listen to them read and encourage them to do it on their own
- If they have trouble with mathematics spend time with the basics, counting, grouping, times tables, adding, subtracting and counting in 2’s, 4’s, 6’s etc
Western style classroom teaching uses the teacher-centred method. Teachers have the information students need which they present through passive delivery for students to decipher, disseminate and organise into their own mental schematic. Students with learning difficulties find it difficult enough just to listen let alone organise information in a realistic way for meaningful retrieval later.
Intervention by a tutor is a way for students to take time away from an information rich setting to break down components of a subject and organise it. A tutor can not only provide assistance for subject specific issues they can also assist a child in organising their approach to the classroom as a whole. Creating organisational charts, practicing note taking, and discussing techniques to take in new information can be all ways to assist a child with learning difficulties. A tutor can also take the time to work with a child on an essential skill set such as number grouping or silent endings that a classroom teacher simply does not have the time to do one-on-one.
A good tutor will have a solid understanding of current curriculum standards, skills and focuses for each year level. They should also be aware of the essential skill sets being tested in the NAPLAN examinations and converse with parents and teachers to establish where a child reaches, falls short and surpasses any key learning areas. Overall they should have patience, flexibility and creativity to ensure they can reach a child’s true learning style be it linguistic, verbal or tactile.
Simple Advice for Parents
If you suspect that your child may have learning difficulties or you have been told by their classroom teacher it is important not to panic. Many children will have some difficulties over time and it is important that you don’t make a big deal out of it. Chances are they will already feel left out or different and it is your job to make them feel at ease with these differences. Talk to them and ask how they feel about their learning experiences. Identify where they need help and be proactive to find a solution.
Useful links and resources