Learning struggles in children is not a lost cause

A number of children and teens around the world struggle with concentration and comprehension. But with the right understanding and proper diagnosis, they can work to overcome these challenges.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘all children are not the same’. It seems like an obvious statement: all aspects of a child from their appearance to their personality will naturally vary.

So it should come as no surprise that children vary widely intellectually as well, and it’s important that we take note of children’s learning difficulties to help them overcome barriers.

According to Razan Nabulsi, co-founder and director of training at Dots&Links, an Abu Dhabi-based skills development centre, learning difficulties, or LD, in children can be attributed to two main factors: genetics and environment.

“Children who come from families with a history of learning difficulties and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be predisposed to the same condition,” Razan explains.

“Environmental reasons can be caused by a number of issues, including after-effects on the child from complications during the mother’s pregnancy and while giving birth.

Razan Nabulsi, co-founder and director of training at Dots&Links

“Other reasons include poor teaching methodologies, social or emotional struggles, possibly due to factors such as divorce of parents or death in the family, chaos at home, bullying, neglect or verbal, emotional and physical abuse,” Razan continues.

“Moving to a new country and dealing with a new educational system may also cause children to struggle, especially during a transitional period.”

Heed the signs

Learning difficulties can manifest in a number of ways. Keep an eye on your child to see if they are having trouble paying attention and concentrating on assigned tasks, as this can be a sign of a deeper problem.

“Sometimes these inattention problems are accompanied by hyperactivity, which may result in further difficulties in behaviour as they tend to be very impulsive and fidgety,” Razan notes.

Medical conditions can also be at play and that’s why it’s important for parents to consult professionals to seek a proper diagnosis for their child.

As Razan enumerates, several conditions may be affecting your child’s learning: “Dyslexia hinders a person’s ability to listen, speak, read and write; dyscalculia makes it hard to understand number concepts, maths computations and affects problem-solving skills; and dysgraphia is difficulty in spelling, poor handwriting, trouble in expressing thoughts on paper and poor motor coordination such as gripping a pen and scissors.”

Help at hand

For children with LD, the effects can often result in confusion and embarrassment among classmates, which over time can lead them to feel entirely disinterested in school.

“Often, students don’t want to admit they’re struggling and so put their head down and try to fall under the radar in class,” explains Simon Hetherington, director at Kip McGrath Education Centre Abu Dhabi.

Simon Hetherington, director at Kip McGrath Education Centre Abu Dhabi

“This unwillingness to speak up often drives the problem deeper. It is important [for parents and teachers] not to get frustrated with the child as this often creates a bigger feeling of failure and a ‘can’t do’ attitude.”

It is advisable for parents to coordinate closely with the school, and if necessary, a specialist, to come up with a suitable solution.

“One way is to put the child in a small class with students dealing with the same area of difficulty, allowing them to receive personalised learning programmes designed for their needs,” says Razan.

Speech, language or occupational therapy can also help a student develop the necessary skills that are presently lacking.

“Brain training or intensive individualised training programmes could be beneficial in strengthening the underlying difficulties that are causing the learning and attention problems,” Razan adds.

Tutoring, meanwhile, can address learning problems due to poor instruction, long-term school absence and a shift to a new curriculum.

“After-school classes can provide a positive learning environment away from many distractions that the child encounters at school,” says Simon.

“There is no timeline in doing this as each student learns differently. But, like in our case, we offer a range of learning styles including auditory, visual, verbal and logical, depending on the individual.”

Razan adds that it’s important to strike the right balance schedule-wise so as not to put too much pressure on your child.

“All intervention programmes can be implemented after school or during school hours,” she emphasises.

“It’s worth noting that the child should not be spending all his time after school doing therapy and training for a long time. It’s vital that the child gets time to rest, play freely and be exposed to fun activities.”

She adds: “It is important that parents do not have unrealistic expectations of their child, and also work to develop a growth mindset where the child knows that the process of learning is more important than the end result.”

WORDS Ferdinand Godinez

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