Improve Literacy

Subscribe below to our free newsletter, and we'll send you regular tips and great advice on helping your child to read!

You'll also receive our complimentary download 20 Ways to Get Your Child Reading

First Name: Last Name: Email:


Learning disabilities and difficulties

Improve Literacy Newsletter

11 October 2008 - Issue 9

In this issue:

1. Learning disabilities and difficulties
2. Guest article - How to Detect Learning Problems in Your Child
3. Recommended websites and resources
4. A list of Learning Disability associations and organisations
5. The website

Hi there,

We've got a packed newsletter this month, so let's get straight into it!

1. Learning disabilities and learning difficulties

October is learning disabilities month in the US, so we thought we would dedicate this edition of the newsletter to the subject. Learning disabilities and learning difficulties take a variety of forms, whether it be dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD. In fact there are now so many different labels for them that it's little wonder that parents and even teachers are confused by their meaning.

Learning disabilities generally fall into two categories - global learning disabilities and specific learning disabilities. Children with global learning disabilities tend to struggle in all elements of learning, and in the past were labelled 'slow learners'. They would usually perform poorly in IQ tests.

Specific learning disability sufferers, on the other hand, are usually of average or even high intelligence, but still struggle with specific disciplines such as reading or writing.

2. Guest article - How to Detect Learning Problems in Your Child By Priscilla L. Vail, M.A.T.

Question: We know the earlier a child gets help with a learning difficulty, the better the results. What are some of the classic warning signs, or possible predictors of problems in school, parents should be aware of? Do the "labels" often assigned to children with school problems help or hurt?

Answer: In the olden days, railroad crossings had signs saying Stop! Look! Listen! Those words are still valuable today. We need to Stop and give ourselves time and space to understand what's going on around us. We need to Look for danger or caution flags to avoid colliding with onrushing trains. We also need to Listen. As children grow and venture beyond the safety of home, it is as if they are approaching a railroad crossing, and an intersection with school, community and the world. To understand warning signals, you, as a parent, need to Stop! Look! Listen!

Many academic difficulties are language based, so the first place to look for red flags is in the language system. Here are six areas:

The age at which a child starts to speak can indicate that child's comfort with language. Children who understand and use words easily have figured out that the sounds people make in conversation represent different things and people in the world: "Ma-Ma," "cookie," or "baby." First, children begin to understand the language they hear, then they mimic language in return. Most adults take this for granted, but we must Stop! and appreciate what a complex task the child is performing. Some children catch on to words early. For others, language is a hard game or a difficult system. These 
children are sending a warning signal. If spoken language is difficult or unappealing, usually written language (reading and writing, letters and numbers) will be too.

Receptive language is what the child takes in, first through listening and later through listening and reading. You as a parent need to notice whether your child's receptive language channel works effectively. Does your child enjoy listening to stories? Can your child tell you what happened in the story? Can your child remember the high points (or the details) of yesterday's story? Does your child absorb those pieces of family news they're not meant to hear: Uncle Ernie's on a binge, or why does Aunt Sophie wear those eyelashes at her age?

Children who absorb such information comfortably are demonstrating good receptive language skills. Children who are uninterested in stories, do not follow and remember a story line, or don't pick up news from conversation are flying a danger flag. They will miss news, explanations, questions, and concepts now. Later on, the process of reading may either not make sense to them or may be too difficult. At all ages, we need to Stop! Look! and Listen! to a child's receptive language.

Expressive language is the vehicle for giving out ideas, questions, emotions, or facts. In normal development, children practice expressively what they have taken in receptively. Parents need to Listen!

Does your child use pronouns, plurals, and verb tenses correctly? Most children are reasonably accurate by first grade. The elementary school child who says, "Here are the thingies I branged for Tom and I" is telling us a lot. Can your child retrieve needed words smoothly? The child who strains when trying to use such words as "marker," "basketball," or "peanut butter" is, in effect, saying, "Listen! I have trouble finding the words I need."

Does your child keep sounds in correct sequence or do individual sounds or syllables slide around? Is it an "elephant" or an "ephelant"? A "hamburger" or a "hanga-burger"? A "birthday party" or a "birthparty day"? Children who tangle their sound sequences in spontaneous speech are warning us they will probably have trouble stringing sounds together when trying to read words, or breaking sounds apart when trying to spell.

Litter and clutter are warning signals. Most children can say what they mean so that others can understand them. Children who have trouble getting to the point, who litter and clutter their speech with distracting, unnecessary information, are telling us their thought processes don't go straight to the target. This difficulty will hamper their reading, classroom discussion and, above all, their writing all the way through school ... and life. They need help.

Some children have trouble with the mechanics of reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic. It takes them a long time to learn their letter sounds and to recognize sight words. They may have trouble with pencil grip and handwriting. In the manner of many beginners, they may reverse their letters or numerals. Unfortunately, some children today never receive direct instruction in these early level mechanical skills. But research shows all children need this information. Those who still struggle after instruction that works for their peers need multi-sensory instruction which brings together eyes, ears, fingers, and muscles.

Some children have trouble organizing themselves in time and space. They aren't sure where things belong, what to do first, and what comes last. These concepts underlie smooth function in the adult world as well as in childhood. "Nexterday" is a long time coming. Lots of kids have trouble with the vocabulary of time and space - later, until, whenever, in a while, on time, at two o'clock. Teach these words to your child as if they were terms in a foreign language. For some children they are. Build the structure of time and space into your family life as soon as possible. Since apples don't fall far from trees, you might give yourself some help, too.

Some children misunderstand social cues. They don't know how to ask to join a game or to negotiate sharing or taking turns. Children who are isolated, or who isolate themselves by their behavior, don't do well on group projects or in team sports, are seldom elected to class office, and usually sit home alone when others are at birthday parties. The sadness, anger, or frustration born of being "out" may interfere with concentration, memory, and general availability for school work, not to mention fun.

Are labels helpful or harmful?
Let me tell you about my boatshed and me. At summer's end, our family puts the canoe, the paddles, lifejackets, Frisbees, and fishing gear, along with any unused canned goods, in the boatshed. One year, by mistake, we left the cans on the floor where they sloshed around in surging winter storm water. In June, the cans were there, intact, but their labels had soaked off. Although I could identify a can of soup, I had no idea whether it was shrimp bisque, chicken with stars, split pea, or jellied consomme. Was this can baked beans, artichoke hearts, or stewed tomatoes? Which was for kids, which would be delicious with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of curry? Which needed to be piping hot, which chilled? For the food offered to match the appetite of the recipient, we needed to know what was what and who was ready for lunch.

The same is true for children and schooling. If Martha or Sam has trouble learning letter sounds, we need to prepare multisensory training. If Joe and Dawn have trouble with reading comprehension because they have weak receptive language, let's say so, and target some specific help. If Jamil goes through math like a buzz saw, but can't remember how to spell "friend," let's give him scope with numbers and help with spelling. We need to Stop! Look! and Listen! Then we need to use the information we gather to make a good plan. Labels are dangerous when they replace a person's humanity and individuality, but they are invaluable when they provide the precise terminology to decide who needs what, when, where, why, and how.

After all, what's to be gained by giving watery broth to a student ready for hearty stew, or clam chowder to someone allergic to fish?

3. Recommended websites

Here are a few websites that give some invaluable information on a wide variety of topics relating to learning disabilities. They are based in the US, UK and Australia.

LD Online
Learning Disabilities UK -
Great Schools -
Learning Disabilities Australia -

4. A list of Learning Disability associations and organisations

If you feel concerned that your child may have a learning disability or learning difficulty, it is definitely worth seeking advice from experts, who will be able to perform an analysis on your child. Below we have listed some of the main associations and institutes in the English-speaking world, with addresses and contact details:

Learning Disabilities Association of America
4156 Library Road 
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349 
Phone (412) 341-1515 Fax (412) 344-0224

National Center for Learning Disabilities
381 Park Avenue South Suite 1401
New York, NY 10016
Ph: 212.545.7510
Fax: 212.545.9665
Toll-free: 888.575.7373

Australian Learning Disability Association
Accessibility Online Pty Ltd
Suite 105, 56 Bowman Street
Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Phone: 1300 ACCESS (1300 222 377)

British Institute of Learning Disabilities
Campion House
Green Street
United Kingdom
DY10 1JL
Telephone 01562 723 010

123 Golden Lane
London EC1Y 0RT
Telephone: 020 7454 0454
Fax: 020 7608 3254

The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (National Office)
250 City Centre Avenue, Suite 616, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 6K7
Telephone: (613) 238-5721 | Fax: (613) 235-5391 | Toll-Free: 1-877-238-5322 

New Zealand
Specific Learning Disabilities Federation of New Zealand
C/O Registrar, PO Box 290, Waipukurau 4242

5. The Improve Literacy website

Our website provides information and advice to parents about child literacy and ways to motivate children to read.

Feel free to spread the word to other parents or people you think might be interested in our articles and newsletter!

Site Map  |    | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Visit My Own Adventure Personalised Books