Having a child that has learning disabilities can present unique challenges to a parent, but can also provide a way to bond and get closer to your child. Addressing the problem with sensitivity and care can provide your child with the confidence that he or she will need later in life, and will also give them the ability to tackle challenges with far more aplomb.
Identifying Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities are usually identified and diagnosed relatively late in the child's school career, usually when the child has been in school for two years or more. However, by then a lot of the psychological damage has been done. Most of the warning signs are in place much earlier though, and if parents can notice these then they can employ strategies to handle the disabilities much earlier.
While there is no single sign of a learning disability that unequivocally indicates a learning disability, having difficulty in learning to read can be the clearest warning sign.
Preschool signs and symptoms
- Problems with word pronunciation
- Issues with learning colours, shapes, numbers, days of the week and the alphabet
- Difficulty in fine motor control such as using crayons, pencils or scissors
- Trouble with following simple instructions or sticking to a routine
- Difficulty in finding the correct word
Primary school signs and symptoms
- Unable to make words
- Misspelling words
- Frequent reading errors
- Confusion of basic words when reading
- Slow to learn new skills
How to Help Your Child
After the learning disability has been diagnosed, it can be intimidating as a parent to help your child deal with it, but it needs to be done with care and sensibility.
The first thing to do is to research the disability. With reading difficulties, the most common disability is dyslexia, so the parent should research the disability in order to understand why and how the child struggles. This helps you to be more understanding and patient when assisting your child. There are a number of literacy resources that can help the parent start understanding how to treat the disability and help their child in their attempts at learning to read.
The most important thing that you can do as a parent is to praise your child often. Children with learning disabilities tend to be good at other things, such as sports or they will be more practically inclined. Praise them when they excel at these activities, and be supportive of them when they struggle.
Also, be open to the idea of counselling. This allows your child to learn how to deal with the frustration of having a learning disability, and increase his or her confidence as well as helping with the development of invaluable social skills.
An instructor who is skilled in helping teach children with reading difficulties will usually work in small groups, and will begin by showing the children how words are made up of tiny sound bits. This can be shown in a number of ways, by having the children clap in sequence to the sounds as the word is slowly pronounced, or moving a marker tab as each sound is made. This engages the children, and shows them how each word is made of a number of bits.
Once this idea is firmly planted in the minds of the children, the instructors will show the children how letters in words stand for the tiny sounds in the speech. This type of teaching is known as "phonics" and helps the child sound out each bit of sound that is written down. Unfortunately, as English has more rules and exceptions, phonics although shown to make massive improvements cannot stand alone in conquering reading disabilities, and it's been shown that this approach favours rote memorization. However, if used in conjunction with getting children interested in reading it can be effective in helping alleviate reading difficulties. Reading/literacy games can help foster teamwork and social skills in children, and will provide the additional benefit of having reading be fun, which in turn will encourage children to read independently and not be forced to do so.