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  • Santhosh Guru

Early Indicators of Learning Difficulty

If a child is can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” - Ignacio Estrada

A child starts learning right from birth. And the learning pace is different for every child because the way each individual learns is different. As parents, we often compare our children with others and complain. Yet we fail to take into account the fact that a child might be facing learning challenges, which they are unable to overcome on their own.

There has been a lack of any exhaustive study that indicates the scenario of learning disability in India. However, it has been found that the incidence of learning disability is likely at least between 10 and 12% of the school-going population. This roughly translates to the fact that in a given Indian classroom there are at least four children with a learning disability.

What is learning disability?

According to the National Centre for Learning Disabilities, learning disability has been identified as a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. This also leads to challenges in their academic performance and has psychosocial implications. It can also be referred to as Specific learning disabilities (SpLD) and can lead to dyslexia and other conditions in kids.

Different types of Specific Learning Disabilities can be Dyslexia (difficulty in reading), Dysgraphia (difficulty in writing), Dyscalculia (difficulty in numbers and mathematical concepts), and Dysnomia (difficulty in naming).

Is learning disability the same as learning difficulty?

Though these terms are used interchangeably, there is a marked difference between them. According to the latest DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association) criteria, the term ‘disability is not used. Rather it is referred to as Specific learning disorder.

However, according to the Government of India’s RPWD Act (Right of persons with learning disabilities Act), the term learning disability is used in all references. In the educational sector as well, we see extensive use of the term learning disability. It depends entirely on the place and the need for identification.

We can identify children at risk right from the preschool level itself. At most times, the diagnosis of SpLD cannot be conclusively made until the child is in the third grade, or about eight to nine years old. However, we need not wait till that time, instead earlier the intervention, the lesser will be the learning gap or children.

Prolonged language delay, or not attending to the sounds of words (like having trouble playing rhyming games with words, or confusing words that sound alike), along with a family history, are some of the important red flags for dyslexia.

In this article, we will primarily focus on the early indicators of learning difficulty in preschoolers to UKG kids. It is important to intervene and identify them at the right time so that necessary help can be provided and preventing them to become a learning disability.

What are the early symptoms of learning difficulty?

  • Poor pronunciation- They struggle with pronunciations because they are confused with the phonics

  • Limited vocabulary growth- They have an aversion to reading and hence their vocabulary doesn’t grow substantially.

  • Lack of interest in storytelling- They lack listening skills and gets distracted easily.

  • Difficulty in understanding stories- Their comprehension and analytical skills do not develop well.

  • Difficulty in understanding words- They lack interpretation and have difficulty understanding words and concepts.

  • Difficulty in following sequence of instructions- They cannot process a series of instructions.

  • Poor fine motor skills- You might notice poor motor skills in terms of hand coordination and others

  • Days of the week, Months of the year- They have difficulty in remembering the sequence.

  • Alphabets and Numbers- They often write mirror images of alphabets and get confused between them. They also face difficulty in learning numbers in order.

A child who has learning difficulty or disability also exhibit the following traits:

  • Impulsive behaviour like acting without thinking about outcomes

  • Lack of focus and concentration, easily distracted

  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts

  • Problems with academic performance

  • Speaking like a younger child; using short, simple phrases; or leaving out words in sentences

  • Lack of listening skills

  • Problems in dealing with abrupt changes

If we can identify the early symptoms at the right time, we can also reduce learning gaps and help the child to cope up with his/her learning difficulties. Moreover, these indicators should never be seen in isolation. All research in the fields of neurological development and education emphasizes the importance of early intervention. Hence, arming parents and regular teachers with the ability to screen children 'at risk' is crucial. If there are recurring difficulties despite support, then they may require specialized help.


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