Finding a solution to a child’s learning difficulties means empowering them to help themselves. This means developing their social, emotional and intellectual skillsets.
It started with a meeting with your child’s teacher, telling you your child is not coping at school and suggesting a remedial environment. Or perhaps your child’s original enthusiasm for learning is now replaced by complaints of an upset tummy and other similar obstacles to get out of going to school. Or maybe the last report card showed a considerable drop in grades. Perhaps you thought you’d “wait and see” if school became easier with time, but there are even more challenges with the next grade: school has become an anxiety-provoking place and learning is no longer an experience to embrace.
“Development and deficits in development are not set in stone. There are steps that can be taken to change the course your child is on.”
Whatever the beginning may be, the most important step is to address the issue of falling behind the rest of the class and find a solution to help your child go forward.
“The sooner a child is helped and given the necessary skillset, the easier it is for both the child and parents,” says Jenna White, Supervisor of Catch Up Kids. The supportive programme specialises in identifying skill set deficits and designing tailored lesson programs to address each child’s particular challenges. “Addressing learning problems can help turn around the vicious cycle of not doing well, which in turn creates a feeling of ‘less than’ the rest of the class, which impacts both emotionally and behaviourally.
“The more the right skills are targeted, the more closely the performance matches the child’s ability. It is important to make a distinction between academic performance and ability which don’t always match up, especially for anxious kids,” says the skillset specialist.
One of the key skill sets that often needs to be addressed in children with a learning difficulty is that of executive functioning skills. This is the CEO of the brain and continues to develop into a person’s early twenties. Examples of executive functioning skills include planning and organising, time management, sustained attention, inhibition, working memory, etc.
“Executive functioning skills support the academic output. Once we start working on this, the children become more successful and catch up. It’s not that they can’t do it. It’s that their executive functioning skills are letting them down,” explains White. “For example, if you miss the teacher’s instruction, it doesn’t mean you can’t answer the question; it means you didn’t sustain your attention long enough to catch the question, resulting in the incorrect answer. We often teach children to self-manage so that they can be aware of times when they lose attention, so that they can snap back into focus,” she says.
Although executive functioning is usually one of the big causes of the child not keeping up in the classroom, there are in fact eight developmental domains. A child acquires hundreds of skills every year in these areas which include language, social, adaptive, executive functioning, motor, play, cognition and academic skills. These areas all affect each other. If the child has a language delay it could also affect academic output. For example, if the child doesn’t understand the concepts of ‘fewer’ or ‘more than’ or ‘smallest’ or ‘first’ and ‘last,’ it will affect maths output, which falls under academic competency. “Development and deficits in development are not set in stone,” emphasis White. “There are steps that can be taken to change the course your child is on.“
Guidance, focused support and positive reinforcement can establish a solid foundation of self-confidence. In this way, the difficulty can be used as leverage to learn how to cope and rise up to challenges, making a child with learning challenges more determined, stronger and more resilient – important skills in leading a productive life, no matter where or how you might start,” concludes the learning expert.