Learning Difficulties in Children

Disorganised, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia/Maths, Forgetfulness, Handwriting, Learning Difficulties, Memory/Recall, Reading, Slow Processing, Spelling

Children take different paths while learning to read, write and spell. For some it may seem effortless whilst others may struggle. Even when children develop differently, there is a typical or usual path of development. Many children struggle with learning at some point during their development. Most will catch up with a little bit of extra practice and individual attention. However, a parent is right to be concerned if a child appears to be having difficulties, especially if they seem frustrated.

Learning difficulties, or learning disorders, are umbrella terms for a wide variety of learning problems. A learning difficulty is not a problem with intelligence or motivation. Children with learning difficulties aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently. This difference affects how they receive and process information. Simply put, they hear and understand things differently. This can lead to trouble with learning new information and skills and putting them to use. The most common types of learning difficulty involve problems with reading, handwriting, maths, spelling, reasoning, listening and speaking.


Parents are often the first ones to realise that their child may be having trouble and sometimes teachers mention that they are concerned. The term Dyslexic or ‘word blind’ MAY crop up in conversation. Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects memory and processing speed and impacts on literacy development, mathematics, memory, organisation and sequencing skills to varying degrees.

Dyslexia can occur at any level of intellectual development. It is neurological in origin and affects up to 10% of the UK population and can affect anyone of any age and background.

Although some children may have difficulties with some parts of their learning, they are just as bright and able as their peers - in some cases even brighter! They are often creative and imaginative whilst at the same time they also have difficulties.

If a child has recently been diagnosed with a learning challenge, rest assured, you are most certainly not alone! Every child who has been diagnosed will have their own unique combination of reasons. A child's struggle to achieve academically may be the result of several factors which might not appear at first glance to be directly related to learning. Perhaps the child has difficulty concentrating at school because their brain is not working as efficiently as it might? Perhaps it is not working efficiently because the body is not processing food effectively enough to allow all the nutrition necessary for efficient brain function?

A child who has a cluster of the following difficulties may be dyslexic:

  • finds difficulty paying attention, sitting still, listening to stories
  • likes listening to stories but shows no interest in letters or words
  • has difficulty learning to sing or recite the alphabet
  • has a history of slow speech development
  • gets words muddled e.g. cubumber, flutterby
  • has difficulty keeping simple rhythm
  • finds it hard to carry out two or more instructions at one time, (e.g. put the toys in the box then put it on the shelf) but is fine if tasks are presented in smaller units
  • forgets names of friends, teacher, colours etc.
  • poor auditory discrimination
  • finds difficulty cutting, sticking and crayoning in comparison with their peer group
  • has persistent difficulty in dressing, e.g. finds shoelaces and buttons difficult
  • puts clothes on the wrong way around
  • has difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball
  • often trips, bumps into things, and falls over
  • has difficulty hopping or skipping
  • has obvious 'good' and 'bad' days for no apparent reason

Just like words some children can’t grasp basic number concepts. Dyscalculia is a brain-based condition that makes it hard to make sense of numbers and math concepts. They work hard to learn and memorise basic number facts. They may know what to do in a maths class but don’t understand why they’re doing it. In other words, they miss the logic behind it.

Other children understand the logic behind the maths but aren’t sure how and when to apply their knowledge to solving problems. Your child’s struggle with maths can be confusing, especially if they are doing well in other subjects. This can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem. But parents have the power to change that equation. There are many tools and strategies that can help with dyscalculia.

The trick is finding the ones that work best for your child. Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition but that doesn’t mean your child can’t be happy and successful.
Self-organisation is the ability to organise our thoughts and possessions and to carry out tasks in a step-by-step fashion.

Some people naturally think in a more ordered way than other people. They are more aware of details and can more easily keep track of several different things at once. This is part of the variety in thinking styles among people.

For some children, there might be some short-term hidden advantages to not being well organised, even if they are not openly aware of this. These might include:

  • choosing 'pleasure before pain' for example, watching the TV before getting the job done.
  • if they are disorganised, they are less likely to be chosen for 'jobs'.
  • if they have a poor memory or do not have the right equipment, etc. they may end up not having to do the work or doing less.
  • being disorganised (and thus avoiding completing tasks) may be a better reason for not being able to do a task than feeling thick or stupid in front of others.

Some children can have very specific difficulties in organisational thinking. They are likely to show many of the usual signs of poor organisational skills, such as untidy clothing and possessions, rarely having the appropriate equipment with them, continually losing items that they had only minutes before, untidy and poorly formed handwriting and frequently forgetting what they are meant to be doing. If these specific organisational difficulties are not recognised, it is easy for these children to be thought of as being lazy, uncaring, or deliberately forgetful.

Some children with specific difficulties in organisational thinking may also appear to have 'learnt' something one day but have forgotten it the next, or may have difficulties organising things in space (for example, laying work out on the page; sorting clothes out in the right order for dressing). In learning, they may have difficulty linking new information with that previously learnt, and organising what they have learnt in their heads in a way that makes sense and can be recalled. For a very small number of children their organisational difficulties can lead to significant learning problems and, if unrecognised, may result in low self-esteem.


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