Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Learning Difficulties. The answers are of a general nature and apply equally to boys or girls. For more in-depth answers, which are relevant to your child's specific needs, please contact the Oakley House Learning Support Centre for help on 021 762 7204.
We will arrange an assessment of your child which will guide you in your decision-making.
  What is a Learning Difficulty?
  What causes a Learning Difficulty?
  How do I know if my child has a Learning Difficulty?
  What is Dyslexia?
  What is AD/HD?
  What can parents do to help their LD child?
  Will my child outgrow it?
  What kind of future can I expect for my child?

What is a Learning Difficulty?
A learning difficulty (LD) is an umbrella term which describes specific kinds of learning problems. LD varies from one person to another, in kind of difficulty as well as in severity of the problem. It is usually picked up in school when children, who are of average to above-average intelligence (and as such, should cope with the requirements of school), have trouble learning and using certain skills. The skills most often affected are reading and writing, listening and speaking, reasoning and mathematics. For a child to learn, information has to:

  • go into his brain through his sensory nerves (eyes and ears),
  • get organized to make sense,
  • be kept there in memory,
  • and then be brought out again when needed.

Children with a learning problem have difficulty processing information in any one or more of these areas.

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What causes a Learning Difficulty?
No one knows for sure what causes learning difficulties, but most researchers think that they are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Some possible causes for these differences may include:

  • Heredity – often other family members also have LD
  • Poor maternal health during pregnancy – smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, poor nutrition or untreated illnesses may contribute to the presence of LD
  • Complications at birth – cord around neck, breech delivery, prolonged labour, use of drugs, low birth weight
  • Delayed or uneven development
  • Minor brain injury

Because of the many possibilities, identifying the cause of the problem with any certainty is usually quite difficult, often not accomplished and quite pointless since it does not contribute at all to solving the problems.
Rather than worrying about the cause, it is more important to move forward in finding ways to get the right help.

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How do I know if my child has a Learning Difficulty?
There is no single clue which points to a possibility of a learning difficulty as LD children exhibit a wide range of symptoms. However, there are warning signs which can alert parents to get the right help as soon as possible. At preschool level, symptoms may include:

  • Significant delays in developmental milestones: first sat alone, first crawled, first word, first step, etc.
  • Problems with speech and language, with understanding others or making himself understood
  • Difficulty colouring in, using scissors, stacking, abnormally clumsy, has difficulty with activities like hopping, jumping, catching and throwing.
  • Poor ability to follow directions and routines, easily confused by instructions.
  • Restless and distracted, short attention span
  • Problems with behaviour and self control - he is extremely demanding, needing more than normal attention, supervision and discipline.
  • Poor social interaction with peers.
  • Self-help problems – has difficulty with dressing himself, tying shoelaces and buttoning clothes, eating by himself, washing himself.

Many of these behaviours are normal in developing children. When considering LD, you must be guided by the number of characteristics your child presents and the length of time over which he exhibits them compared to other children his age.

At school level, symptoms may include some or all of the following:

  • General school work is of an unsatisfactory standard.
  • Problems with reading, writing, spelling and mathematics.
  • Difficulty with abstract reasoning and problem solving.
  • Concentration span is limited and easily distracted by inconsequential activities and noises.
  • Poor short term or long term memory.
  • Difficulty organising his thoughts, activities, books, materials and workspace.
  • Forgets or loses things regularly.
  • Fidgety and impulsive, talks excessively.
  • Anxiety levels are high, a low level of frustration tolerance and erratic and inconsistent emotions.
  • Poorly motivated due to repeated experiences of failing at tasks.
  • Behaviour problem in the classroom, being disruptive and attention-seeking on a regular basis.
  • Poor or inappropriate social skills and often provokes or irritates other children, resulting in few meaningful friendships.

If you are concerned that your child may have a learning difficulties, it is very important to seek immediate help. The earlier a learning difficulty is detected, the better the chances are that your child can be successfully treated.

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What is Dyslexia?
The word dyslexia comes from the Greek language meaning poor language or words. Dyslexia is a type of learning disability characterised by problems in language processing. It is the most common cause of reading, writing, spelling and often mathematics difficulties. Dyslexia is not a disease and it has no cure. It is not the result of low intelligence; on the contrary, dyslexics are often gifted and creative individuals. Dyslexia is not the result of poor vision – it is a myth that all dyslexics read backwards. Children with dyslexia are able to learn, they just learn differently. They need special multisensory programs to learn to read, write and spell as traditional teaching methods will not always be effective.

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What is AD/HD?
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is a medical condition caused by a neurological dysfunction within the brain which affects a person's ability to concentrate and maintain attention to tasks. Specific chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) are necessary to carry messages along certain circuits. Deficiencies in these chemicals cause the messages to be stopped short of its intended destination. When this happens, the function which is controlled by a specific circuit, does not work as well as it should. Depending on which circuit is involved, the child might be hyperactive (fidgety, excessively active and/or talkative), inattentive (distracted by sound or visual inputs, and/or internal thoughts) or impulsive (interrupting, calling out, acting or speaking before thinking). Treatment involves raising the level of the deficient neurotransmitter with medication. (Read the article To Medicate or Not To Medicate) AD/HD is not a learning disability but it can impair the child's ability to focus effectively on a learning situation, which, if left untreated, can in turn create large gaps in his learning.

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What can parents do to help their LD child?
A single factor to remember is that LD children want acceptance, approval, success and achievement more than anything else. Here are some suggestions to help you help your child:

  • Ensure that she has the appropriate help – that her school has a program in place to accommodate her learning disability, and that she has remedial therapy after school hours if necessary.
  • Consult often with her teachers and therapists.
  • Accept her uniqueness unconditionally, both strengths and weaknesses. Be realistic in your expectations and demands.
  • Make a point of emphasizing and encouraging your child's strengths, interests and abilities while playing down her weaknesses.
  • Create opportunities where she can show others what she is capable of doing and reward her as often as you can.
  • Develop a healthy attitude towards reading. Take her to libraries, help her choose books suitable to her reading level, read with her and read to her; discuss books, newspaper and magazine articles with her.
  • Having LD is no excuse for not becoming a functioning member of the family – she must be responsible for her chores just the same as her siblings, but her chores must be geared towards her abilities and success must be within her reach.
  • Routine is essential for your LD child. Not only does it make your life a lot easier, but she then knows what is expected of her and when, and this makes her feel secure.
  • Use a large wall calendar to help her plan and keep track of her extra mural activities, upcoming tests, exams and assignments, birthdays and social events. (More tips in the article Homework Habits that Help)
  • Discourage 'learned helplessness' and encourage independence. LD children quickly catch on that they can escape certain tasks because that's too difficult for me.
  • Don't get anxious about school grades – expect her best efforts at all times, but remember that her best effort might only be a 'D'. Help her to set realistic goals for herself and to compete with herself rather than
    with others.
  • Provide a safe environment for her to attempt difficult tasks, and maybe even fail at them, without fear of ridicule or rejection. When she feels secure in her environment, she will feel secure to try her best.
  • Provide sympathy and understanding, encouragement and support, and loads of unconditional love.
  • Nurture yourself – you need to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong to cope with an LD child.

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Will my child outgrow it?
A true learning difficulty never goes away. There is no cure or magic pill for LD, but, with hard work and the proper help, your LD child can learn more easily and successfully. He can be taught strategies to cope with the difficulties he has and how to use his strengths to compensate for his weaker skills. With systematic, consistent and repetitive teaching in his problem areas, his weak processing skills will gradually strengthen and he will make progress. Remember that your LD child can learn, he just learns differently to most other children.

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What kind of future can I expect for my child?
There is no magic cure for LD and a long road of hard work lies ahead for you and your child. But with the proper support, your child can successfully finish school, complete college or university, establish a career and go on to lead a full and productive life. Look at the following list of well-known achievers who all had some form of learning disability, and take heart:

  • Albert Einstein was a mathematical genius and probably the greatest scientist of all time. He did not read until he was 9, and lost two teaching jobs because of his dyslexic difficulties.
  • Thomas Edison, the American physicist and inventor of the telephone and electric light bulb, was thought to be mentally challenged when he was growing up. He could never learn the alphabet or multiplication tables by heart, and had trouble with his spelling and grammar throughout his life.
  • Leonardo da Vinci was an incredible artist, architect, engineer and scientist, and also dyslexic. His notebooks, now in the British Museum in London, show his mirror writing.
  • Hans Christian Andersen was dyslexic, but wrote many classic fairy tales like The Ugly Duckling and The Snow Queen.
  • Woodrow Wilson, an American president, did not learn to read until he was 11 years old.
  • Harvey Cushing, a brilliant brain surgeon who studied at Harvard and Yale Universities, wrote several books and won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1925, despite appalling spelling abilities.
  • Bruce Jenner and Greg Louganis, both Olympic gold medal winners, had severe reading problems in school.
  • American actor and celebrity, Tom Cruise, is dyslexic and calls himself a 'functional illiterate'.

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