Learning About Learning Differences

Understanding Learning Differences

A child who learns differently experiences a host of challenges at school. Frustration, anger and tension are common in the classroom that does not meet the needs of the diverse learner who is unable to access the curriculum. The Winstedt School is determined to alter how school and society deems these learners as having a “disorder”, or “learning challenges”. We believe in engagement and understanding – two essentials for real learning to take place.

What does it mean to be a child with learning differences or difficulties:

  • A child who has a learning difficulty with academic achievement and progress. There is a difference between a child’s learning potential and what is actually being learned.
  • A child who shows inconsistency in language development, physical development or academic development.
  • A child with a learning difference is not impaired cognitively or in modalities (hearing impaired, visually impaired), nor emotionally disturbed.

A child with a learning difference has no voice in society at large because there is no physical appearance that reflects the challenges they face, and they look no different than their peers who have no learning difficulties. Teachers at Winstedt know that fairness is not about giving every child the same treatment, but providing every child what he or she needs to access the curriculum and school at large.

What Causes Learning Differences?

  • Development and maturity at a much slower rate than others in the same age group. The result is an inability to meet expectations in school work. A learning difficulty of this nature is sometimes seen as a “maturational lag”.
  • Injuries before birth or in the course of early childhood may be responsible for later learning difficulties. 
  • Genes since some learning difficulties are known to run in families and therefor inherited.
  • Premature births and sometimes children who have had medical issues after birth may show signs of learning difficulties as they mature.
  • Neurological disorders such as ADHD.

Red flags or early warning signs of a child with learning difficulties and challenges:

The symptoms are wide ranging and include challenges in reading, writing, comprehending, reasoning, speaking and math. An inability to focus, hyperactivity and perceptual challenges may be associated with a learning difficulty but is not necessarily a disability itself. A learning difficulty is primarily the difference between what a child is achieving in some areas and his or her overall intelligence.

Common Symptoms of Learning Differences

  • Poor visual-motor coordination
  • Poor grades in tests and assessments
  • Letter reversals
  • Reversals in word reading
  • Slow in completing work
  • Weak executive functioning skills; failure to meet deadlines, poor time management, poor organisational skills
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Difficulty with abstract reasoning and/or problem solving
  • Highly excitable during group play
  • Poor social skills
  • Poor automised skills
  • Difficulty focusing and easily distractible
  • Prone to being bullied and gullible
  • Mood swings and excessive variation in responsiveness
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty following a sequence or tasks demanding sequencing
  • Poor short-term working memory or long-term memory
  • Difficulty forming peer relationships
  • Difficulty transitioning between tasks and environmental changes
  • Difficulty copying accurately from a model
  • Disorganised thinking
  • Unable and easily confused by instructions
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Lags in meeting developmental milestones
  • Displays inappropriate, un-selective and excessive affection
  • Often obsessed on a topic or idea
  • Impulsive behaviour lacking reflection prior to action
  • Anxiety or other affective issues; low self-esteem and self-worth, doubts on self-efficacy, questions about self-identity

Not everyone will have all the above symptoms. There is comorbidity where two or three of these symptoms do exist to some degree in a child who learns differently. The number of symptoms present in a child is not reflective on the severity of the difficulty.

5 Main Areas Affected by Learning Differences

Learning Difficulties are known to affect five areas:

  1. Spoken language: Delayed speech, deviations in speaking and listening.
  2. Written language: Multiple grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences, sentence errors with fragments, run-ons and garbled text, frequent misspellings, poor or laboured handwriting, limited vocabulary, unsophisticated ideation.
  3. Maths: Difficulty understanding and recognising mathematical terms, concepts and operations, unable to translate & decode word or written problems into mathematical symbols & notations, poor memory and observation skills in carrying out steps and sequences.
  4. Reasoning: Difficulty in spatial reasoning include problems adjusting to change and transitions, organising and integrating thoughts. Difficulties in abstract reasoning on a complex level make solving problems and analysing information extremely challenging.
  5. Memory: Difficulty recalling incoming information and instructions.

Common Outcomes of Learning Differences in Traditional Academic Setting

What the child with learning difficulties experiences in a tradition classroom setting (20+ students to 1 teacher):
  • Teachers asking questions that the child cannot keep up, chooses not to volunteer or when called upon, cannot answer
  • Feels intimidated more often than not when a teacher demands their attention
  • Generally ignored thereby avoiding active learning
  • Constantly failing, weak grades and sees himself/ herself as a failure having had little success in tests and homework
  • Avoids risk-taking for fear of giving a wrong answer which will then be made fun of or teased
  • Low self-esteem and anxiety when cognitive and psychosocial development become intertwined as children mature and develop a sense of self