She has trouble reading.
He can’t write in a straight line.
She doesn’t focus unless she can see the person speaking to her.
He can’t remember something if it’s not written down.
She can’t add.
He can’t follow directions.
All of the above describe symptoms of children who suffer from language-based learning disabilities (LBLD). LBLD can affect children’s listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, math, organization, attention, memory, and self-regulatory skills. Some of the learning disabilities that fall into the LBLD umbrella are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder.
The National Institute of Health defines dyslexia as characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin and often runs in the family. Children with dyslexia experience trouble reading when taught through traditional instruction.
Though the symptoms of dyslexia manifest themselves in different ways depending on the age of the child, some common symptoms for a kindergartener through fourth grader are:
- Difficulty reading single words that are not surrounded by other words.
- Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds.
- Confusion around small words such as “at” and “to,” or “does” and “goes.”
- Consistent reading and spelling errors, including:
- Letter reversals such as “d” for “b.”
- Word reversals such as “tip” for “pit.”
- Inversions such as “m” and “w” and “u” and “n.”
- Transpositions such as “felt” and “left.”
- Substitutions such as “house” and “home.”
Children with dyslexia are often well-adjusted and happy preschoolers. However, research shows that they begin to experience emotional problems during early reading instruction. Over the years, their frustration mounts as classmates surpass them in reading skills. Often, these children feel that they fail to meet other people’s expectations. Teachers and parents see a bright child who is failing to learn to read and write and assume that he is simply “not trying hard enough.” This can cause dyslexic children to feel inadequate and inept.
It’s hard for people to understand that children can have a learning disability that affects only writing. Most people assume that if you have no trouble reading, then writing should be a cinch. Or, parents assume that trouble with writing is a physical impediment rather than a mental one. Dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing abilities, debunks these myths.
Dysgraphia can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. However, children who suffer from dysgraphia often have reading skills that are on par with other children their age. Dysgraphia is not simply a motor problem, but also involves information processing skills (transferring thoughts from the mind through the hand onto the paper). If your child has trouble in any of the areas below, additional help may be beneficial:
- Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
- Illegible handwriting
- Avoiding writing and drawing tasks
- Tiring quickly while writing
- Saying words out loud while writing
- Unfinished or omitted words in sentences
- Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
- Large gap between written ideas and speech
Perhaps the most important things to remember when dealing with children who suffer from dysgraphia is that they are not “lazy” or “sloppy.” In reality, they are struggling mightily to do what most other children can do with little effort. Therefore, recognizing that they are suffering from a learning disability and then taking steps to mitigate their issues is the most beneficial way to address this problem.
Auditory Processing Disorder
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explains:
Children with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, the request “Tell me how a chair and a couch are alike” may sound to a child with APD like “Tell me how a couch and a chair are alike.” It can even be understood by the child as “Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike.” These kinds of problems are more likely to occur when a person with APD is in a noisy environment or when he or she is listening to complex information.
Children with auditory processing difficulty typically have normal hearing and intelligence. However, they have also been observed to:
- Have trouble paying attention to and remembering information presented orally
- Have problems carrying out multi-step directions
- Have poor listening skills
- Need more time to process information
- Have low academic performance
- Have difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary
Outside the Classroom
Children with LBLD often experience a lot of trouble academically, but they also struggle socially. For some children, like those with auditory processing disorder, it is evident why they struggle socially. After all, if they need extra time to process information, they aren’t going to be able to easily chat with friends. With poor listening skills, they won’t be able to attend to a friend’s long story.
Children with dyslexia or dysgraphia frequently have problems in social relationships. Often, this is because they have difficulty reading social cues or because dyslexia affects oral language functioning. As both non-verbal and verbal language are essential for forming and maintaining relationships, children who struggle with reading are at a disadvantage socially as well. Additionally, without proper intervention, these children will fall farther and farther behind peer their own age.
Therefore, helping dyslexic or dysgraphic children gain confidence and skill in their reading or writing not only improves their test scores, but perhaps more importantly, builds their self-esteem. This increase in self-esteem can work wonders on the playground and in the home, promoting positive social interactions and explorations.
In a 1996 study, researchers claimed that the single best predictor of future cognitive skills and school performance was children’s early communication skills. Therefore, the earlier you notice an issue, the better. With early intervention, a little can go a long way – both in school and out.Rifka Schonfeld
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at email@example.com.
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