Family Health Magazine - CHILDHOOD
Recognizing and coping with a different learning style
Very few children appear to have special learning needs during preschool years, as most parents naturally adjust to their child's learning style and pattern. Once a child reaches school, however, problems that exist may become obvious.
There are many children in a classroom. Without the low adult-to-child ratio of home, children with different styles may need special help. The phone call telling you your child is having difficulty in school should not be viewed in a negative fashion. It is not the school's fault, your fault or the child's fault but often a learning style that has specific needs.
To determine learning needs, parents and teachers need to be good detectives as you unravel the puzzle together. The first task is to look at the whole picture.
- Exactly what difficulty is your child having, and where?
- Is the problem isolated or more general?
- Does your child do well at home or have you adapted to many of the child's needs
and differences over time?
- Are you noticing differences in your child's behaviour at home - sad, withdrawn,
aggressive, angry, increased numbers of stomach aches or headaches?
- Is your child physically able to learn?
- What is your child's temperament or natural style of dealing with the world?
- Is your child's development significantly different from the norm in any way?
- What are your child's strengths?
To begin, two steps are necessary:
- Take your child to your family doctor for a complete physical checkup to make certain
there are no hidden problems. Ask your family doctor for ideas on handling your child's particular difficulties. Check your child's vision and hearing to ensure they are fine.
- Meet with your child's teachers to find out exactly what the concerns are. At the school, some of the following questions might be helpful:
- Does my child have the mental ability to learn?
- How much learning has my child done up to now? (Report card marks alone will not
answer this question.)
- Does my child appear to have a special learning style?
- Is this a learning disability?
- What has been done at school to try to help my child cope?
- What ideas or strategies has the teacher used that work?
- How often does the difficulty show itself?
- Is it severe, moderate or mild?
- Has this difficulty always been present or has it appeared just this year?
- If just this year, what differences are there in this classroom or in the child's life that
might explain the problem?
- Has anyone noticed the difficulty in another setting - such as a music room, Sunday School,
Cubs, Guides or soccer?
Try to listen objectively to any ideas or strategies the teacher may suggest. Share with the teacher what you have found works for your child at home. Come up with a plan of what you both agree fits for your child and set a date to assess the outcome.
If, with all this help, your child continues to have difficulties, consult with the school again. Explore the possibility of further education testing to pinpoint your child's strengths and needs. Some of the help a school district may call upon are a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, reading specialist and behaviour management consultant.
Once education assessments are underway, return to your family doctor. Check if there is anything you might have missed on your first appointment. Ask if the concerns are serious enough for referral to a clinic or doctor who specializes in working with children with learning style difficulties.
At this stage, what are the most common possibilities for your child?
- Your child may have a slower learning style. This means your child can learn but may
need a few more repetitions and some more time to learn. Helpful interventions here are intellectual and academic assessments.
- Your child may have a language-based learning difficulty. This means that learning
is best when visual material or touch is used. It is important to remember language is composed of many more areas than simply how your child says words. Performance
at school and beyond can be affected by how well your child understands and interprets what is said. Overall vocabulary must be linked with how words are put together and how the more subtle parts of our language (as in jokes, similes, metaphors) are understood.
- Some children can miss the unwritten rules of society and may have inappropriate behaviour in the playground or classroom. Helpful strategies here may be intellectual, academic or reading assessments and especially a complete speech-language assessment. Some children may also benefit from a hearing examination by an audiologist.
- Some children just do not appear to fit in although their speech appears normal. They may have a non-verbal learning disabiltiy. This can mean your child may have difficulty with math, with paper-pencil tasks and be somewhat clumsy with motor skills. Social skills may be lacking, especially with playmates. Intellectual and academic assessments may be helpful strategies.
Children with the above types of learning styles may have behaviour difficulties if the underlying learning need is unrecognized. Even if the learning style is identified, some children may become anxious or depressed. Others may act out and become aggressive and defiant.
Some children are much more active than normal and may have problems focusing and paying attention. Some children are not overactive but have problems with focusing and are daydreamers. This combination of characteristics may lead people to suspect attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Before this diagnosis is accepted, your child should have intellectual, academic and medical or neurological assessments. Some children may also need a computerized assessment of attention span by a qualified psychologist.
Many times children have problems focusing and paying attention when another difficulty (medical, learning, emotional, environmental) is affecting them. Many children with attention weaknesses benefit from a teaching style that includes kinesthetic (whole body movement) activity and stimulation by touch.
Once your child has been assessed, as a parent you need to ask some more questions:
- What style of learning does my child have?
- What kind of therapy or teaching would benefit my child the most?
- Which school can work best with my child's special needs and abilities?
- What method of dealing with my child at home will work best?
- What can I, as a parent, expect in my child's future?
You should now have the information and tools you need to work as your child's advocate. In the long term, you will be helping your child to become his own advocate.
As you look at your child, remember that a child is a work in progress. What you see today may be different tomorrow, in six months or in two years. A child's learning style does not reflect upon your ability or lack as a parent. It is the child's own style of coping and working.
By exploring and working early on with the education system and the medical system, you can become your child's best ally. It is also important to take care of yourself and deal effectively with any stress so you can help guide your child along the pathway of learning - whatever that might be.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [CH_FHd99]