Thursday, June 22, 2023

Learning Difficulties in Children


Educational underachievement is a major problem among children. Many children struggle in school with learning difficulties. Some learning difficulties relate to neurobiological factors and alter brain functioning.

The term” learning difficulties" is used to cover a wide range of problems. Children who have difficulty with handwriting or in learning to read and spell often manifest problems such as memory recall blocks, attention deficit, speech delay, clumsiness, poor coordination, and other health problems. Each child's difficulties are unique, and these difficulties are a combination of auditory, visual, muscular, chemical, emotional, and neurological imbalances.

According to Dr Thiloka Sundari Kariyawasam a renowned Educational Psychologist, nearly 30% of Sri Lankan children show learning difficulties. Learning difficulties are sometimes considered a form of infirmity that needs therapy. Many children with learning difficulties continue to struggle with learning in the classroom, from isolation or withdrawal to clowning or acting out.

Children who struggle with learning are especially vulnerable. Their difficulties may be hard for them to understand and may go unrecognized by others. Many soon experience the embarrassment, confusion, and humiliation that go hand in hand with falling behind their peers in school. 

Often learning difficulties are frequently not recognized early. The following signs may also be clues that an individual is experiencing difficulties with learning:

  1. ·        Having difficulty paying attention
  2. ·        Hiding, losing, or avoiding schoolwork or homework
  3. ·        Being especially sensitive to criticism, mistakes, or poor grades
  4. ·        Giving up easily, appearing poorly motivated
  5. ·        Showing anger and frustration when engaged in schoolwork,
  6. ·        Having attendance problems, becoming school phobic
  7. ·        Avoiding schoolwork through over-involvement in other activities
  8. ·        Becoming withdrawn, shy, anxious, helpless, hopeless, or depressed
  9. ·        Lowering personal expectations for performance
  10. ·     Demonstrating lowered self-esteem, difficulty taking risks, devalued sense of personal worth

Slow Learners

According to the International Literacy Association, children with an IQ level of 70 to 85 are considered slow learners. A child can be described as a slow learner if his or her thinking skills develop at a notably slower rate than that of his or her peers. These children need more resources from their teachers to grasp new academic concepts. 

Slow learners tend to be left behind because they are expected to learn at the same rate as the average student. Pressure from time limits can hinder their thinking capacity. Parents tend to get overly stressed about their children being slow learners and sometimes they are being subjected to excessive punishments. Slow learners must be dealt with with patience, empathy, and understanding. It's important to maintain a positive attitude and consistently support slow-learning children. Sometimes oral learning over visual learning can be helpful to these kids. It is important to set small targets that are achievable with them. 


Learning Difficulties and Vision Problems

Learning is accomplished through complex and interrelated processes, one of which is vision. Vision and learning are closely related. Visual problems are contributing to learning problems. Determining the relationships between vision and learning involves more than evaluating eye health and clarity of sight. Problems in identifying and treating children with learning-related vision problems arise when such a limited definition of vision is employed. Children with undetected vision problems complain of headaches when they try to read, and they often avoid reading exercises.

Learning Difficulties and Hearing Problems

Listening is the most basic skill required for verbal communication and a weakness in listening ability may hinder the development of a strong language base. Some children with learning difficulties are having impaired hearing, The potential for hearing impairment should be investigated in children with learning difficulties. Due to hearing impairments, children can have poor language development and lower educational achievements. A child who can't hear well will struggle to keep up, may get restless and act out in class, or disengage from lessons. Assessment of a child with suspected hearing impairments should be carried out by an ENT specialist.


Malnutrition and Learning Difficulties

There are links between malnutrition and learning difficulties. Maternal malnutrition can affect the development of the fetus, cause intra-uterine growth delay, and increase the risk of the infant developing impairments. Young children who are malnourished as defined by underweight (low weight-for-age) and stunting (low height-for-age) are also more likely to screen positive for learning difficulties. These children have nutrition-related health problems as well. Malnutrition can result in long-term neural issues in the brain, which can impact a child’s emotional responses, reactions to stress, learning disabilities, and other medical complications. Vitamin and nutrient deficiency can affect a child's ability to learn, concentrate, and vision.

Anxiety and Learning Difficulties

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress.  It’s marked with anticipation of a future concern and avoidance behavior. Also, involves persistent and excessive worry. The ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge, or easily fatigued.

Children can be prone to anxiety. The child's ongoing anxiety can impact the learning process. Following anxiety children have difficulty learning, remembering, and recalling new information. Students with excessive anxiety may have difficulty paying attention. Also, the information is not processed, and Information is not stored appropriately. On the other hand, children with learning difficulties are significantly more likely to have challenges with anxiety. It is important to know that there is a strong connection between anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Depression and Learning Difficulties

Childhood depression can cause learning difficulties. Furthermore, Children with learning difficulties are prone to chronic depression. Children tend to exhibit non-verbal clues and express their emotional struggles more by their behavior than by talking These children can show alienation, agitation sometimes aggressive behavior. Their low self-esteem is observable, and it is frequently expressed through self-deprecating and negative talk. Their ongoing depression can interfere with academic, family, and social functioning.



Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities experienced by children. Dyslexia was originally called “word blindness” and was thought to be a visual problem. The neuropsychologists indicate that dyslexia is characterized by dysfunction of the normal left hemisphere language network and also implicates abnormal white matter development. Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by slow and inaccurate word recognition. It has been reported in every culture. However, Dyslexia is not due to problems with intelligence, hearing, or vision. When dyslexia goes undiagnosed and untreated, childhood reading difficulties continue into adulthood.



Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a person's ability to understand number-based information and math. The symptoms of this disorder usually appear in childhood, especially when children learn how to do basic math. Experts estimate it affects between 3% and 7% of people worldwide. Individuals with dyscalculia have difficulties with all areas of mathematics — problems not explained by a lack of proper education, intellectual disabilities, or other conditions.

 Learning Difficulties in Children with Epilepsy

Epilepsy is one of the commonest neurological disorders in childhood. Approximately 50 percent of children with epilepsy have some form of learning difficulty. Epilepsy in childhood can impair cognitive functions. Often these children are having attention problems, learning disabilities, and other cognitive weaknesses, such as difficulty with memory or problem-solving skills it is important to note that children with seizures are at increased risk for mental health, developmental, and physical comorbidities, increasing needs for care coordination and specialized services.


 Conduct Disorders and Learning Difficulties

Conduct disorder is a serious behavioral and emotional disorder that can occur in children and teens. A child with this disorder may display a pattern of disruptive and violent behavior. They have a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior that involves a violation of the basic rights of others and of the major age-appropriate social norms. The conduct problems are evident at school at home, within the community, and with peers. A common feature of conduct disorder is physical verbal aggression, damage to the property, stealing, lying, and cheating. Children with conduct disorders, often initiate physical fights, intimidate, or insult others. There are some case studies that indicate involvement in sexual activities. Many children with conduct disorders have learning difficulties. They need counseling, psychotherapy, and medical interventions.


Treating Learning Difficulties

Children with learning disorders often need extra help and guidance. Wide-ranging treatment is essential when dealing with learning difficulties. Childhood depression and anxiety can negatively affect the learning process in children. Emotional trauma especially parental derivation, and child abuse can cause diminished learning abilities in children. Treatment interventions are crucial for a child’s mental health Apart from psychological therapies drug therapies are also needed. Medication can improve their ability to focus and concentrate.

Counseling helps to build trust, self-esteem, and confidence in children. Bottled-up emotions often get dispersed after successful counseling sessions and children feel more positive in the classroom. Similarly, the cognitive mode of therapy helps to improve brainpower and concentration. Psychotherapy helps to deal with emotional issues and develop coping skills. Some children need speech and language therapy.

Children with learning difficulties are benefited from special education services and they need Individualized education programs. Intensive teaching techniques, like one-on-one instruction help to curb their difficulties. Multi-modal teaching is important.

Parent behavior training is important, and it teaches parents to use positive reinforcement methods to improve the behavior of children with learning difficulties. Home-based support is essential. Using motivators like goals, encouragement, and positive reinforcement is effective.

Many children face obstacles at school. The teachers should help the children to handle these obstacles without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed. It is essential to focus on strengths, not just weaknesses. Every child is equipped with a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. The children have their own unique learning styles. Some slow learners show improvements in later years. These children need love, encouragement, and support. The teachers and parents should uplift their sense of self-worth and confidence.


Written and compiled by Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge- Associate Professor 

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