Learning Difficulties

Understanding Learning Difficulties


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a condition that is characterized by excessive behaviors of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD differs from other behavioral disorders in that individuals will experience functional problems – such as school difficulties, behavioral problems, academic underachievement, and difficult relationships with family and peers – that affect the individual’s educational level, although their rate of intelligence is normal or even above normal.

It is normal for many children to be somewhat hyperactive, a little disruptive, and to have a moderately weak attention span. However there are many children that suffer from this difficulty and continue to be undiagnosed due to inadequate information and knowledge about what ADHD is and how to identify its symptoms. Individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD are not troublemakers nor do they lack intelligence. Rather, they are individuals who have a real difficulty where their behaviors interfere with their ability to function in school settings, socially, and at home. Being unaware of the existence, and symptoms of ADHD can negatively affect the student, because he/she can begin to feel less capable compared to his/her peers. The lack of awareness of the symptoms and characteristics of ADHD can affect these children and their families tremendously.

It is critical to distinguish the three main categories that characterize students diagnosed with ADHD, including inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and the combined type. Symptoms of ADHD typically appear in children before school age and will have continued for more than six months. In order to determine the difficulty it is very important that these symptoms be present in more than one location, for example the child’s home and school. The existence of these three symptoms affects students in varying degrees and will directly impact their development of skills and academic achievement. Additionally extensive research has also proven that a large percentage of these students may also be suffering from various learning difficulties that further disrupt development and learning.

1. Often has difficulty paying attention to details or makes careless mistakes.
2. Is frequently inattentive and does not complete an activity or a specific game.
3. Often has difficulty following through on instructions and fails to finish work.
4. Often loses things necessary for activities and tasks (books, pencils, assignments).
5. Often appears not to be listening when being spoken to.
6. Often avoids tasks that require sustained concentration or mental effort for long periods of time (ex. homework).
7. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
8. Is often easily distracted by what’s happening around them.
9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.
1. Frequently climbs or runs in situations that are inappropriate (home, shopping center etc).
2. Often cannot remain seated for long periods of time.
3. Often fidgets with hands or feet and squirms in seat.
4. Often talks excessively.
5. Often blurts out answers to questions before the question has been completed.
6. Often “on the go” and acts as if “driven by a motor”.
7. Often has difficulty playing quietly.
8. Often has difficulty waiting for his/her turn in any activity.
9. Often interrupts or intrudes (conversations or games).

* If six or more of these symptoms are apparent and they have been constantly interfering in your child’s life at home and school we recommend that you contact us for an evaluation by our qualified professionals.


Reading Difficulty or Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a language-based reading disability that affects a student’s ability to comprehend and use written and spoken language effectively in spite of having average or above average intelligence. It is characterized by difficulties or weaknesses in accurate and fluent reading, spelling, and writing.
This type of reading disability is believed to be a result of problems in processing auditory and visual information necessary for reading decoding, reading comprehension, and reading fluency.
Dyslexia is considered to be the most common form of learning difficulty experienced by students. Research suggests that in the United States 5% to 17% of students have been diagnosed with Dyslexia and 40% of these students read below grade level. It is suggested that 80% of individuals that are diagnosed with a learning difficulty are also classified as Dyslexic. Being unaware of the existence, characteristics and symptoms of Dyslexia can negatively affect the student, because he/she will begin to feel less capable compared to his/her peers.
Students diagnosed with Dyslexia have the intelligence and ability to acquire and develop the skills necessary to read and write fluently and accurately. However, student’s capacities to gain these specific language skills are significantly impacted by the way in which they process the necessary information connected to learning. It is for this reason that students with dyslexia cannot attain adequate literacy skills.

Three Literacy sub-skills that students with dyslexia face difficulties in:
Students with dyslexia face difficulties in developing and using appropriate literacy skills due to challenges in the following:
1. Difficulties associated with pronunciation (Phonological Awareness) including: counting syllables, reading orally in a mechanical fashion without expression or intonation, omission and repetition of words and phrases, reversals of letters, insertions, preservations, and inefficient sight approach.
2. Difficulties associated with comprehension including: inability to understand the meaning or undertone of the text being read, difficulties in remembering sequence of events, difficulties in remembering or recalling what was written.
3. Difficulties associated with the rate or speed of reading including: slow rate of reading, reading fast at the expense of accuracy, inability to skim when reading inability to be consistent with rate of speed, difficulties reading and comprehending text.

Symptoms of Reading Difficulty (Dyslexia)

1. Makes mistakes when reading specific letters especially similar letters.
2. Reverses some words and letters while reading.
3. Omits (deletes) some words or sentences while reading.
4. Reads and rereads with little comprehension.
5. Unable to keep his/her place or stay on line.
6. Reads word correctly and then further down the page reads it wrong.
7. Blinking or rubbing eyes excessively while reading.
8. Easily distracted while reading.
9. Writing is not consistent in terms of keeping lines strait, and in the margins.
10. Writing is not consistent in terms of clarity, font size, and shape.
11. Difficulty writing letters, numbers, and symbols in the correct order.
12. Abnormal position of the hand, body, and wrist while writing.
13. Holds pencil or pen very close to the paper, or holds thumb over two fingers.
14. Uses the eraser repeatedly for no reason.
15. Can be ambidextrous, and often confuses left/right, over/under.
16. Has difficulty copying geometric designs.

* If six or more of these symptoms are apparent and they have been constantly interfering in your child’s life at home and school we recommend that you contact us for an evaluation by our qualified professionals.



Writing Difficulties or Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is a specific learning difficulty that affects an individual’s writing ability. Dysgraphia can appear as difficulties with written expression (i.e. putting thoughts on paper), poor handwriting, and spelling. These challenges in writing are not a result of a student’s intellectual level (they usually have normal or above normal intelligence).
Rather, dysgraphia is a result of difficulties in processing the necessary information for written expression and an inability to control motor movements (i.e. muscles in the hands and fingers) in a coordinated manner in order to write ideas or thoughts. Consequently, these challenges negatively impact a student’s academic achievement and progress.

Dysgraphia can easily be detected in some children who struggle with writing. Their handwriting is illegible and appears to be scribbly, sloppy, and slanted. This often creates frustration for the students who are able to see what they want to write, but are unable to control their hand movements to complete the task.
Some of these children have difficulties in processing, interpreting and remembering visual information (being able to fully comprehend and digest what they are visually seeing). They are able to see the general aspects of words, but they do not see the specific details in these words (i.e. small letters vs. big letters, or accurate letter formation). They often struggle with the ability to distinguish spatial orientation in words (i.e. writing letters far apart or squished together). Difficulties with visual-perception skills strongly impact students spelling skills. These mistakes are not due to the student’s inability to spell correctly; rather, they are due to the student’s struggle with discriminating and remembering the specific component of letters and the formation of words.

Difficulties with written expression are linked to a person’s ability to process language. Researchers believe that another probable cause of dysgraphia is the inability to process and make sense of the language they hear (i.e. language processing). Challenges due to a lack of awareness of language and weak memory of words, letters, and sounds impact the student’s ability to easily express themselves through writing.

In some cases, students with dysgraphia struggle when asked to write dictation. This struggle is due to the fact that the words do not make sense to them and they are unable to remember or understand the meaning of these words. Written work is often short, incomplete, and comprised of brief sentences and limited vocabulary. They regularly replace a word that has a parallel meaning to the dictated word, even though they do not have the same sound formation (i.e. time for hour, or grass for lawn).

The process of writing is not something that is innately learned. There are certain skills that need to be mastered in order for any person to be able to write. Students with dysgraphia often lack the basic skills of writing and find it challenging to write grammatically correct sentences. Students with dysgraphia need to improve their visual motor skills to be able to write words and sentences. Through the strengthening of these skills, students are then able to write proficiently, which leads to the ability to express their thoughts on paper without difficulty.

Symptoms of Writing Difficulty (Dysgraphia)

1. Generally illegible writing.
2. Slow and inaccurate when copying from the blackboard.
3. Dislikes writing, avoids it and delays in learning how to write.
4. Abnormal positioning of the hand, wrist or body when writing.
5. Inconsistent writing in terms of the clarity of the font size (i.e. irregular sizes, shapes), irregular slant of upper and lower case letters.
6. Cramping of fingers or feeling pain in hand when writing.
7. Holding the pen very close to the paper, or hold thumb over two fingers and write from their wrist.
8. Writing is inconsistent in terms of distances between letters and words.
9. Frequent and repeated spelling errors and erases work frequently.
10. Writing is inconsistent in terms of position of letters in respect to margins, and maintaining straight lines.
11. Unfinished words and omitting some letters when writing (specifically first and last letter in word).
12. Writes some letters, numbers, words, and sentences in reverse or upside down.
13. Difficulty forming written sentences with correct grammar and punctuation.
14. Talking to self while writing.
15. Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper.

* If six or more of these symptoms are apparent and they have been constantly interfering in your child’s life at home and school we recommend that you contact us for an evaluation by our qualified professionals.



The “Math Difficulty” Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia refers to a math-related learning difficulty affecting a student’s ability to learn arithmetic concepts and to execute mathematical calculations. These difficulties may be due to struggles with cognitive functioning abilities associated with mathematical processing. Students with dyscalculia often exhibit challenges in their ability to perceive, process, analyze, or store and remember information. However, despite these difficulties, the student’s level of intelligence is normal or above average.

Two main areas of weaknesses believed to contribute to dyscalculia:
1. Difficulties in processing what the eye sees, making it challenging to visualize patterns or different parts of a math problem (visual-spatial).
2. A struggle in making sense of what one hears (language processing) which can lead to a person having difficulties in understanding the vocabulary of math.

It is very common for many students to experience some form of difficulty in mathematics; however, students with dyscalculia display math skills substantially below their expected age and educational level. The severity of these students’ difficulties is often met with continued experiences of failure affecting their level of confidence and self-esteem. This often leads the students to firmly believe that they are less capable than their peers to perform and succeed in mathematics. Feelings of failure are not limited to students with dyscalculia. These emotions are commonly found amongst people around these students (family, teachers, and friends) who are unaware of the real reason behind their difficulties. Consequently, the negative emotions these students experience from within and from the people around them will undoubtedly hinder their motivation to learn altogether.

The effects of Dyscalculia:
The term dyscalculia represents a wide range of persistent learning difficulties involving math that affect students in different ways. These difficulties include:
(1) Learning number concepts and understanding the relationship between numbers and the quantity they represent. These students often have difficulties with understanding basic number names (i.e. “6”=six), and discriminating which number is smaller or bigger (e.g. 5>4)
(2) Delay in understanding and using the rules for basic counting principles effectively. These students struggle to comprehend rules such as one-to-one correspondence (when counting each object is assigned one word tag “one”, “two”) stable order (when counting you only say each number once and in a consistent order), and cardinality (the last number counted tells you how many objects there are)
(3) Difficulties in comprehending principles of arithmetic and remembering simple arithmetic facts (i.e. remembering that 1+2=3).

Symptoms of Dyscalculia

1. Confuse mathematical symbols (+, -, x, ÷) or has a poor understanding of these sings.
2. May reverse or transpose numbers (e.g. they read 52 for 25, or 117 for 171).
3. May confuse similar numbers when reading (e.g. 7 and 9, 8 and 3).
4. Difficulty identifying numbers, in the days of the week (which day it is), and geometric figures (determining a geometric shape based upon the number of its sides).
5. Inability to judge or measure mentally the distance and space between two objects.
6. Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. May have weaknesses in their ability to mentally calculate change due, or how much they need to pay.
7. Difficulties in learning specific formulas and strategies to complete mathematical calculations because of an inability to remember basic math facts, rules, and formulas, and how to organize information in sequential order (order of operations).
8. Difficulty remembering where things have been placed and losing these things easily.
9. Poor athletic coordination and find it challenging to keep up with rapidly changing physical directions (e.g. dance classes). May find it challenging to follow and remember sequence of steps and follow rules in sports.
10. Difficulty remembering numbers, such as home phone numbers, simple number line sequences, and birthday dates.
11. Difficulty with abstract concept of time and direction. Unable to chronologically recount the sequence of events that occurred in the past.
12. Difficulty identifying the location of numbers on a clock and determining the time.

* If six or more of these symptoms are apparent and they have been constantly interfering in your child’s life at home and school we recommend that you contact us for an evaluation by our qualified professionals.



Memory Difficulty

Memory is considered to be one of the most essential factors in the learning process. Student’s memory capacities play a significant role in their ability to progress in all areas of their lives. It is through memory that students attain the ability to effectively store and retrieve previously learned information and skills think and reason through them as they apply them to new experiences. Through this students are building a bridge between their past and their future.

Moreover, memory plays a central role in the learning process. The learning process is slowed down if the child has a memory weakness resulting in learning difficulties during the early stages of childhood. Being unaware of the existence, characteristics and symptoms of memory weakness can negatively affect the child, because he/she will begin to feel less capable compared to his/her peers. These negative feelings also extend to parents or guardians who may be unaware of the impact that a weakness in memory has on their child. This can inadvertently lead parents to misinterpret their child’s behaviors in comparison to their peers.

It is critical to distinguish and raise awareness that most individuals diagnosed with learning difficulties suffer from weakness of memory. Memory weakness is not a deficiency in the ability to remember, but rather a difficulty in the ability to organize strategies, store and retrieve information.

Types of memory weakness:
There are several types of memory functions. The type and degree of learning deficiency differs from child to child.
1. Recognition and Recalling:
Recognition – Students need to be able to identify any previously learned information that they will come across in the future. Whenever students re-encounter past experiences they are triggered by a familiar feeling that is connected to that new situation. For example, in multiple-choice questions, the student recognizes the correct answer by matching familiar information stored in memory to what they are visually seeing.
Recalling – Students need to be able to recollect past experiences in learning without any cues. For example, in fill-in- the- blank tests the student recalls the correct answer without any hints that help them recognize previously learned information from memory.

2. Short-term and Long-term Memory:
Short-Term Memory- Weak short-term-memory affects the student’s ability to hold information for a limited amount of time. Students that experience this find it difficult to remember visual images, such as faces or shapes, and phonological or auditory information, such as spoken telephone numbers.
Long-Term Memory- Weak long-term-memory affects the student’s ability to store and recall information for later use. Students diagnosed with learning difficulties show more weakness in short-term memory. This is due to difficulties in processing information which needs to be stored in long-term memory.

3. Auditory, Visual and Motor Memory
Auditory Memory is vital in learning oral language and developing language skills. Students need to be able to take information presented orally, process and store it into memory, and then recall at a later time. Students who have difficulties with auditory memory have a hard time retaining the information they hear which will effect academic achievement.
Visual Memory is vital in learning and recalling information. Children need to be able to store and retrieve previously experienced visual perceptions and information when the stimuli have been removed. This type of memory helps in learning and recalling for example the alphabet when needed. Students who have difficulties with visual memory will encounter difficulties with reading or any type of learning that involves the eyes.
Motor Memory is vital where students need to be able to automatically remember and control the sequence of motor movements needed in different motor tasks. It is important in remembering and repeating the usual kinetics (e.g. dressing, writing, etc.) Students who have difficulties with motor memory will encounter difficulties with motor tasks.

Symptoms of Memory Difficulty

1. Takes a longer time to memorize information.
2. Takes longer than others in learning colors and days of the week.
3. Difficulty providing information about themselves or their family: their age or number of siblings.
4. Difficulty organizing their thoughts and when interrupted cannot recall the subject of conversation.
5. Forgets where they have put their personal belongings that were given to them for safekeeping.
6. Forgets to complete their homework or household chores.
7. Forgets what they have read in the beginning of the story, by the end of it.
8. Forgets the sequence of events when a story is narrated.
9. Difficulty memorizing spelling words for dictation.
10. Difficulty following the instructions in the appropriate sequence.
11. Difficulty memorizing algorithms: e.g. multiplication tables.
12. Difficulty summarizing a subject or story, which was narrated to them.

* If six or more of these symptoms are apparent and they have been constantly interfering in your child’s life at home and school we recommend that you contact us for an evaluation by our qualified professionals.