Children with behaviour disorders and emotional distress are often unsuccessful in the classroom. They demonstrate their unhappiness in a variety of ways. Children with ADHD are often unhappy going to school.
- Their best subject is recess or P.E. and their best day at school is the last day before summer holidays.
- They act out in class, or act the clown to avoid showing they cannot do the task, or they are restless and cannot sit in their seats. They do not appear able to pay attention or focus for an appropriate time period. They are sometimes diagnosed by teachers or other school personnel as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These children are hard to handle in a class of 20 to 30 children and the teacher may request a visit to the doctor with the view to providing medication to solve their problem, or a visit to the school psychologist to confirm this diagnosis. This is a serious issue in that it fails to address the real cause of the problem. Moreover, taking medication to control their behaviour or to help focus attention may lead young people to believe that they need drugs to function effectively in society. This can have life-lasting effects and may lead to other problems as they become adolescents, particularly if they continue to have problems succeeding in school.
- They are challenged by the tasks of learning to read (decode) and understand what they have read (comprehension), to spell, to write, to compose their thoughts in written format (written expression) and to calculate (math).
Because children with learning challenges are different learners who are normal in all respects, parents are generally not alerted to the problem until the child begins school. Further, boys outnumber girls about four to one. Since boys are also slower to mature, conform and settle down to the classroom situation, teachers may not alert parents until they see the child having difficulty learning to read, to write, or to focus.
Sometimes, the teachers assure the parents that the issue is developmental, that the child will outgrow it or that their system of Learning Assistance will handle it. While this is sometimes the case, such students are losing precious learning time when their sense of how intelligent they are is forming. They are disadvantaged when they fall behind their peers and they are at risk for low self-esteem.
Addressing the issue with a proper response as early as possible will produce the best outcome for the child, especially if this is followed by a proactive strategy to address the delays in acquiring skills.
It is interesting to note that parents who would react immediately if their child needed medical interventions, even simple antibiotics, will allow difficulties in learning and the emotional consequences to go unattended, sometimes for years. It cannot be overemphasized that the problems that arise from learning disabilities can and should be addressed as early as possible, especially if a child is not learning to read at a grade appropriate level by the end of Grade 1.
At the Vancouver Learning Centre, services can begin by the time children are 3 years old. However, we also specialize in teaching children of 5 years and older the basic tools of learning to read with understanding, calculate, spell and write using strategies that have been demonstrated to be effective for different learners.
But what if children do not appear to have problems until they are older?
Some children manage to keep up with their peers and appear at least average until Grades 4 or 5. They have managed to learn to read (to decode) and to spell and write. Often these children have difficulty with math but their other skills and their general intelligence mask their learning difficulties.
In this case the problem may be in the auditory processing system and good habits, good intelligence and good attitudes have allowed them to “survive” rather than flourish. At this point, however, the need to effectively process oral instruction has reached their challenge level. These children’s problems can be addressed with effective strategies and new skills in Effective Listening (a VLC signature neurocognitive program).
Some young people with learning disabilities have found smart ways to overcome their difficulties in elementary school. They reach their challenge levels in high school, often in Grade 8, but sometimes as late as Grade 10. Here too, strategies that address the difficulties directly allow these young people to achieve the grades they need to go on to post-secondary instruction.
At whatever age, including adulthood, an effective, professional and thoughtful approach can reveal ways to access strengths, overcome weaknesses in learning strategies, and become effective learners and performers.