Specific Learning Disorders
October is the awareness month for Specific Learning Disorders, or SLDs.
These neurodevelopmental disorders have a direct impact on the learning abilities of approximately 15% of school-aged children.
Dyslexia is the most prevalent impairment, affecting reading accuracy, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Other difficulties include spelling, expressing thoughts and ideas by writing, following grammatical rules, using punctuation, and organizing ideas.
Some children might have difficulties understanding number concepts, calculation, and mathematical reasoning.
As a result, children with SLDs have academic skills ranging below age and grade expectations. If not assessed and managed properly, repercussions can cause problems in school, work, or even daily activities, increasing the risk of psychological distress, poorer mental health, and school drop-out.
These elements lead us to highlight the importance of early diagnosis, through neuropsychological, language, and motor testing, combined with family interviews and school reports.
This procedure helps us identify the strengths of the child in these developmental domains and come up with an individualized intervention program that will try to alleviate the impact on reading, comprehension, spelling, written expression, and other numeric and arithmetic abilities.
In addition to individual interventions, management of SLDs includes a set of accommodations and adaptations that can be applied in different settings. A multidisciplinary team is well positioned to find the best strategies to ease the difficulties of the child.
Parents and schools have a big role to play on this level, and it is every child’s right to receive the services and the accommodations they might need.
We will present below four main areas where accommodation can be helpful.
Organizing classroom activities differently improves the learning experience of the child. Here are a few things a teacher can do:
- Have a multimodal approach to teaching, as research proved the efficiency on the long-term learning. Some of the methods include visual, auditory, tactile, and other modes.
- Ask questions during lessons to reactivate the child’s attention and focus.
- Let the child formulate given instructions using their own words.
- Agree on a discreet gesture that can remind the child of the need to focus on the given task.
- Reinforce the teacher-student relation by using positive feedback on every trial and participation, encouragement, and patience in front of slow performance.
As homework might present an extra burden on the child and the parents, it is important to take a few points in consideration:
As a teacher:
- Reduce the number of tasks or the number of items in each task.
- Plan ahead and divide the tasks on different days.
- Reduce the amount of information that needs to be memorized.
As a parent:
- Dedicate a space for studying and decorate it to meet the child’s taste. Avoid distractors, ensure proper seating, and use good lighting.
- Make sure instructions are well understood.
- Use the same prompts provided by the teacher in the classroom: text maps, abstracts, summaries, coloring, highlighting…
As every subject needs a different number of skills, each child might react uniquely to teaching materials.
- Avoid requesting aloud reading of new texts, in front of the whole class.
- Offer extra time to finish the text.
- Limit your requirement for correct reading to only parts of the texts, or one part at a time.
- Use visual guides to improve attention and scanning.
– Reduce the amount of copying and provide prints or electronic copies instead.
- Encourage oral narration before writing the information.
- Develop paragraphs around one or two ideas, to reduce repetition and redundance.
- Data visualization is a good starting point for any problem or task. Provide graphs when possible.
- Allow enough time to understand the vocabulary used in math problems.
- Treat problems as texts, where certain elements are explicit, others need inference: state clearly the implicit parts.
- Reduce the burden of correct spelling or long sentences in answers.
Exams can cause emotional distress for students. Children with SLDs benefit greatly from certain strategies when preparing, undergoing, and reviewing exams.
- Encourage planning and organizing study time.
- Use mnemonics and summaries.
- As a teacher, prepare questions with clear short instructions.
- Use multiple-choice and closed questions, and problems with gaps.
- Allow pauses between subjects.
- Grant extra time when needed.
- If possible, use oral exams in addition to written exams.
- Encourage the child to focus on one exercise at a time.
- Invite them to answer questions in any order when possible.
- Provide the correction for further reference.
- Take time with the child to discuss their achievements and the challenges they encountered in the test.
- Explicitly describe the strategies and skills they think they relied on in every task.
- Do not hold them accountable for spelling mistakes in their answers in text comprehension, written production, math, science, history, art.
These recommendations aim to improve the daily learning experiences of a child with SLD. They can be accommodated to their needs, to the resources of the teacher, and to the environment. The ultimate goal remains to reduce the laborious tasks while increasing the efficiency and the pleasure in learning.
In conclusion, let us remember that early and proper intervention is a key element for individuals with specific learning disorders. It allows them to navigate through the educational system, school and university, by relying on their skills, reducing the negative impact on learning, on social and professional integration, and on their emotional well-being.
Tarek graduated from the Faculty of Public Health in the Lebanese University in 2006.
He gained a large clinical experience practicing in the institutional, hospital, and private sectors, in the areas of communication disorders, developmental language disorders, learning disorders, stuttering, aphasia and dysphagia, with a special focus on SLT in Mental Health.
- Speech Language Therapist