The early identification of children’s unique learning styles and learning disabilities can spare children, parents, and teachers from the tortuous ordeal that school could become when learning issues go unnoticed or misdiagnosed.
Sadly, some teachers are not trained in identifying differing learning styles and disabilities and assume that children who are not performing are unmotivated or just not very smart. Parents who depend on teachers to make judgments about their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses may either receive inaccurate information about their child or none at all.
In this context, I want to offer some hallmarks of learning style differences. Children are often better at learning information via auditory or visual channels. Auditory learners may do well when information is presented in the form of lectures while visual learners do best when information is presented visually. While teachers use both kinds of presentations in the course of their teaching, education becomes more and more a verbal and auditory medium as children progress through school. Thus, children whose verbal /language and auditory processing skills are less mature than their visual/nonverbal skills may be at a distinct disadvantage in “getting” much of what teachers present. They may not intake directions well or even understand them. Similarly, children whose visual and visual organizational skills are less mature may have difficulty with information presented visually or data that needs to be manipulated visually. A good example of this is math computation where operations that require correct lining up of columns of numbers may prove to be challenging. Remembering material that is presented verbally or visually may also be affected by processing difficulties. Memory for specific words or names may be a challenge for some learners. These children may be unable to recall specific names or words but can explain concepts in other terms if given the chance. Children who have difficulty staying on-task, being organized and planful, activating themselves to work, or completing tasks in a timely manner may be experiencing executive functioning problems.
Of course, difficulties in any of these areas influence how children feel about themselves. It is not a very far leap from a learning issue to become a psychological self-esteem issue. The danger here is that misdiagnosis or no diagnosis of learning style differences or actual disabilities may result in an accumulation of underachievement and lack of success over the years. Children who do not feel they are good at academics are often less motivated to put effort into their schoolwork. For them, school becomes the kind of daily drudgery and torture that adults who dislike their job experience.
Early identification permits parents to plan appropriately for children who may need something different or more than schools are able or willing to offer. A psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation is a first step in understanding the way a child learns and in identifying obstacles in a child’s intellectual functioning that interfere with academic achievement. An evaluation can include also achievement tests that are used to contrast a child’s performance with his/her abilities. Finally, the identification of non-academic factors can determine if emotional blocks are contributing to learning problems. An evaluation will also tell us whether other adjunctive evaluations (i.e. medical, educational, neurological) can add to our understanding of a child’s learning issues.