While children and teens with learning disabilities are often “diagnosed” in middle school or high school, many disabilities can actually be prevented by intervention at a much earlier age. Experts now know that there are things that parents can do at home to help even the youngest children.
The Root of Learning
“The root of learning— whether it be reading, math or even writing— is good cognitive skills,” explains Tanya Mitchell, director of Training for LearningRx, a ‘brain training’ franchise. “Things like auditory and visual processing, memory, processing speed, comprehension, short- and long-term memory, logic and reasoning, and attention are the underlying tools that enable kids to successfully focus, think, prioritize, plan, understand, visualize, remember and create useful associations, and solve problems.”
According to Mitchell, any weak cognitive skill— or a combination of several— can lead to a learning disability. By identifying a weak cognitive skill early, parents can help prevent learning disabilities, even before a child attends kindergarten.
“There are very promising studies that show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities,” she says. “This might include things like rhyming or playing sound games when children learn how to add or omit sounds in a syllable.”
According to Dr. G. Reid Lyon, chief of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Child Development and Behavior Branch, NICHD-funded research has shown that such services should have a firm foundation in phonological awareness. Before most poor readers can learn to read successfully, they need to learn that spoken words can be broken apart into smaller segments called phonemes. Next, they usually require training in phonics— “mapping” phonemes to the printed words on a page. Once children have mastered these steps, they can then receive training to help them read fluently, and to comprehend what they read.
Identifying Reading Disabilities
While a trained cognitive specialist can help diagnose the specifics of learning and reading disabilities, parents may be the first to identify struggles. Parents may be able to determine learning problems, such as with auditory processing at home by asking themselves the following. Does he/she:
- appear to guess at words?
- ever add or omit sounds in words?
- have difficulty spelling new words, or spelling when writing?
- have difficulty recalling stories and jokes?
- take a long time to complete tasks?
- have difficulty doing two things at once?
- often ask to have things repeated?
- have difficulty organizing activities?
- easily distracted?
- use slow, deliberate speech?
Recognizing Risk Factors At Any Age
If your child is too young to discern if the above general symptoms apply, look for the following age-related risk factors:
Pre-K or kindergarten: Difficulty…
remembering names of friends, peers, etc.
with normal language development
recognizing some letter shapes
End of 1st Grade: Difficulty…
learning the alphabet and corresponding letter sounds
applying “phonics” to reading and spelling
spelling common sight words
retelling stories in sequence and making predictions
reading aloud with some fluency and comprehension
End of 2nd Grade: Difficulty…
3recalling facts and details
3using phonics to sound out words including multi-syllable words
3correctly spelling previously studied and commonly seen words