special needs A variety of therapists are available to assist parents and teachers with children’s developmental delays, learning difficulties and learning disabilities. Having a delay, difficulty or disability does not mean there is a lack of intelligence. In fact, in many cases, these children are above average intelligence. Because of this, they are often able to compensate for their difficulties in the early years, creating shortcuts in the brain.

In some children difficulties are obvious in the preschool years and are often remediated with occupational therapy or neuro-developmental physio therapy because of the strong connection between the body and the brain. In other children they only show themselves when the demands of formal schooling become complex, making the difficulty more apparent. At this point they may need remedial therapy or a combination of a number of different therapeutic disciplines. Therapy assists with teaching new skills through much repetition, and helping to re-wire and re-pattern the brain where shortcuts have been created.

When we talk about learning difficulties in children, we are not referring to lack of educational opportunity, poor teaching, lack of stimulation, inadequate curriculum, emotional or family problems, physical disabilities or learning disabilities such as autism or deafness. We are talking about the brain’s capacity to process, interpret, store and retrieve information which are all essential for learning.

A child who experiences challenges when they are learning is at risk of lowered self-esteem and self-confidence. To ensure that they are able to cope, intervention is required. Lack of support can lead to behavioural and emotional problems that can ultimately lead to a children quitting their education.

Signs and symptoms of developmental delays

These usually relate to slow achievement of developmental milestones such as:

  • Sitting
  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Talking

Examples of learning difficulties in the early years

  • Sensory integration dysfunction
  • Inability to cross the midline
  • Low muscle tone
  • Poor postural control
  • Poor fine motor control
  • Poor gross motor control

Examples of learning difficulties in the school-going years

  • Difficulty following verbal instructions
  • Losing their place when reading or writing
  • Poor spelling
  • Difficulty following written instructions
  • Lack of number sense
  • Difficulty copying from a blackboard or text book
  • Difficulty starting or completing tasks
  • Difficulty managing time
  • Weak working memory
  • Poor handwriting
  • Speech issues
  • Attention and concentration issues
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Poor comprehension skills

And there are many more…..

Assessments and therapists

When a developmental delay, learning difficulty or disability is suspected, a child will be assessed or evaluated, usually by an educational psychologist, and then referred to a team of professionals that may consist of:

  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • speech and language therapists
  • remedial teachers
  • neuro-developmental paediatricians
  • psychologists
  • the class teacher

Each case is unique and will require a different combination of therapists. As a child progresses, their treatment plan needs to be reassessed and amended. The goal is to help children with challenges to overcome them so that they can become independent and effective learners.

It must also be understood that therapists alone cannot resolve a child’s learning difficulties. Support from the class teacher and the parent is essential in the remediation process.