Friday, February 10, 2012

Early Recognition of Learning Difficulties - The Key Component

Babies grow at an incredible rate. Parents watch in amazement as their beautiful infant baby suddenly becomes a toddler, then a pre-schooler, and so on. Suddenly the one little develops from the point of needing consistent attention for satisfaction of their needs to the self-sufficient child who wants to do everything for him/herself. Babies and young children are different and develop their skills at varying rates. However through the study of child growth and development, there are established times in which one expects certain physical, cognitive, and behavioral developments to occur. Early identification of developmental delays is critical to the remediation of any affected area of delay.

One area of need in early identification of problem is that of literacy - the skills of reading and writing. Children begin acquiring the skills for literacy very young, well before any parent even thinks about a potential problem in their child's ability to read and write. Emergent literacy actually begins at birth and continues through the years prior to beginning school! It is during the years of speech and language development that young brains are networking the understanding and expression of their language systems - the systems of organizing and relating ideas, thoughts, and communication needs into a multi-sensory environment. One may be surprised that the foundations of reading and writing begin so early, however the truth is that children begin making impressions of written information very young as they watch and monitor their environment.

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According to the regulations for Public Law (P.L.) 101-476 which is entitled The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the definition of Learning Disability is "a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations." The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 4.6 million people in the United States have some type of learning disability. A learning disability may manifest itself with one or more of the following diagnoses: Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, Visual Processing Disorder, Dysgraphia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Deficit (ADHD), Reading Comprehension Disorder, Alexia, or Sensory Integration Disorder (SID).

It is important to know that learning with disabilities is possible. Critical to this is identification of potential learning difficulties at an early stage in the development process. Attacking deficits early can aid significantly to the child's ability to establish the foundations needed for reading and writing. If a child begins school without these baseline functions, the abilities to keep with the learning requirements over time will be difficult for the child. Some of the early warning signs of possible learning problems recorded in the literature are as follows:

- Late talkers based on developmental scales and limited vocabulary knowledge and expression.
- Delayed in motor developments such as walking, standing, pulling up, or holding/manipulating objects.
- Lack of interest in books and in nursery rhymes or understanding rhyming words.
- Difficulty in remembering names of letters and relating them to their sounds.
- Problems in saying the alphabet or counting.
- Inability to understand simple directions and remember routines.
- Difficulty in paying attention and being easily distracted.
- Comprehension problems for basic language information.

Learning is like constructing a building: in order for the building to have strength and stability, a firm foundation must first be laid. Without this foundation, the building will not support continued upward growth. As a Speech/Language Pathologist of many years and one who specializes in processing and learning disorders, I understand the frustrations parents have when their children are identified with learning disabilities or problems after attending school for two, three, or more years. Every school grade is a building process of learning and without a firm foundation, children cannot comprehend and learn more advanced material content. For children identified late, filling in the gap becomes extremely difficult or sometimes impossible. The answer to this problem is helping the child before they even begin pre-K for the developmental foundations that are necessary to learn basic academic skills. Simple learning activities and learning strategies can be incorporated into a child's normal, exploratory day to encourage development of neural networking patterns necessary for learning success.

In summary, success can most effectively be gained for children at risk for learning problems and disabilities by early identification of delay. Developmental and incremental physical, cognitive, and language acquisitions are foundational for learning. It is essential that the underlying root cause of a problem be uncovered and remedied for the building blocks of learning to successfully take place. With early and correct diagnosis, children dealing with the affects of learning disorders can achieve more productively and effectively in their pursuit of personal life goals and ambitions.

Early Recognition of Learning Difficulties - The Key Component

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