Is My Child a Struggling Learner?

Joey, age 7, tries to read from the book his mom has chosen for him. It is from the series that she has successfully used to teach her other three children to read at this age.
“The f-a-t c-a-t s-a-t on the m-a-t,” he reads, sounding out every word like it is brand new, even though he has read this story many times. There seems to be no retention of the words from day to day, or even from line to line.
Joey’s lack of progress leaves Mom perplexed. She asks herself: Why isn’t he learning as quickly as his brothers and sisters? He seems bright enough—but just doesn’t get it. Am I teaching him too early, or does he have a learning disability? Can he be tested for one? And where would I take him to be tested?
This scene occurs in home school households across America, with children of all ages, in many learning areas other than reading. Children who have great difficulty spelling, writing, doing math and retaining information are often a puzzle to the competent, caring parents working with them. These parents don’t necessarily see their children as having special needs, or learning disabilities, but they do see that they are working with struggling learners.
There are many levels of learning struggles. If a child has a learning glitch, he/she is working harder than h/she should have to, but is not behind. If the child is struggling more, and has a learning dysfunction, he/she has to work even harder to learn, and is about a year behind. If he/she has dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other learning disabilities, he/she has to work much harder, and is at least two years behind grade level in one or more areas. He/she may even be at a complete standstill academically. Many of these struggling learners are gifted.
These bright, hard-working children do very well in a home school setting where the parent can tailor teaching methods and curriculum to them, and spend more time working with them.
There are two things that are important to do for this struggling child:

  • Identify where the learning block is, and how to remove that block, reducing the stress in a child’s learning system.
  • Find a curriculum, and more importantly, teaching strategies that help this child get in touch with the “smart part of himself/herself.”

Our goal is to inform and educate you, the parent, in how to accomplish these goals with your child. Whether your child is experiencing a glitch, dysfunction, learning disability, or has special needs in other areas, this information should help you weave through the myriad of symptoms of stress in the learning system your child is experiencing. It will also guide you to the various teaching methods that work for these children, curriculum, testing, and therapies that are available to you.

HOW TO TELL WHY YOUR CHILD IS STRUGGLING
Many children who are not struggling have one or two of the characteristics in the checklists on the following pages. It is a matter of degree, and how it is impacting the learning process that we will consider in determining the needs of the learner.
Many educators who follow brain research believe that there are four learning gates that need to be properly functioning for a child to learn easily.
The four learning gates are:

  • Visual processing.
  • Visual/motor (writing) processing.
  • Auditory processing.
  • Focus/attention processing.

These checklists show some of the characteristics that a child exhibits when a learning gate is not working properly. Also included is a list of informal evaluations that you can perform at home. In addition, you will find some resources for correction that can be done at home, or with a professional. Learning is all about energy output. Read the following characteristics and see if you can find where your child is experiencing an “energy leak.”

COMPENSATION OR CORRECTION?
Before you begin evaluating your child, you should know that once the process is complete you might face a fundamental choice: compensation or correction. Many educational experts debate whether it is more beneficial to help a struggling learner compensate for the learning processes that are difficult, or if time and effort should be spent in the pursuit of a correction of the processing problem.
An example of compensation would be for a child to use a keyboard at a very young age to write papers when he or she struggles with handwriting. A correction would be to do a handwriting exercise that eliminates reversed letters, for instance, and helps the child write more neatly. Another common compensation is to reduce the spelling list required at a grade level for a child who is struggling with spelling. A correction would be to train the child’s photographic memory so that the task of spelling is easier.
Many times this does not need to be a debate. One can easily pursue both compensation and correction simultaneously. Compensation makes the learning task easier while the correction reduces the stress in the child’s learning system so that learning can flow. We call this “opening up the child’s learning gate.”