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How to Tell Why Your Child is Struggling

By Dianne Craft
HSLDA Special Needs Coordinator

Many children who are not struggling have one or two of the characteristics in the checklists below. 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 have an easy time learning.

1. Visual Processing Dysfunction Characteristics

A child struggling with visual processing issues will display some of these characteristics:

  • Reading reversals ("was" for "saw" etc.) after initial introduction of the words.
  • Skipping of small words when reading.
  • Needing to use finger to track after age 7.
  • Oral reading that is smooth at the beginning, but becomes more labored as the child reads on.
  • Experiencing eye fatigue shortly after reading begins.
  • Yawning shortly after reading begins.
  • Continuing to struggle even after being prescribed eye glasses.

2. Visual/Motor Processing (Writing) Dysfunction Characteristics

A child struggling with visual/motor processing may display the following symptoms of stress in writing:

  • Reversals in written letters both laterally and vertically, six months after being taught to write them correctly.
  • Reversals in written numbers.
  • Poor spacing in writing.
  • Difficulty copying from book or board.
  • Resistance to learning or writing cursive.
  • Displaying awkward writing posture, with eye and hand very close together.
  • No "helping hand" used when writing despite being instructed to do so.
  • Failure to complete written assignments despite performing well on tests.
  • Spaces math papers poorly.
  • Tells great stories orally, but writes very little.
  • Leaves out letters in a spelling test, but could spell the word orally correctly.
  • Wants to do all math "in his head," no matter how long the problem is.

3. Auditory Processing Dysfunction Characteristics

Your child may be struggling with auditory processing dysfunction if he or she exhibits the following difficulties:

Difficulty remembering sight words, including;

  • Trouble retrieving names of letters, words, people, and things.
  • Laboring over verbal expression.

Difficulty with phonics, including:

  • Trouble remembering sounds of letter combinations such as "au," "oi."
  • Difficulty applying phonics rules in a reading setting.
  • Sounding out the same word over and over in the same reading passage.

Spelling difficulties, including:

  • Trouble spelling phonetically (the child may spell "team" as "tie" or "went" as "wat").
  • Spelling the same word differently each time.

Difficulty sequencing sounds, including:

  • Trouble learning and retaining days of the week and months.
  • The child guesses at words because reading longer words is very hard.
  • The child puts extra sounds in a word (i.e., contribution becomes contribu'ta'tion or "band" becomes "brand").

Difficulty saying longer words:

  • Transposing letters: "animal" is "aminal;" "magazine" is "mazagine;" "suddenly" is "sundenly."
  • Avoiding difficult words when speaking.

The child's silent voice disappears:

  • He or she subvocalizes when reading silently, or needs to read aloud to understand a passage.
  • He or she needs to repeat the alphabet in his head when writing it out.

Difficulty with speech, including:

  • Trouble articulating many sounds.
  • Exhibiting language delay.

Difficulty understanding verbal instruction:

  • He or she needs to ask for directions to be repeated frequently.
  • He or she says "what" a lot.
  • An apparent hearing problem can mimic a focusing and attention issue. The key is determining whether the child really is not hearing and storing the information auditorally, or if the child is not focusing on what is being said.
  • He or she is easily confused or is never quite sure they understood the speaker.
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