While children and teens with learning disabilities are often diagnosed in middle school or high school, there are many types of disabilities, and the fact is that many struggles can be addressed by intervention at a much earlier age.
Where learning struggles begin
“The root of learning – whether it be reading, math or even writing—is good cognitive skills,” explains Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Development for LearningRx, a brain training franchise. “Things like auditory and visual processing, memory, processing speed, comprehension, short- and long-term memory, logic & reasoning, and attention are the underlying tools that enable kids to successfully focus, think, prioritize, plan, understand, visualize, remember, create useful associations, and solve problems.”
According to Mitchell, any weak cognitive skill – or a combination of several – can lead to learning struggles. By identifying a weak cognitive skill early, parents can take action to prevent learning future struggles – 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,” Mitchell explains. “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 in order to “map” 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 diagnose specific learning and reading disabilities, parents may be the first to identify struggles. The following questions can help parents identify learning problems, such as weak auditory processing skills. Does the child in question…
- …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?
- …become easily distracted?
- …use slow, deliberate speech?
Assessing learning struggles in younger readers
The following age-related indicators can also help parents assess potential learning struggles in young children:
Pre-K or Kindergarten:
- Recognizing rhymes
- Remembering names of friends, peers, etc.
- With normal language development
- Recognizing some letter shapes
End of First Grade:
- 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 Second Grade:
- Recalling facts and details
- Using phonics to sound out words including multi-syllable words
- Correctly spelling previously studied and commonly seen words
Things parents can do at home
Parents don’t have to spend a lot of money to help improve children’s cognitive skills at home. In fact, many simple word- or sound-related games can even be played in the car while you’re driving. LearningRx shared a few ideas that trainers have recommended for younger children to get on the right track early:
Activities for Auditory Skills:
Sound segmenting games: Say a two-sound word, like bee or tie, and have them tell you which sounds are in the word (“b” and “ee” for “bee” and “t” and “i” for “tie”). Then start to increase to three-sound words like cat, (“c” “a” and “t”) and tree (“t” “r” and “ee”). This builds auditory segmenting, which is necessary for spelling when children get older.
Phonetics using building blocks: Help develop analysis skills by using blocks to make up nonsense words starting with two to three blocks. Create a nonsense word, then have the child remove one of the blocks and add a new one while verbally trying to figure out what the new nonsense word sounds like. (If they can’t read, just say the sounds for them, and ask them to try to figure out from hearing the sounds what the new word would sound like when they switch the blocks.)
Rhyming games: Say a word and then take turns with your child trying to come up with a new word that rhymes. This develops auditory analysis, which is important for reading and spelling as well as processing auditory instruction.
Activities for Visual Skills:
“The Make a Movie In Your Head Game”: Start with a subject, such as a puppy, and then have your child help create what the puppy looks like, his size, if he is sitting or running around, his color, etc. Then have your child talk about where the puppy is (next to a doghouse, in the forest, etc.). Gradually have your child add other subjects, the weather, what the dog is saying, etc. By developing pictures with color, size, perception, sound, background, etc., kids learn how to develop a more complete picture, which leads to better comprehension. If they have difficulty creating a new picture, parents can start by having the child describe what is in their room.
Activities for Memory Skills:
Ask your child to give directions to your home, the post office, the grocery store or a friend’s house. Also, ask them to share five things about their day, three being something new they learned. This helps build memory.
Parents can also teach mnemonics. Think of a fact—like remembering their phone number—and have your child create a funny story that they can use. For instance: 487-9376. “The number 4 ate (8) seven (7) fine (9) trees (3) and seven (7) sticks (6).” (This example uses rhyming and memory.)
If you would like to know if weak cognitive are making learning difficult for your child, a one-hour Cognitive Assessment can help. You can schedule a Cognitive Assessment at any LearningRx Brain Training Center near you.
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