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Spotting the subtle signs of a child’s learning challenge

Lorna Woolley, Independent Educational Adviser, provides a checklist of signs that may indicate if your child is experiencing a challenge which requires a different learning approach.

As Lorna explains, ‘There are various traits which are common to several specific learning challenges. If you recognise more than one of these, it may be that your child could benefit significantly from an independent evaluation of their learning style.’

Your experience

  • Does your child’s behaviour or needs cause you concern? Are they anxious or unhappy at school, or often in trouble? Do you find yourself making allowances or excuses for them?
  • If you have more than one child, has one always presented as being a bit different – perhaps under-performing compared with their siblings at the same school?
  • Have you tried therapies to support your child which have had little or no measurable effect?
  • Are you worried that your child might not reach their full potential at their current school? Is it stressful trying to get across to new teachers your child’s particular needs? Is your child in the ‘bottom set’ when you feel they could be doing much better?

Signs to look for in younger children

  • Struggling to find the words they want to use, or mispronouncing words more frequently than other children their age.
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration during some activities, but almost obsessive attention to something they want to do.
  • Forgetting what’s just been said – it goes ‘in one ear and out the other’.
  • Finding it hard to wait their turn in conversation; interrupting if they think they will forget what they want to say.
  • Transposing letters or odd and erratic spelling.
  • Difficulty or lack of interest in learning rhymes.
  • Talking or fidgeting excessively; acting impulsively with little or no sense of danger.
  • Showing behaviour which impacts negatively on family life, so that everyday events become stressful.

…and in an older child

  • Easily distressed and emotional.
  • Immature social interaction: difficulty in reading body language, being too rough, mistiming a joke or just being a little ‘off-centre’.
  • Restricted vocabulary in verbal and written expression.
  • Verbally competent and articulate in class, but producing brief, messy, simplistic written work.
  • Tendency not to notice patterns; problems with all aspects of money, times tables and telling the time.
  • Discrepancy between ability and the standard of work; difficulty with revision.
  • Lazy, last to be ready.

If any of the above has raised any concerns, talking to your child’s teacher is often a great first step. Help is also at hand should you require independent specialist advice too.

Lorna Woolley BEd (Hons) MA (Education) taught for 10 years in a state sector primary school as head of a large infant department. After completing a Master’s degree in Education and having three children, she qualified to provide learning support for children with specific learning difficulties (SpLD). Having two sons with learning difficulties herself she has direct personal experience of the importance of choosing the right school for a child with additional needs. For independent advice about helping your child flourish – socially, emotionally and academically, contact:



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