Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Child’s Learning & Attention Issues
Takeaway: Learning and attention differences can make your child’s life so much harder. She’ll struggle to (1) Keep up in class, (2) Follow rules, and (3) Make friends. And these challenges could damage her self-esteem. So, as soon as you notice your child struggling, talk to her teacher and/or consult a specialist.
There are all sorts of reasons for children to have learning and attention issues.
Children struggle to learn and/or pay attention in class for many reasons. For example, perhaps they don’t like the subject they’re learning? Perhaps the teaching isn’t engaging enough? Perhaps they haven’t been sleeping well or are worried about something? But for some children, it’s not just about what’s happening in class or their lives outside school. Rather, it’s about their brains being wired differently. And this alternate wiring shows up as a range of learning and attention differences. For example, dyslexia (problems with reading and language), dyscalculia (problems with numbers and maths), dysgraphia (problems with writing), ADHD (problems with impulsiveness, attention, and hyperactivity), and more.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to overlook just how deep-rooted these learning and attention challenges can be.
Many parents and teachers might accept a child’s learning/attention differences but still not truly understand how overpowering they can be. For example, parents might believe that children can get past these issues if they try hard enough. Or that they’ll outgrow the differences in time. But there’s growing scientific evidence to prove how little control children have over the biology of their brains. For example, brain imaging shows that the brains of children with dyslexia or dysgraphia have less ‘white matter’ (which connects different parts of the brain) and better connected ‘grey matter’ (which handles thinking and language processing). And this is one of many similar fundamental biological differences in brain structure that can’t be overcome simply by trying harder.
The problem is that these brain differences will complicate every aspect of a child’s life if overlooked.
We can’t overstate how significant these learning and attention issues are. And if we ignore their underlying brain differences, they’ll complicate a child’s life in so many ways. Here’s how:
1. They make school life incredibly frustrating.
Children with learning and attention differences are just as intelligent as their classmates. (In fact, many have above-average IQs.) But their differences can get in the way of learning. For example, if they have problems processing language, then listening in class, reading textbooks, and writing essays all become so much harder. So, something as potentially fun as a lively classroom discussion becomes stressful as they struggle to keep up with the conversation. And things get even tougher if they have problems with attention. For example, if a child has ADHD along with her language processing issues, then she’ll likely give up on that same classroom discussion altogether and start daydreaming instead. It won’t be a conscious choice but, rather, a tactic her brain uses as a coping mechanism. These difficulties often snowball if they’re ignored and, if really bad, can result in school refusals.
2. They make it harder to follow rules.
Children with executive function issues, in particular, find it hard to follow rules. And it’s not that they don’t want to, but that they struggle to control random impulses. For example, they might understand why they should wear a mask but ignore the logic and take it off anyway, if uncomfortable. Or, social distancing might make sense to them until they want to investigate something interesting their classmate is doing. Or they might keep interrupting the teacher because they’ve suddenly had a new thought and can’t wait to share it. These examples are harmless enough, but there’s a chance that this rule-breaking can get worse if unchecked. So, older children might start lying frequently, risk their friends’ safety, experiment with drugs, and more — whatever feels good in the moment, regardless of the consequences. And here’s where it’s tempting for teachers to label them as ‘naughty,’ when really, they’re trying their hardest to stay in control.
3. They complicate friendships.
Children with attention issues often don’t pick up on important social cues. So, they’ll likely miss the subtle signs that a friend is annoyed or embarrassed. If they have executive function issues, then they’ll find it hard to plan and organise their schedule. So, they might show up late to meet or forget about the event entirely. And if they have language learning issues, then conversations become awkward as they struggle with non-literal speech (e.g., when someone says, ‘I’m so angry I could scream!’). Instances like these remind us that making and keeping friends takes effort and skill. Children with learning and attention issues often struggle to develop these skills.
4. They affect a child’s self-esteem.
There’s still a lot of stigma associated with learning and attention difficulties. Parents often don’t want people to know about their child’s differences, so teachers are reluctant to address them. Unsurprisingly, children can pick up on this, and it’s a severe blow to their confidence. This is bad enough, but it’s nothing compared to the constant stream of negative thoughts they’re also trying to battle. For example, a child who’s struggling to read might feel that she’ll never read properly. Or a child struggling with maths might feel that she’s stupid. Or if it’s ADHD, she might feel like a failure for constantly getting in trouble. These are the sorts of thoughts that can chip away at a child’s confidence unless an adult steps in to help.
As parents, we can help our children by recognising the signs of learning and attention difficulties.
The first step towards helping your child is to recognise that she needs help. So, is she reading at a lower level than her classmates? Does she struggle with maths? Is her handwriting hard to decipher? Does she find it difficult to sit still? Does she regularly hand in her homework late? Does she not want to go to school? These are the sorts of signs you want to pay attention to. And if you spot that something is wrong, step in early and talk to your child’s teachers to try and figure out what’s wrong.
Sometimes, though, it helps to have a specialist on your side.
It gets complicated when your child has multiple learning and attention difficulties. And often, you’ll need to develop a well-planned strategy in advance. Here’s where a specialist can help. The right child psychologist can assess your child and help you figure out the kind of support she needs. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356 / (0) 79 9053 8654
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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- What is Mindset? And How Can It Transform Your Child’s Life?
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