Slow learning is a general term used to describe a number of specific learning disabilities (like dyslexia, for example) that affect the way children receive, process and organise information. 

Children develop at different rates – you may notice this in your own home when, for instance, your second child starts talking or walking later than your first child did. But this doesn’t necessarily indicate a learning problem. Parents can look to general milestones in their young children to see if their development is within the range that it should be. 


  • 1 year: a child should be able to say a few words, including ‘mama’ or ‘dada’
  • 2 years: a child should be able to point to items, like their nose, eyes, toes and understand the meaning of ‘no’
  • 3 years: a child should understand concepts like ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’, make simple three-word sentences, climb on things
  • 4 years: a child should be able to form sentences and tell a story
(For a comprehensive list, visit https://roadtohealth.co.za/growth-and-development/development/)


There are a number of learning disabilities that may affect the way your child develops. The most common include:
  • Auditory processing disorder: affects how sound travels through the ear to the brain. The child cannot recognise the difference between sounds in words or tell where a sound is coming from.
  • Dyscalculia: affects a child’s ability to understand numbers and learn maths. The child has difficulty memorising and organising numbers and has difficulty counting.
  • Dysgraphia: affects handwriting and fine motor skills. The child has difficulty writing legibly, spells poorly and cannot think and write at the same time.
  • Dyslexia: relates to reading and related language-based skills. The child has difficulty with reading, writing, recall, spelling and sometimes speech. 
  • Non-verbal learning disabilities: The child will have difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. 

Diagnosing a learning disability may be tricky because there is no single list of symptoms. But there are signs to look out for. Being aware of these will help to address learning issues early on.

  • general lack of enthusiasm for reading or writing
  • not wanting to go to school
  • trouble focussing on a task/following directions
  • poor social skills
  • disruptiveness
  • repeating instructions 
  • difficulty following verbal or written instructions
  • difficulty finishing tasks in given time frame
  • difficulty adjusting to change in routine
  • difficulty remembering information from day to day
  • inability to correct a mistake
  • clumsiness
Learning difficulties are usually picked up when a child goes to school. Before school, some signs include slower than average developmental milestones (sitting, walking, talking); difficulty communicating needs; difficulty following instructions; and poor attention span. It is wise to have your toddler’s hearing and sight tested to ensure that learning and development is not being hampered by a physical disability.

It may be overwhelming to learn that your child has a learning disability, but getting the right outside help and empowering yourself with knowledge will go a long way to help your child address learning obstacles. Speak to your child’s teacher about the availability of remedial teachers or speech and occupational therapists that may be made available by the school. Other supportive measures can be put in place like giving the child extra time for tests or exams, using oral instead of written exams, making special concessions for spelling and handwriting. 

It’s important that the learning disability is diagnosed so that the best course of action can be taken. Learn everything you can about your child’s learning disability and how it will affect their progress. Follow healthy life habits – make sure your child sleeps, exercises and plays enough and has a balanced diet. Be aware of your child’s mood. Learning disabilities can affect a child’s sense of self-esteem, so look out for things like loss of appetite, poor sleep, and loss of interest in activities they generally enjoy. Don’t be afraid to talk to experts so that you can assist with home-based tasks that will help your child at school.

Picking the right specialist for diagnosis and treatment can be complicated. Here are some pointers.

What does a paediatrician do?
Paediatricians look after the health of infants, children and teenagers. Besides treating illness, they counsel children and their parents on diet, hygiene and disease prevention. It is a collaborative speciality – paediatricians may refer patients to a specialist if needed.

What does a child psychologist do?
Child psychologists work with children and teens to diagnose and resolve issues causing emotional or behavioural problems. Their education is the same as general psychologists but they focus on child development and behaviour. They may refer children to other specialists or offer treatment through therapy sessions.

What does an educational psychologist do?
Clients commonly call them child psychologists. ChildPsych (www.childpsych.co.za), a group of educational psychologists in all major areas around the country, define their work as helping children with therapies for different problems, such as emotional or social issues and learning difficulties. One technique is play therapy, helpful for children from 3 to 12, with the child doing what he enjoys at his own level and pace.

What does an OT do?
An occupational therapist specialises in child development, treating sensory processing disorders, developmental delays, and learning difficulties. The focus is function and clusters of difficulty that affect a child’s play, everyday activities and academic performance. The reason for an OT referral may be specific but the assessment will always be holistic.

What does a speech therapist do?
A speech therapist helps children with communication problem that has to do with speech. It could be anything from stuttering to struggling with expressing themselves in words.

The South African Association for Learning and Educational Differences (SAALED) at www.saaled.org.za
Inclusive Education South Africa at www.included.org.za/iesaresources/for-parents/

https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilitieswww.webmd.com/children/guide/detecting-learning-disabilities; www.health24.com



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WHEN LEARNING ISN'T AS EASY AS A-B-C WHEN LEARNING ISN'T AS EASY AS A-B-C Reviewed by Jet Club on January 17, 2019 Rating: 5
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