Why is Early Intervention for Learning Difficulties so Critical?

Imagine this:

Jack is a little boy who has just started school. He is happy, motivated and eager to learn.

Soon afterwards, Jack’s mother notices that he is struggling to master skills that seem relatively easy for other children. And no matter how hard he tries, he finds it difficult to complete tasks on time.

His self-esteem has taken a hit, too. He is not as confident or as happy as he used to be. He is constantly frustrated and Jack’s mum realises his motivation for school and for learning is quickly fading.

She wonders… What can she possibly do to help?

So she asks Jack’s teacher what she thinks. But the teacher is unsure and thinks that Jack is probably within the ‘normal range’ of abilities…

She tells a close friend about her concerns. The friend thinks Jack might just need a bit of extra time to ‘catch up’…

But it just doesn’t make sense. Jack is bright and engaging in conversation yet he is clearly struggling with some of his basic learning skills…

Then she starts searching for answers on the internet and things get even more confusing…

She reads about all types of possibilities, from dyslexia to AD/HD to ‘auditory processing’ issues and ‘eye-tracking’ problems…

But she doesn’t want to “label” Jack with a disorder so she decides to wait and hope for the best.

Maybe things will improve in grade one with a new teacher?

But when he moves up to grade one things don’t improve. In fact, they get worse and Jack becomes increasingly negative about school and learning.

Some days he doesn’t want to go to school at all and complains about vague illnesses and stomach upsets…

And worst of all, he has even started to call himself ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’.

His mum does her best to boost his self-esteem – which definitely helps – but it isn’t enough to change his mindset. She feels sad and helpless. She knows something isn’t right…

If only she could find out what is really going on with his learning ability and get the right help and support for him…

Surely there is more that can be done to help Jack?

Now of course Jack’s story is fictional but for many kids and parents stories like this are all too real and very common.

Parents often try a “wait-and-see” approach in the hope that their child will somehow outgrow their learning difficulties…

And sometimes parents are even told by well-meaning teachers or other parents that their child will probably do just that…

However research shows the opposite.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in November 2015 , students with learning difficulties often fall into a long term ‘learning gap’ that persists into adolescence.

The authors warn that this “achievement gap poses serious consequences…including lower rates of high school graduation, higher levels of unemployment, and lower earnings…”

You see, learning difficulties have cumulative effects – hurting academic achievement and emotional and behavioural development, year after year.

Which severely impacts children’s enjoyment of school and motivation to learn.

And this can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, or even depression.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The evidence is clear:

The EARLIER learning difficulties are identified and an effective intervention program is started, the BETTER the chance of improving long term outcomes.

Early intervention helps to reduce the ‘learning gap’ before the problems become more profound and entrenched.

In fact, research shows that when the right help and learning strategies are put in place early enough, positive results can be quickly achieved and maintained over the long term.

As well as helping school performance, early action also reduces emotional problems associated with failure.

And intervention during primary school also helps prevent the development of further learning difficulties, such as writing problems, in later years.

But what about other issues like “eye tracking” problems, “irlen syndrome” (coloured lenses or filters for reading) or “auditory processing disorder”?

Well, the truth is these types of issues are unlikely to be the underlying cause of a learning difficulty.

For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics states:

“Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended.” (Pediatrics 2009;124:837–844)

And there’s this from the American Academy of Audiology in relation to ‘Auditory Processing Disorder’ (APD):

“[Researchers found] ‘no compelling evidence that auditory interventions make any significant contributions to auditory, language, and academic outcomes of school-aged children diagnosed with APD or language disorder.'” (Issues and Controversies in Auditory Processing Disorders—2012)

In other words, these types of concerns and diagnoses are unlikely to be helpful for parents (or teachers) when it comes to taking practical steps to help children like Jack.

Instead, these issues are likely to cause even more confusion and distract parents from getting the most beneficial help.

How can early intervention help children like Jack?

Early intervention helps to:

  • Address learning difficulties before they become entrenched and lead to other issues such as behavioural and emotional problems.
  • Teach specific skills and strategies to focus on strengths and minimise, improve or work around weaknesses.
  • Improve performance and educational outcomes.

In other words, it helps children reach their full potential as learners.

But it is essential that each intervention program is tailored to each child’s specific strengths and weaknesses (or “learning profile”).

And it’s important to tailor the interventions and approach used for each child to get the best outcomes?

Yes. And that’s why many education experts recommend a learning difficulty assessment with a psychologist trained in Educational Psychology as the first step.

How does this type of assessment help?

A full learning assessment will reveal the answers to these four key questions:

  1. What is actually going on with their underlying learning and processing skills?
  2. What level are they are currently achieving at with their academic skills? (Compared with what is expected for their age and year level.)
  3. What are they potentially capable of achieving?
    and therefore;
  4. What are the most helpful learning strategies and interventions to put in place at school and at home?

(You can learn more about assessment on this page)

You see, it’s NOT about “labelling” children with a disorder.

Instead, this information enables parents to make more informed decisions about their child’s education…

So they can make the required changes as EARLY as possible

Ensure the right learning strategies are put in place at school and at home…

Empower their child with greater insight into how they learn…

And ultimately help them to reach their full learning potential.

But without this information?

Parents and teachers are basically “flying blind”…

So, in summary, interventions for learning difficulties should be:

  • Tailored to each child’s specific learning profile
  • Evidence-based and high quality
  • Intensive and frequent
  • Regularly monitored to assess progress
  • Structured and challenging – as the child progresses, material should increase in difficulty

What is the next step?

Click here for more information about Learning Difficulty Assessment


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