Learning Difficulties in Preschool Children

I believe many parents are like myself. At some points of my children's lives, I get worried about their developments. And i always believe that if i feel uneasy, i should always bring my child for a check to have a peace of mind, or to get help early.

For development related to learning, it is usually the child's teachers who will be able spot it better in a class of many students and will highlight to you if your child has any learning difficulties, like Kyle's nursery teacher did. As early intervention is crucial in helping children overcome learning differences, it's important that parents who suspected child has any difficulties to bring child early, for a checkup to get the support required as early as possible, as often the help that is received earlier, can help the child to lose or drop any labels (like ADHD etc) as they get older. 

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend a Preschool Seminar for parents and educators, organised by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS), to share how we can support the learning needs of Preschool Children!

They have a panel of experts that share readily on the below topics:
  • Developmental milestones of a preschooler
  • Early signs and symptoms of learning difficulties in a preschooler
  • Tips and strategies for supporting a child with learning difficulties 
  • How Speech, Language and Occupational therapy can help a child 
  • The preschool programme offered by DAS to help children with reading difficulties

I thought I will just share with you some of the things I picked up from the seminar as followed:

The speech, language and communication milestones are very important for every child as delays in early development will give an indications of later problems. Knowing the typical development will gives you an idea if your child is ahead or falling behind on some keys skills and you will be able to refer the child for early intervention.

Some of the School Readiness Red Flags are:

  • Poor self help skills
  • Clumsy
  • Delayed comprehension / learning new concepts
  • Limited Play
  • Difficulty to follow rules and routines
  • Poor memory
  • Behavior differences
  • Delay in early literacy development
  • Limited attention / listening skills 
  • Poor expressive language / unclear speech

A child can have specific learning disorders in the following areas:

  • Language: Speech sound disorder, specific language impairment, reading comprehension impairment
  • Reading & Writing: Dyslexia and Dysgraphia
  • Maths: Dyscalculia and/or maths learning difficulties
  • Concentration & Attention: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Socialization: Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Self control: Conduct disorder
  • Emotional & Behavioral: Anxiety disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and many more
  • Motor difficulties: Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Others: Central auditory processing disorder, Irlen Syndrome, Tourette's Syndrome, Turner's Syndrome etc 

While it's important to look out of signs, it's also important to note that you can be too worried about your child's development and also to know that most learning development is a bit bumpy, it takes a while for a child to pick up something new. So, how can parents help?

Language: Reading stories with the child, being happy to read the same story again and again, having conversations, playing language games

Watching TV or DVDs: Not necessarily a bad thing but watching together with the child is SO MUCH BETTER - giving the child a DVD or device to watch by himself is almost certainty not helpful

Understanding social skills: some children do need more explicit teaching, such as explaining how feelings are visible on the face, what different feeling mean and what some of the language of social relationship means

Emotions: We all need to develop our emotional literacy, and can benefit from having private conversations about what we really feel with someone we trust. Children needs opportunities to do this.

Motor-coordination: Some children need a lot more help than others to use a pencil well, with practise they will almost certainly get better, but it may take time.

** Do note that writing letters and numbers backwards is quite common, so in itself its not a strong sign of problem, you should only worry if it persists beyond a few months

To help support a child with learning difference, we can use the below strategies:

  • Keep it simple: 
    • Use sequential memory anchor like beginning, middle and end. 
    • Use "Plan, do and review technique"
  • Make it real
    • See, do and say at the same time
    • Dough it, make it 3D
    • Sand it, make it tactile
    • Say it loud, sing it loud, make it audio
    • Move it, make it kinaesthetic
    • Practise, mock-ups
    • Celebrate success and move on
  • Keep it light
    • Should be no fear, no stress and fun
    • Use technique of touch and go seeding method, plant the idea, leave it to germinate and revisit it to nurture, leave it, repeat process till it takes root

And of course, we can refer the child to the professionals for help when we are leading to nowhere.

Occupational therapy can help a child with Handwriting difficulties, Visual Deficits (binocular vision, ocular motility, Attention Challenges (distractibility, fidgety, hyperactivity, difficulty to remain on task) and motor planning issues.

Speech & Language therapy aids the child to weave language comprehension and words recognition into reading skills. It also can covers language, pragmatics, fluency, voice.

For preschool children with reading difficulties, it's too early to diagnosis, the recommended age is to wait till at least 6 years old (based on birth date) and above. Meanwhile, if you suspect the child has reading difficulties, it's never too kiasu to send the child for Specialised Education Services for early intervention.  With early intervention, the child can improve and drop the diagnosis or label later in life. :)

The above mentioned seminar is organised by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore.
You can find out more about them at http://www.das.org.sg/

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