Children with Learning Disabilities

 Strategies for Teaching Children with Challenges, Delays, and Deficits

When Skills Come Slowly

There are many reasons a child may experience learning delays or difficulty completing milestones at “grade level.” Each child is an individual, and he or she may master one skill at a time, while putting another on the “back burner.”

Strategies for Teaching Children with Challenges, Delays, and Deficits in Learning


If reading has been coming slowly for your child, consider the following concepts. Is my child ready to read? Children do not all walk at the same age, yet many in education think they should all read at the same age… not true! Your child is ready to read when letter shapes are easily recognized; letter sounds are easy to discriminate through rhymes and mimicking; and they indicate a desire to read through noticing words on packages, signs, and books. If your child is not yet ready to read, relax! Pushing will not help your child to mature any more than yelling at plants will produce fruit faster. However, like the plant, children need a fertile ground for growth and maturity. Nurture your child by:
  1. Reading aloud every day.
  2. Playing games and making words with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
  3. Teaching nursery rhymes and making up your own rhymes.
  4. Teaching Bible memory verses.
  5. Playing with pencil and paper (dot-to-dot games, tracing, drawing, copying shapes, coloring).


This is a very important factor for reading. Please remember that children are farsighted until about 11 years of age. Your child’s eyesight may be excellent, but his or her vision may be poor. After the age of six, children begin to focus their eyes more effectively. This is the time when vision difficulties can really surface. If children read with only one eye at a time, they will often scramble or misread letters. If one eye dominates the other eye, letters will reverse easily and letters and words may seem to move around on the page. Reading will be very difficult if the eyes move in short jerks and jumps and cannot track or follow an object smoothly. When these problems are present, the child must concentrate very hard just to keep the letters on the page still. Children with vision problems wiggle a great deal while learning to read. They also complain of headaches, that reading is “boring,” and are easily distracted. If you suspect a vision problem, take your child to an optometrist who is also a vision therapist. Many vision therapy exercises can be done at home as a part of your school day. Here are a few helpful hints:
  1. Use a white card to reveal only one line of reading at a time.
  2. Try various colored transparencies over the writing. Some colors make reading easier for children.
  3. Limit reading time to short periods in the morning.
  4. Be as patient as possible when your child misreads. Remember, it is not laziness or inattentiveness. That “b” really does look like a “d.”
  5. Look for curriculum with large print.
  6. Keep plugging away! Though reading may be hard, and your child is resisting, it’s worth every bit of the battle. Drill, drill, drill. Make small incremental rewards for your child like the Pizza Hut “Book-It®” program available through support groups or directly from Pizza Hut.
  7. Continue to listen to your child read each day, even as they get older.
  8. Intensive phonics should be your first choice in a reading curriculum.
  9. Have your child practice eye exercises every day by following a pencil tip or the tip of his thumb left-to-right across the body. Also, have him try following his thumb in circles on the left, right, and center.

Auditory Perception

The third reason for reading difficulty is auditory perception. Your child may be able to hear well, but confuses sounds easily. A child with this problem will confuse the message or often mispronounce words. When sounding out words, they read “C-A-T” and then say “tap.” You can help this child to read by:
  1. Reading a passage slowly together over and over until the sounds begin to register.
  2. Cupping the hand behind the ear will also help to amplify the letter sounds to the child for spelling. Suggested curriculum might include the “Lady Bird” books, and other books with limited vocabulary, simple-to-read stories, and colorful pictures.
  3. Do not neglect to use phonics. A child with auditory perception problems will not learn to spell without a good phonics base. Even though phonics will not be easy for your child, keep working because the results will be worth all the effort.

Visual Perception

The fourth reason for reading difficulty is a deficit in visual perception. Unlike vision problems mentioned above, the child with visual perception difficulties may see the item clearly, but the message gets scrambled in the brain. As a result, the child misreads and misunderstands what has been read. Strategies for assisting visual perception difficulties can also be learned from vision therapists. Another alternative is: Brain Integration Therapy exercises, (Brain Integration Therapy Institute, 1-719-576-1426). Curriculum recommendations include the DISTAR approach to reading found in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Engleman, Haddox, and Bruner.
If math has been coming slowly for your child, consider the following concepts.


is the educational term for a child who cannot remember basic math facts, even after long periods of drill. It seems as though the brain has become a sieve, and the math facts just slip through. Continue daily drills by making many copies of one drill page. Give the same page to the child for a brief, allotted time every day. Note the progress the child makes each day as he or she completes more problems. You may wish to chart his progress in a colorful way with incentives and rewards. (Calculadder makes great drill books.) Place a number-line somewhere in the house which is accessible at all times. A stairwell is a good place for a number line. Use color for emphasis of facts, and plastic toys to “jump” on the numberline. This will give the child both visual and hands-on memory hooks for the math facts. Learning “Wrap-Ups” are another hands-on tool for drilling math facts. These are plastic rectangles with an attached string that links a set of math problems physically. Multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction “Wrap-Ups” are sold individually. “Triangle Flashcards” depict math facts in family groups. Three numbers appear in the corners of the cards. As each corner is covered, the question changes from addition to subtraction, or from multiplication to division. For example, the card might have the numbers 3, 5, and 8. Cover the 8, then 3+5 = 8, cover the 5, and 8-3 = 5, or cover the 3, and 8-5 = 3.

Story-problem Struggles –

In addition to direct reading challenges, there are a lot of reasons children will struggle with story problems. To answer a story problem, a child will need to recognize key words, and then identify the process needed to solve the problem. Some children will solve story-problems by drawing pictures for themselves. Others will solve them in their head and not realize how they arrived at the answer. Help your child identify the key words in the problem by underlining those words when they appear. Key words and phrases would include: sum, difference, more than, less than, each group, total, etc. Saxon Math series has an excellent set of story problems in each daily “Problem Set.”

Pencil Resistance

Many children seem to struggle with holding a pencil in their hands. Pencils often fall from their fingers, penmanship might be inconsistent, and the entire process of handwriting is laborious. When children struggle with pencil resistance, consider the problem to be physical more than attitude. The child will benefit from pencil exercises and fine-motor exercises to develop pencil control. Use Legos®, LightBright®, peg boards and colorful dot-to-dot books.


is a term that describes a problem in which there appears to be a short-circuit between the brain and the hand. A child with dysgraphia will have a great idea, but will be unable to put that idea on paper. Children with this problem will not show their work in math, will write one sentence and call it a “paragraph,” and will beg to give their book reports orally! Dysgraphia is apparent when letters are formed with great stress, high pencil pressure, and inconsistent shape and/or placement on the line. Strategies to help the dysgraphic child include: Low-stress writing. This means copying easy-to-read material onto lined handwriting paper in small daily assignments. Use a white board or chalkboard to let the child make letters or numbers large and easy to write to practice gross motor functions. Allow your child to dictate a story first, then edit and recopy in short writing sessions. Note: if your child struggles with spelling, this type of exercise can help build success in both spelling and the creative process.

Writer’s Block

“I don’t know what to write!” Whenever children say these words, the problem usually lies with inadequate experience or limited vocabulary. Prepare your children for writing through stimulating conversation, experiences, books, film, or trips. As you are experiencing these adventures, be sure to keep a journal of terms and names. These become the resources for the child’s story. If your child still can’t think of anything, generate a list of questions to be answered in the assignment. I have seen good success with the “Writing in Narrative” curriculum authored by Dr. Les Simonson, of W.I.N., 417 Doe Circle, Franktown, CO 80116, 1-303-688-0573. It is also available through the Elijah Company, 1-615-456-6284.

When a child has poor visual memory skills, spelling, reading, and math facts become very difficult to master. Each time the child looks at a word or math problem, it might as well be a “new” task. Visual memory means holding a “picture” in the mind. Children with strong visual memory skills will often look upward to remember how to spell a word. They’re recreating the “picture” of the word they’ve stored. Here is a strategy for helping your children to remember what they see.

  1. Write words to be memorized on heavy cardstock, or other stiff paper, using eye-catching colors and illustrations.
  2. Hold the card in front of the child at about eyebrow level.
  3. Hide the card, then see if the child can describe it to you in detail.
  4. Bring the card back again and again until the child can “see,” from memory exactly what the card looks like.
  5. When the child is able to spell the word forwards, backwards, and inside-out, you know the visual “picture” is firmly in place.

Note: Visual memory skills are not “visualizing.” Visual memory is simply recalling what has been seen. Visualizing and visualization techniques have often been used as “stress management” therapy and are based in imagination and fantasy.

Children with auditory memory deficits often confuse and mispronounce terms. Memory verses can be extremely difficult for these children because they say the words again and again, yet cannot remember the verse. They often confuse directions and instructions. Remembering more than two things at once is usually very difficult. You can help by always repeating your instructions and then having your child repeat the instructions back to you once or twice. Repeat new terms many times V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y. It is also wise to write terms on cards for word games and drill later.

This is a “new” diagnosis that has been greatly misunderstood in recent years. Perhaps if we begin by defining ADD by exclusion, it will help clarify the picture.

  1. Attention Deficit Disorder is not only a motivation problem, though children can learn to compensate for the disorder when they are highly motivated.
  2. Attention Deficit Disorder is not a food allergy, even though some children naturally become extremely restless when they eat sugar, bright food colors, dairy, wheat, corn, or other foods.
  3. Attention Deficit Disorder is not a discipline problem only, though logical consequences and firmly set boundaries will benefit this child greatly.
  4. Attention Deficit Disorder does NOT mean your child is lacking in ability or intelligence. Many children with ADD have exceptional intelligence.
  5. Attention Deficit Disorder occurs in children who have a malfunction in the sensory input areas of the brain. Stimuli are apparently not filtered properly and consequently the children cannot focus well. It is thought by many neurologists that the frontal lobe (focus area) is not processing as well as it should. The receptive area in the back of the brain, (occipital region), is doing extra work. Sometimes just bending over from the waist and dangling the arms for one minute intervals can help students to focus.
  6. Children with Attention Deficit Disorder have a great deal of trouble focusing their attention.
  7. Everything seems to grab at their attention. They battle with over stimulation.
  8. Even as little babies, these children often seem to be hypersensitive to their environment.
  9. Children with ADD take an extremely long time to finish a simple task.
  10. They may forget something the minute after it happens, such as a fact of learning or instructions that were just given.
  11. ADD children will often not seem to be aware of the consequences of their behavior even though they were clearly defined.
  12. Pediatricians can sometimes assess A.D.D. or can refer you to someone who can.

A child who has these symptoms is known well by all. This child will struggle terribly with structure of any kind. The hyperactivity is present because the “stop it” signal in the brain is not functioning properly. Consequently this is a child who is stimulated by everything and has the impulse to pursue, touch, run, explore, and discuss everything under the sun. Parents of these children may seek medical support to help maintain family relationships. Counseling may be necessary at some point during this child’s development due to the many issues which arise daily. A child’s self-esteem is seriously harmed when he or she hears nothing but “Stop it!,” “Settle down,” That’s enough,” and “Don’t!” all day long. A principal once said, “We don’t worry about hyperactive students at our school, we let them get out their energy by running around the track about two laps, then they’re just fine!”… interesting thought.

Living and Learning With a Late Bloomer

Sometimes the greatest teaching tool we can use with a child is time. Some children need a very long time to be able to develop academic skills. These children we call our “late-bloomers.” Think about that name for a moment, and you can picture a beautiful flower which waits until the little spring pansies are fading to produce its late season blossoms in the glow of late summer and early fall. The late blooms are none the less beautiful. You will know if your child is a late bloomer when these things happen during school:

  1. After careful, patient instruction and concentrated effort, the information cannot be used or retained.
  2. Whenever you try to build upon a concept, all is lost.
  3. Your child cannot focus on material.
  4. Your child shows no inclination to read, and does not recognize signs, or symbols.

Helpful Hints:

  1. When working with a late bloomer, focus on that which they can do, not what they cannot. Often these children are great at building and experimenting.
  2. Help your children to develop their skills and become all that they can be.
  3. Work heavily on character. Teach the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
  4. Be your child’s advocate by writing a letter to all relevant parties, explaining the curriculum in which your child is working, and cautioning them to keep disparaging comments to a minimum.

Challenging the Gifted Learner

It is always difficult to determine if a child qualifies as a “gifted” learner. Here are some clues:
  1. Highly intelligent children will be excellent at applying what they know.
  2. On tests, they often score much higher in comprehension than in vocabulary.
  3. They may score higher in problem solving then in calculation or arithmetic operations.
  4. They are often strong in language usage skill because they seem to know what “sounds right.”
  5. Their highest scores are often found in the general knowledge areas of science, history, literature, and art. Exceptionally bright students may be high in any or all of these areas depending on their level of interest.
  6. They may have begun reading with little or no instruction.
  7. They may not complete drills well. Repetition may be as difficult for this child as processing challenges are for the mentally impaired.
  8. Gifted children are more comfortable without a challenge. Since most things have come easily to them, they may not understand how to study or really apply themselves.
  9. They are easily bored and seek stimulation often. You may run hard to keep this child busy.
Here are some strategies for teaching the brilliant child:
  1. Remember that your child is still a child. His rate of emotional and physical development has not changed even though his academics are advancing rapidly.
  2. Allow for play time, including imaginative play, and quiet spaces for reading and self-stimulating pursuits. Don’t hurry this child unless he is seeking more stimulation.
  3. Encourage your child to pursue the studies in which he has a “bent.”
  4. Don’t be intimidated by your child’s abilities or potential! You will become the director of learning, not the instructor. Give assignments and projects for your child to research, experiment, and learn from. Help your child organize his time, his data, and his results. You do not need to know more about the information than your student!

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