As children grow older, their behaviors change dramatically. While a hysterical tantrum over something minor is completely normal at two years of age, for example, at age ten or twelve it’s often considered aberrant and troubling. Just as acceptable behaviors change dramatically throughout the process of development, so too do the signs of learning disabilities.
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For parents and teachers alike, this opens up a murky grey area: When is a child simply a bit “behind” his or her peers in a given area, and when does odd or disruptive behavior signify a diagnose problem? While only a qualified professional can truly answer this question, knowing how the signs of learning disabilities change over time can help parents and teachers to assess when it’s time to seek help. A “grade by grade” guide to learning disability symptoms is provided below:
Preschool-aged children are among the hardest to assess because they both behave chaotically by nature and usually cannot read or write. Nevertheless, there are signs parents should remain vigilant for, such as an inability to pay attention when listening to brief instructions or simple stories. (The typical attention span for a toddler is about three to six minutes.) Parents should also hasten to address any evident language processing issues, such as an inability to distinguish phonemes (the sounds that make up words). Note, however, that you should have your child’s hearing checked before entertaining the possibility of a learning disability.
Finally, while most toddlers are very energetic, if your child is so hyperactive that he can’t slow down even when he wants to (to the point where it affects his ability to learn new things and engage in leisure activities), it’s likely that he has ADHD.
Children in kindergarten often show a wide range of different abilities in terms of academic performance. There are, however, some distinct markers that a kindergarten-aged child has a learning disability (rather than just being slower than his peers in certain areas). These include an inability to recognize sounds, numbers, letters, and very simple words (like “cat” or “dog”). Understand that your child’s teacher may not recognize that these issues might indicate a learning disability; kindergarten teachers are generally instructed to let children learn at their own pace. If you detect a problem, you should therefore seek a professional assessment regardless of whether or not an educator recommends it. Because children do the majority of their “language learning” prior to age 6, early intervention is essential to overcoming these challenges.
First And Second Grade
During the first and second grade, the curriculum is far more varied and enriched than it is in kindergarten. You can therefore expect to see your child’s individual preferences and abilities emerge more strongly, e.g. he might express a love of English and a hatred of Math. Regardless of these individual quirks, your child should be able to read and write words and simple sentences without issue. He should also be able to sound words out as he reads them (demonstrating a basic understanding of phonetics). By the end of first grade, reading an age-appropriate story book should not present an insurmountable challenge. By the end of second grade, he should be able to write longer sentences and short paragraphs. Verbal expression should also begin to become more complex at this stage.
Your child’s attention span should also have increased to the point where he can follow multi-step directions from teachers or parents and sit still during group activities. This ability should be accompanied by at least rudimentary organization skills. If your child shows obvious signs of lacking these abilities and/or seems angry, inattentive, or disruptive in class, he should be assessed for a learning disability.
The Third, Fourth, And Fifth Grade
Learning disorders often become obvious during this stage of a child’s academic career as the kind of work being completed relies more heavily on detailed comprehension. Reading and writing are no longer exercises in themselves; instead, they are tools children use to learn new subject matter. (By the fourth grade, neurotically children can both read aloud with relative ease and write spontaneously.) As such, difficulties with reading and writing begin to affect overall learning. Likewise, inattentiveness starts to take a much heavier toll on classroom performance.
If a child within this age group has an diagnosed learning disability (a strong possibility as many children learn to compensate sufficiently for their disabilities during the earlier, easier grades) he may begin to show extreme frustration or apathy as he struggles more profoundly to keep up. If your child seems bright yet is barely passing his classes and expressing feelings of vexation (either verbally or through acting out), a learning disability is likely at fault. Getting help as soon as possible will ensure that your child receives personalized learning strategies and develops greater persistence at school. Once again, parents are advised to seek aid if they detect a problem, regardless of whether the school agrees or not. Many children in this age group are adept actors and capable of misleading teachers about the depth of their difficulties.
Middle School And High School
Most children have a difficult time making the transition to middle school, both socially and academically. While behavioral issues often arise within this age group as a matter of course, there are still telltale signs of learning disabilities to be aware of.
Though it’s difficult for some parents to believe, there are a number of children whose learning disabilities remain diagnosed until high school (or, in rarer cases, even until college).
While symptoms inevitably change and develop, it’s absolutely essential to remember that signs of a learning disability should be taken seriously at any age. Not only is help always available, the brain continues to develop well into early adulthood. Diagnosis can therefore make a huge difference in the life of a young adult.