Understanding learning difficulties in children

Inspiring children to learn and finding creative ways to teach them is a challenge on its own; doing so with a child with a learning disability is much harder. It takes patience and perseverance.

Local educational psychologist, Rita McFadden shared her insights on the matter with Mopani.

Which disorders are commonly associated with learning difficulties?

“There are many disorders that can contribute to learning difficulties. These disorders are all neurologically based”, said McFadden.

These disorders include:

  • Dyslexia – difficulty reading (decoding letters and words)
  • Dyscalculia – difficulty with number-related concepts (often called math dyslexia)
  • Dysgraphia – difficulty with fine motor skills and writing
  • Sensory Integration Disorder – difficulty processing information gathered through senses
  • Dysphasia or Aphasia – partial or complete loss of ability to use language, spoken or written
  • Auditory Processing Disorder – difficulty processing what they hear; can’t differentiate between two similar words
  • Visual Processing Disorder – difficulty with what they see; can’t differentiate between two similar objects
  • Autism – trouble with social interaction
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – trouble maintaining focus
  • Emotional Issues – anxiety, depression or other mental health related issues

 What causes these issues?

“Learning disability causes remain unknown. Some people explain it that the person’s brain is simply wired differently and this difference affects how they receive and process information.

I have found the following telephone analogy explaining learning difficulties. Faulty wiring in the brain disrupts normal lines of communication and makes it difficult to process information easily. If service was down in a certain area of the city, the phone company might fix the problem by re-wiring the connections.

Similarly, under the right learning conditions, the brain has the ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections. This is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s natural, lifelong ability to change.

When you form new connections by using different learning techniques, it facilitates skills like reading and writing. These skills would have been much more difficult to learn before”, McFadden explained.

Researchers have identified several possible risk factors:

  • Individual differences in the brain
  • Genetics (heredity). A person’s genetics can contribute to their learning disability. These disorders tend to run in families, so a child with a parent or sibling who has a learning disorder has a higher likelihood of having one of their own compared to children with no family history of such learning problems
  • Environmental factors such as poor nutrition or exposure to lead in water or in paint
  • Medical reasons such as chronic ear infections, neurological illnesses or injury later in life
  • Problems during the mother’s pregnancy such as alcohol or drug use can put a child at higher risk for a learning problem or disability

In terms of a child with a learning difficulty, what are the pros and cons of a mainstream school?


  • Children who excel in sports can take part more competitively
  • Socially –they remain with their friends
  • More extra-curricular activities to choose from


  • They could be teased by peers who don’t understand their learning difficulties
  • They may be misunderstood by teachers
  • They may not receive the individual attention that they require
  • Teachers don’t often have the time to re-explain concepts or think about different ways to teach a specific concept
  • Learning challenges may remain undetected as the child may be seen as “lazy or even intellectually impaired”

What are the pros and cons of enrolling a child in a remedial school or home school programme, in this instance?


  • The classes are smaller, teachers have the time to re-explain concepts or to use multi-sensory methods to teach new concepts
  • They can grow in confidence and experience less stress
  • At a remedial school the child could receive therapeutic interventions (speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, psychological) during the school day. The therapists and teacher work together as a multi-disciplinary team in addressing the learning difficulties



  • Some people still feel that there is a stigma attached to a remedial or specialised school.
  • Some parents find it difficult to come to terms with the special needs of their child and are apprehensive to consider a remedial or specialised school
  • Extra mural activities are limited as not all sports or extra-curricular activities can be offered
  • Some of tutor centres that offer a home school programme are not trained or equipped to teach a child with a serious learning difficulty
  • The role of mother and teacher may become diffused if the mother is also the home school teacher. This may impact on the relationship between mother and child

McFadden has a practice in Nelspruit and forms part of the staff at Flamboyant Remedial School in White River. If you would like to book an appointment, you can contact her on 082 219 1530 or ritamcf40@live.co.za.

Mopani Pharmacy also offers a variety of homeopathic / natural remedies to alleviate some stress and help to keep your child calm. It is important to discuss the use with our pharmacists for possible contraindications and correct use.

Read more: ADHD – what you need to know

We can deliver your medication, supplements and other Mopani online shopping, nationwide. More info: mopani.co.za | crossing@mopani.co.za | Tel: 0137555500 | WhatsApp: 0661921703

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