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Learning difficulties: definition and warning signs

Learning difficulties: definition and warning signs

May 7, 2021

The Learning difficulties (DA) they include in their definition a heterogeneous set of alterations in reading, writing, calculus and general cognitive reasoning. These disorders are usually due to a dysfunction of the nervous system, and may continue throughout the life process.

Learning difficulties they can manifest simultaneously both through problems in self-regulation behaviors and social interaction , as well as through sensory deficits, mental retardation, severe emotional disorders or concomitant to external influences (such as cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction, although it is true that AD can not be derived causally from any of them).


Therefore, it is understood that There is a discrepancy between the actual and expected performance according to the maturational age of the small , which is why specialized attention is required to compensate for these difficulties presented by the student.

Specific Learning Disorder and DSM V

Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM V defines the diagnostic category of Specific Learning Disorder distinguishing between reading, calculation and written expression skills.

Among the diagnostic criteria, it is emphasized that the subject must present an IQ within the average level with respect to their age group, being the level determined in any of the three capacities previously indicated significantly lower than the population average.


Causes of learning difficulties

The causes that can cause the manifestation of learning difficulties in the individual are very diverse, although the main one is derived from internal factors (neurobiological) of the subject such as organic deficits, aspects linked to chromosomal inheritance, problems related to biochemical or nutritional alterations or perceptive and / or motor cognitive deficits.

In a second category, the environmental causes linked to the particularities of the family and sociocultural context can be differentiated that offer little opportunities for cognitive stimulation and limit the development of such abilities in the child.

On the other hand, the characteristics of the educational system to which the student is assigned may condition a certain level of the internalization of basic learning; namely, the methodology of work and evaluation of the students, the quality of the teaching, the physical conditions and resources of the school, among others, can make substantial differences.


Finally, the origin of the learning difficulties may be due to an inadequate adjustment between the individual characteristics of the student and the demands he receives from the educational context (as defended from the interactionist position). This adjustment or type of response offered by the student to a task depends on the interaction of two variables: the level of knowledge that the child has and the disposition of strategies to solve this task. In that way, schoolchildren who present DA usually have the knowledge, but are not able to apply the appropriate strategies for a successful execution of the task. This last proposal is the one with the most theoretical support at present.

Influence of AD on child development

In line with that expressed above, a very relevant aspect is to understand the maturation, or biological growth of the child, as a dynamic disposition or condition that depends on the neurological, neuropsychological and psychological characteristics of the person, as well as the family environment and / or school where the development takes place.

The development in people with learning difficulties is characterized by a slower evolutionary rhythm . That is, we only talk about an alteration at a quantitative level, and not a qualitative one, as it happens in the development disorders. The differences in early ages between children with AD and children without AD can range between 2 and 4 years. Subsequently these discrepancies are decreasing and it can be said that individuals with AD can reach an acceptable level of competence.

Diverse environmental factors are, and therefore, modifiable, that contribute to the relief or aggravation of AD, such as: wealth and adequacy of speech in the family context, a high exposure to reading, the promotion of play and of activities that favor the development of sustained attention, as well as those that facilitate individual decision-making and personal initiative.

Learning difficulties and behavioral alterations

Given the close relationship between AD comorbidity and certain behavioral alterations, it is often difficult to determine which of these two manifestations motivates the other. Usually both co-occur simultaneously, as in the case of Attention Deficit Disorder (with Hyperactivity), where the complications that the child presents at the level of information processing and regulation of executive functions produce (or are derived from) difficulties in the acquisition of linguistic and arithmetic skills.

Numerous studies show that children and adolescents with learning difficulties are associated with other emotional and / or behavioral problems to a considerable extent. In this way, AD are aggravated, causing an even more significant deterioration of academic performance . The most frequent problems are observed in the male population in 70% and in the female population in 50%, and refer to externalizing behaviors such as attention deficits, hyperactivity and cognitive self-regulation, being less common antisocial, oppositional or aggressive behavior.

Some researches defend the idea that the presence of isolated behavioral alterations does not necessarily cause limitations in the acquisition of the first learning in children, although in other cases, where behavioral deviations start at an early age, the interrelation between both phenomena seems more evident.

Social functioning of children with learning difficulties

The difficulties in the field of social skills also show an intense correlation with the manifestation of AD in children and adolescents, having obtained Kavale Y Forness a percentage located around 75% of the cases in his research. In these ages, three are the most significant spheres of social relationships:

Social relationships with equals

As the child develops, in its goal of establishing itself as an independent individual with a definite identity of the "I" and more and more detached from parental protection and care, this field is the most influential and significant for the individual . At this stage, comparisons about the physical and psychological characteristics of each other, the level of popularity acquired or the perception of social support are determining factors.

When talking about children or adolescents with learning difficulties, these influences become even more remarkable, since they start with a disadvantage in terms of adaptive self-concept. Thus, in cases of AD it is more common for children to feel either isolated or rejected . In the former, the motivation of the child should be enhanced in order to present a greater predisposition for the acquisition of interpersonal skills, which will help him to be more competent and allow him to better manage the contextual situations in which he interacts. In the second case, a previous work on behavioral self-control and emotional management must be carried out to modify the negative interaction dynamics to which he is accustomed to perform.

Social relations with teachers

In this area, a fundamental part of the type of social relationships that the student establishes with the teaching team is determined by the beliefs that the professor presents with respect to the student in question.

Thus, the expectations of failure or academic success with respect to the student, the more or less flattering treatment received conditioned by the DA and the level of positive reinforcement administered after the achievement of objectives by the child will significantly influence a more or less educational conception. less positive about the personal competence of the student.

Among the most relevant aspects that influence the difficulties in social interaction in students with AD, the following can be distinguished: a limited competence to internalize the cognitive strategies that must be applied to certain contextual demands, a poor ability in the natural organization of the strategies that allow them to achieve social objectives, an unenthusiastic vision and very focused on their own perspective that prevents them from a satisfactory understanding of interpersonal relationships and what they imply, an insufficient capacity to detect discrepancies in the tone of voice that harms the complete understanding of the messages received from the interlocutor and, finally, difficulties in the correct interpretation of the nonverbal language in a generic way (gestures, facial expressions, etc).

Social relations with parents

The fact of having a child with AD is for the parents a complication added to the acceptance and understanding of the evolutionary changes experienced by the child during its development.

For parents it is very difficult to find the balance between exercising excessive control and overprotection when trying to promote the autonomy of the child leaving in the background everything that involves learning difficulties.This problem causes a less tolerant, more critical and less empathic or affective attitude that greatly hinders an adequate emotional development of the child.

Psychopedagogical intervention in the face of learning difficulties

In order to achieve the two fundamental objectives for students with AD, which are aimed at achieving an improvement in the emotional state of the student and, in turn, their academic performance, a set of psycho-pedagogical actions structured in three consecutive stages are proposed :

First stage

In the first moment an in-depth analysis must be carried out on what services the student will need to have in the school context to compensate and work the learning difficulties that it presents both at the level of establishing what type of special educational needs it needs, what concrete intervention program is going to be established according to its academic level and what specific strategies are going to be implemented by the teaching team for foster an adequate self-concept and self-esteem.

Second stage

Later, contact and establishment of direct collaboration with the family is indispensable , which must be fully committed to achieve a coordinated work of all parties involved. To do this, an initial phase of psychoeducation must be carried out by the team of professionals who help the family when it comes to understanding the nature of the DAs and what kind of actions they should incorporate into their habits in order to favor an increasingly positive progress made by the child (positive reinforcement and empathic attitude, establishment of clear routines, etc.).

On the other hand, it will also be useful to anticipate possible problems in order to determine the strategies to be implemented for their adequate resolution.

Third stage

Ultimately, work will be done to strengthen the child's metacognitive capacity, where aspects such as the awareness and acceptance of DAs, the recognition of their strengths and weaknesses, and an internal attributional style (locus of control) will be worked on. allow to exercise an active control over the achievement of successes with respect to the previously established objectives.

More specifically, the current lines of psychopedagogical intervention in AD are based on three aspects: the teaching of specific learning strategies (content simplification), the use of the constructivist perspective (methodology based on the Volsotskian theory on the development area). next, scaffolding and learning potential) and computer-assisted instruction.

In conclusion

As it has been proved, the affected areas of the child's psychological development are very diverse in the presence of a diagnosis of AD. Early detection and intervention by the main socializing agents (family and school) becomes fundamental for the promotion of a positive evolution of the specific case. As in most problems and / or psychological deviations in children, the cooperation between both parties has a very significant relevance in the course of this alteration.

On the other hand, as regards the intervention, It is worth bearing in mind that all measures should not be focused on the improvement of instrumental learning exclusively. , since the presence of these derives very usually in the development of an emotional malaise (diminution of the self-concept, feelings of inferiority, etc.) whose approach should be equally important.

Bibliographic references:

  • Garcia, J, N ,. (2001). Learning difficulties and physopedagogic intervention. Barcelona: Ariel.
  • García, J. N. (1998) (3rd ed. Rev.). Manual of learning difficulties. Madrid: Narcea.
  • González, R. and Valle, A. (1998). "Affective-motivational characteristics of students with learning difficulties". In V. Santiuste and J .A. Beltrán (coords.): Learning Difficulties, 261-277. Madrid: Synthesis.
  • Ortiz González, Ma R. (2004). Manual of Learning Difficulties. Madrid: Pyramid.

Living With Severe Learning Disabilities: Jack's Story (May 2021).


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