Detecting learning problems in your child
Six areas parents should focus on when assessing their kids.
By Priscilla L. Vail, M.A.T.
In the olden days, railroad crossings had signs saying Stop! Look! Listen! Those words are still valuable today. We need to Stop and give ourselves time and space to understand what's going on around us. We need to Look for danger or caution flags to avoid colliding with onrushing trains. We also need to Listen. As children grow and venture beyond the safety of home, it is as if they are approaching a railroad crossing, and an intersection with school, community and the world. To understand warning signals, you, as a parent, need to Stop! Look! Listen!
Many academic difficulties are language based, so the first place to look for red flags is in the language system. Here are six areas:
The age at which a child starts to speak can indicate that child's comfort with language.
Children who understand and use words easily have figured out that the sounds people make in conversation represent different things and people in the world: "Ma-Ma," "cookie," or "baby." First, children begin to understand the language they hear, then they mimic language in return. Most adults take this for granted, but we must Stop! and appreciate what a complex task the child is performing.
Some children catch on to words early. For others, language is a hard game or a difficult system. These children are sending a warning signal. If spoken language is difficult or unappealing, usually written language (reading and writing, letters and numbers) will be too.
Receptive language is what the child takes in, first through listening and later through listening and reading.
You as a parent need to notice whether your child's receptive language channel works effectively. Does your child enjoy listening to stories? Can your child tell you what happened in the story? Can your child remember the high points (or the details) of yesterday's story? Does your child absorb those pieces of family news they're not meant to hear: Uncle Ernie's on a binge, or why does Aunt Sophie wear those eyelashes at her age?
Children who absorb such information comfortably are demonstrating good receptive language skills. Children who are uninterested in stories, do not follow and remember a story line, or don't pick up news from conversation are flying a danger flag. They will miss news, explanations, questions, and concepts now. Later on, the process of reading may either not make sense to them or may be too difficult. At all ages, we need to Stop! Look! and Listen! to a child's receptive language.
Expressive language is the vehicle for giving out ideas, questions, emotions, or facts.
In normal development, children practice expressively what they have taken in receptively. Parents need to Listen!
Does your child use pronouns, plurals, and verb tenses correctly? Most children are reasonably accurate by first grade. The elementary school child who says, "Here are the thingies I branged for Tom and I" is telling us a lot. Can your child retrieve needed words smoothly? The child who strains when trying to use such words as "marker," "basketball," or "peanut butter" is, in effect, saying, "Listen! I have trouble finding the words I need."
Does your child keep sounds in correct sequence or do individual sounds or syllables slide around? Is it an "elephant" or an "ephelant"? A "hamburger" or a "hanga-burger"? A "birthday party" or a "birthparty day"? Children who tangle their sound sequences in spontaneous speech are warning us they will probably have trouble stringing sounds together when trying to read words, or breaking sounds apart when trying to spell.
Litter and clutter are warning signals. Most children can say what they mean so that others can understand them. Children who have trouble getting to the point, who litter and clutter their speech with distracting, unnecessary information, are telling us their thought processes don't go straight to the target. This difficulty will hamper their reading, classroom discussion and, above all, their writing all the way through school...and life. They need help.