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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Children’s Learning Differences Need Not Be Disabilities

Dec 27, 2012 08:57AM ● By By Shelley Tzorfas

Early identification and intervention may prevent learning differences from becoming learning disabilities. Learning should be natural and joyful to children, so any resistance to school is an indication that there might be a problem.  If identified at a young age, a learning difference can be dealt with before a child has lost his or love for learning, and before harmful patterns, habits and attitudes are ingrained. 

What is a learning difference and how do you recognize one? First, watch your child’s attitude toward school. Is he eager to go, or resistant? Does she love to read at home, or become frustrated? What about homework? Are your child’s homework assignments remembered or written down thoroughly or are they misplaced and forgotten?   Is handwriting neat, or does your early writer have trouble forming letter shapes and writing in a line?  Is your child simply “high maintenance?”

Sometimes these clues indicate a learning preference that can be easily addressed. For example, some children are visual learners and can easily remember what they see, but tend to miss ideas and assignments that are spoken.  If the teacher speaks instead of shows, visual learners will be at a disadvantage. 

Some difficulties might be more complex, such as eye movement, focusing, and eye-teaming dysfunctions, dyslexia or dysgraphia (a learning disability that affects writing).  Often children with these difficulties are unfairly accused of not paying attention, not trying hard enough, or of being lazy learners.  Misdiagnosis of ADD, ADHD, or other learning disabilities often will occur.

If you see any of these clues or otherwise suspect a learning issue, the earlier your child is assessed, the better.  Speak to your child’s teacher – but also, trust your instincts.  Teachers and “big-box” tutors are not always equipped with the time or skills to identify, understand or address the more subtle learning difficulties.

Local schools have been loaded down with a plethora of demands. Large numbers of kids with ADHD, autism, and on a variety of medications are becoming more of the “norm.”  And teacher training to handle this new norm is limited. Some schools still offer small classes to assist with reading, writing, and math.  Other schools have dropped small classes and chosen to lump all kids together regardless of their abilities. They feel that by adding an extra aide in the room, all kids can learn together, in a methodology known as. “inclusion.”  However, at times the aide merely reads to the child or does the work for him or her — not an optimal solution as the child can then develop more of a handicap as the student becomes dependent on the aide.

The big box learning centers are probably a benefit if a student wants to improve his or her SAT scores. But at a young age, and when the child may have global learning issues, a true one-to-one approach is better.

Therefore, early assessment and intervention by a holistic tutor, one who understands the whole child in the context of the learning environment, can be the most effective course of action.  When choosing a holistic tutor, look for someone who will consider the entire range of issues that could be affecting your child: learning styles, chemical and food sensitivities, dyslexia, and eye tracking and other visual problems.

It is preferable to have a private tutor work one on one with a child. When a child has multiple struggles, the tutor can best accommodate him or her by changing the teaching style as the child progresses. When the tutor properly adjusts to the changing needs of the student, learning will accelerate. For children with visual learning styles, the act of drawing or painting might help them to create a visual cue for a particular concept. Sometimes those same children might need to hear the concept or be read to when the material is challenging. So, children can be visual learners in one subject and auditory in another.  A private tutor can also accommodate a child’ schedule and changing assignments. 

With a private tutor, the relationship can grow to the point where the child wants to learn.  With his or her needs addressed, a child can start to love learning again. The most important thing to consider is that your child’s enjoyment of learning be preserved above all. So many young kids can be easily turned off — and then tune out to school. Pushing a struggling child to simply do more or work harder is not the solution. The goal is to have the child do the least amount of work with the highest  possible results. In other words, you want the student to work “smarter, not harder.”

Shelley Tzorfas has been tutoring, consulting and providing learning assessments for 25 years.  A member of the International Dyslexia Association, she holds an M.F.A. from Rutgers University and has studied education at Hunter College and NYU.  Contact her at [email protected] or visit for more information.

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