Could my child have a learning disorder?

Posted on 28 December 2019

There is a relatively new classification that groups reading-related (dyslexia) and maths-related (dyscalculia) disorders under a single umbrella. It’s known as Specific Learning Disorder.

As Dr Tia Roos, an educational psychologist at Mediclinic Durbanville, explains, children with learning problems sometimes display emotional problems related to their scholastic difficulties. “These might include anything from low academic self-esteem (“I am stupid”), anxiety, feelings of frustration, failure orientation (“I can’t”) and avoidance behaviour (e.g. “clowning”) when struggling with tasks.”

Dr Roos adds that if you think your child might be suffering from a learning disorder, a full assessment by an educational psychologist would include a consultation to gain information about your child’s history (developmental, medical, family, educational), school reports, teachers’ concerns and reports from other therapists (e.g. occupational therapist, speech and language therapist).

“It would also entail an assessment (by means of psychometric tests and observations) of your child’s intellectual ability and cognitive functioning, perceptual-motor development, scholastic functioning (reading, spelling and mathematics), emotional and social functioning,” Dr Roos says. “The educational psychologist would then discuss their findings during a feedback interview with you.”

In order to be diagnosed with Specific Learning Disorder, your child will have displayed symptoms for at least six months, despite intervention.

A child diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disorder might qualify for and benefit from concessions (offered by the Department of Education), such as extra time during written tests and exams, because difficulties with spelling, reading and handwriting impair their tempo of work and completion of tasks. This will allow them to monitor reading accuracy (which will ensure better comprehension) and spelling.

A spelling concession means they should not be penalized for spelling errors, due to their spelling problem. They might qualify for a handwriting dispensation (e.g. oral exams, use of a computer/scribe during exams) if they write slowly (which impairs task completion). Oral exams will also provide a better reflection of their knowledge about subject content, as reading difficulties impair their tempo of work and comprehension.

The following interventions address problems associated with your child’s learning difficulties (and can be identified during pre-school years):

  • Problems with reading, spelling, writing, mathematics and study methods are addressed by attending extra classes presented by a qualified remedial teacher or placement in a remedial school.
  • Difficulties with motor skills, visual perception and visual-motor integration and planning skills can be addressed by an occupational therapist.
  • Difficulties with speech, language, auditory perception and auditory processing skills can be addressed by a speech and language therapist.
  • Problems with eye functions can be addressed by a behavioural optometrist or ophthalmologist.
  • Hearing problems, difficulty with auditory discrimination or auditory processing skills can be addressed by an audiologist.
  • Neurological conditions can be addressed by a paediatrician with a sub-speciality qualification in paediatric neurology.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) can be addressed by a paediatrician or psychiatrist.
  • Emotional difficulties can be addressed by a psychologist and/or psychiatrist.
  • Low muscle tone can be addressed by a physiotherapist.




In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

Post a comment

Leave a reply