Learning Difficulties: How do you know?

Written by: Meagan Reilly

I am the Center Director at the Lindamood-Bell Oak Park Learning Center. Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes provides cognitive remediation instruction for reading, language comprehension, and math. My duties as Center Director include assessments and giving educational presentations throughout the Chicagoland area. I recently relocated from New York where I worked as a Center Manager in Bronxville and an Associate Center Director in the Upper East Side Learning Center. I received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Rhode Island.

How do you know if you or someone you love has a learning difficulty? What are some of the symptoms? These are questions that I frequently hear, and the following cases and their symptoms may sound familiar to you.

Luke, Michael and Sarah were students I worked with because of their difficulty with reading. While Luke was reading, he would often skip over words, or sound out the same word multiple times in a paragraph. He could not get a passing grade on sight word or spelling tests.
Michael had difficulty sounding words out. He would read skip as “sip” and stream as “steam". He also guessed at words based on contextual clues in the story (substitute home for house).
When I first met Sarah, she could read words accurately, but she could not comprehend the content. She had trouble expressing her thoughts, she had difficulty connecting to language, and words seemed to go in one ear and out the other.
Upon testing them, I found that Luke had weak Symbol Imagery- the cognitive process that enables us to visually code letters within words. It is the primary cause of difficulties with reading. Like Luke, these individuals often spell words with phonetic accuracy, however they cannot remember the visual patterns of words.

Michael had weak Phonemic Awareness- the process that enables us to auditorily perceive the sounds within words. He would omit,substitute, or reverse sounds and letters. He could not judge whether what he said matched the words he saw on the paper.
Sarah had weak Concept Imagery- the cognitive process that enables us to comprehend language. This weakness results in someone processing “parts” of language versus the whole. It is the equivalent of watching a DVD and cutting entire scenes out of the movie. As a result, it was hard for Sarah to understand directions, remember stories she had just read, analyze plots or make inferences, and express herself orally or in writing. She had been labeled a “motivation” or “attention” problem.
The right evaluation is the first step in addressing an individual’s learning difficulty. Once academic and literacy testing has identified strengths and weaknesses, the results should be clearly explained. Next, the proper instruction should be sought out. Your doctor or educational specialist is a good place to start. They can guide you towards a remediation program- one that helps a person reach their potential by addressing the underlying causes of the learning needs, or an enrichment program- one that increases the amount of information that is learned instead of taking a step back to focus on the underlying causes. Finally, you should look for the right learning environment. It should be structured so that an individual is engaged and motivated, regular progress updates should be given, and parents should be given tools, so that they can help their child at home.
If you feel that something is not “right,” trust your instincts. Seek out a professional who is knowledgeable about the underlying causes and solutions of learning difficulties.


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Helping parents of children (ages infant through 8th grade) with a range of developmental differences - developmental delays (i.e., speech, motor skills), sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down Syndrome, physical disabilities, and more.

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Posted on January 16, 2013 at 8:29 PM


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