Is my child struggling at school?

Learning difficulties can affect one child in five.    Do you suspect that your child may be one of them?   How, apart from trusting the teacher’s opinion, do you know when your child needs help?   Knowing that no two children are the same makes it very difficult to know whether behaviour or a school report suggests a problem or whether it is just normal stumbling over some temporary obstacle.  If your child is very young, it can be especially hard. Pre-schoolers are going through so many changes – every few months there’s a new development, a new problem, a new aspect of personality appearing. Sometimes your child seems to be doing fine at home but the teacher notes areas of concern. Sometimes a child is good at school but shows problems at home.  How can you tell where the problem lies or whether there is a problem at all?


You might sense that your child is not functioning up to his potential. Perhaps he lags behind his classmates academically, or his skills compare unfavourably with siblings.  Other signs that are often seen in children needing help are


  • A change in behaviour at home
  • Continued difficulty in performing tasks at school
  • A dive in emotional well-being, and emergence of mood swings, sadness, temper tantrums, withdrawal, acting out or aggression
  • Persistent avoidance of certain kinds of activities


Children develop skills at different rates so it’s often hard to see the symptoms of a learning difficulty early on.  These symptoms might not be noticed or taken seriously until behavioural problems develop.  Often these are in reaction to frustrations with learning. 


There are, however, some common signs of a learning problem. These can alert parents to the fact that your child might need help:


  • Overall disorganization. Papers are crumpled, homework is sloppy, library books are lost
  • ‘Careless’ mistakes such as misspelled words, misread instructions and computation signs, misheard directions
  • A know-it-all façade. When asked how a test went, the child’s usual answer is ‘It was easy’.  A new book is generally ‘boring’.  Homework is usually ‘all done’ in an amazingly short time
  • There are clear signs of good intelligence coupled with equally clear signs of serious difficulty in some – or several – academic areas. The child is struggling with at least one area.
  • “I forget” is a favourite phrase.
  • Refusal to do schoolwork. Assignments or studying for a test is done grudgingly.  Half-done work is handed in or only part of the test material is studied.
  • Slow performance. An excessive amount of time is taken to complete homework. Schoolwork is rarely finished in the allotted time. Sometimes this is due to laborious efforts; other times it is due to procrastination.


Other signs, seen in the course of daily life, are:


  • The child doesn’t seem to pay attention to instructions or to what she is supposed to be doing
  • Anger or sadness. When asked to do something, she becomes irritable and has a meltdown.  She seems to lack interest in things she used to love.  She complains about stomach aches on school mornings. She complains that teachers are unfair or mean or boring.  She says she has no friends.
  • Daydreaming
  • She fidgets, has a hard time sitting still, often talks too much, almost compulsively
  • Poor ability to tolerate frustration; has difficulty sticking to and working through hard tasks; tries to avoid things that are difficult for him, loses his temper and may become aggressive when he is unable to accomplish something. Resorts to crying.
  • Regression to earlier interests and routines. He returns to playing games he gave up several years ago. He reverts to baby talk.
  • Need to be her own boss. She tries to set the rules and to make decisions about what she does and when she does it.  She tried to decide her bedtime, her dinner menu, when to visit grandparents, and so on.
  • Poor self-esteem. The child is full of self-doubt, as if she knows that something is not quite right.


If your child shows any of the signs listed above, you should ask yourself if there might be a learning problem OR a delay in neurodevelopment that will affect learning even if there is no learning problem.  Very often the child is sent to professionals who tend to address the symptom the child is showing, without exploring what might be underlying the signs of difficulty.


The good news is that children can be helped.  Getting your child the help she needs means carefully exploring the nature of the problem and its roots.   The signs listed here very often result from either some developmental hiccup or input from the environment (including nutrition, allergies, pollutants, food additives and more).  For this reason, ILT practitioners may be a useful starting point.   By identifying the causes of the problem and addressing those, the child begins to find school and life in general much easier.


Visit the website www.ilt.co.za for more information.

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