Do learning difficulties affect children’s emotions?

Parents and teachers alike will agree that children who struggle at school usually feel bad about their academic abilities.  Most of them will certainly have some emotional problem related to the learning difficulty.

While this is probably considered to be a ‘known fact’ amongst educators, another fact, gleaned from practical experience, is that the priority seems to be on the diagnosis and remediation of the learning difficulty or disability. The need to address the emotional aspects takes a backseat.

 The way emotions and learning difficulties or disabilities interact is a complex subject and not always easy to unravel. Essentially, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  •  Emotional distress may be caused by learning difficulties.Learners who fail to thrive at school may suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self-esteem – especially regarding their academic abilities
  • Learning difficulties may aggravate social and emotional functioning.If a child struggles with mental processing that is severe enough to cause a learning problem, they may experience problems in nonacademic areas as well. This typically shows itself in behaviours that don’t conform to the child’s social environment. The result is escalating emotional concerns such as feelings of being misunderstood, sadness and anxiety – all on which may already be present because of the learning problem.
  • Emotional issues can disguise a child’s learning disability. This may happen if the child resorts to defiant behaviours such as ‘acting-out,’ distracting behaviours such as being the ‘class clown’ or complaints about physical ailments.Adults’ focus might be on the undesired actions and the learning difficulty could be overlooked.
  • Emotional issues may aggravate learning difficulties.Constant failure to succeed at school may lead to stress or feelings of inferiority which can intensify the learning problem.  A child who, for example, consistently struggles with certain academic tasks may decrease the child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate on the work.
  • On the other hand, a child with learning difficulties who enjoys good emotional health may find it easier to cope with challenges. This can enhance school performance.

 This last finding emphasises the importance of ensuring that children with a learning difficulty or disability are well supported emotionally and socially.  On the positive side, parents and teachers usually do try to understand the complexities of the interaction between emotional functioning and learning difficulties. Most do try to ensure that the help the child receives is not limited to academic remediation.

 Content for this post was based on an article entitled ‘Understanding children’s hearts and minds: Emotional functioning and learning disabilities’ written by Jean Cheng Gormon and available at: www.idonline.org/article/626292/?theme=print.

 

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