Foundations Necessary for Learning 

By Lynn Arnold

If you have had an evaluation by a licensed school psychologist, and the results show learning struggles or a disability, sometimes there can be more going on than just the numbers on the tests.  So often as we are visiting with families, we soon discover there are other things in play that are foundational to one’s ability to become a proficient learner.

Just like a house needs a solid foundation to stand firm, so in learning there are foundational skills that need to be in place.  These foundational skills include, speech and language, vision, sensory processing, and auditory processing.  All of these can impact a student’s ability to learn and must be addressed before and/or in conjunction with therapies to overcome a specific learning disability.

Speech issues manifest in several ways.  A child who is slow to speak words and later sentences can be impacted with early learning.  A child may have articulation issues where the mouth, tongue and lips have difficulty forming sounds of language.  Sound formation is critical for reading skills. Not only does this impact reading but affects how one expresses themselves verbally and in written language.  If caught early, working with a speech and language therapist can help build a better foundation for further learning.

Vision issues are more than having 20/20 vision.  When we read, our eyes move inward and when we look at a distance our eyes move outward to see a broader range of view.  Sometimes there are difficulties with the eyes adjusting from distance to up close reading.  This causes an individual to lose their place, skip lines, and in the case of writing, not able to keep writing on a straight line.  If a child has been diagnosed with a reading difficulty, having a convergence issue or having the eyes not working together will only exacerbate the problem.  A diagnosis by a developmental optician will confirm if vision therapy is needed.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a result of underdeveloped brain systems which can also impact a child’s ability to learn.  Many times, these individuals are over stimulated or under stimulated and will respond to their environment accordingly. Basically, the input of their environment affects their orientation in space.  Under stimulated children seem to be in perpetual motion and many times will be diagnosed ADHD.  Overly sensitized individuals can appear to withdraw and not want to be around others.  Over sensitization can be affected by fluorescent lighting, background noise and being too close to others.  Under stimulated children are looking for an arousal and will wiggle in their chairs, look for tactile input, ie, bumping into things or others.  Many of these children have poor fine motor skills which impacts written work.

Auditory processing is a breakdown of auditory input being disrupted by the brains inability to process language and sounds.  This breakdown results in potential reading difficulties, deficits in listening and reading comprehension, failure to pick up social cues and much more.  Sometimes this will appear to be a language disability as there are similarities to both. Many children can be diagnosed with ADHD though both an coexist.  Sometimes parents will find that medication makes no difference or still appear to have language struggles. Having an evaluation by an audiologist will give a definitive diagnosis and steps can be taken to help.

Since many individuals can have more than one thing going on, it is helpful to have a team working together to address the needs of individuals with learning struggles.  Having a team that is looking at the whole person and developing a collaborative plan will better ensure the therapies being done will result in success.