Many children do find learning the foundation skills in literacy and numeracy quite difficult and, if this is not addressed early, may go on to struggle in almost all areas of the curriculum for years to come.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found in a recent survey that one in every two 15 to 19 year olds in Australia had such low literacy skills that they would not be able to meet the demands of a modern workplace.
Although some of these students may have a learning disability, many don’t. They have not developed adequate skills due to a range of cumulative factors and are generally described as having learning difficulties.
Children with learning difficulties underachieve academically for a wide range of reasons, including factors such as: sensory impairment (weaknesses in vision or hearing); severe behavioural, psychological or emotional issues; English as a second language or dialect (ESL or ESD); high absenteeism; ineffective instruction; or, inadequate curricula. These children have the potential to achieve at age-appropriate levels once provided with programs that incorporate appropriate support and evidence-based instruction.
Children with learning disabilities have unexpected and persistent difficulties in specific areas of academic achievement as a result of an underlying neurodevelopmental disorder, the origin of which includes an interaction of genetic, cognitive and environmental factors. One of the defining features of a specific learning disability is that the difficulty continues to exist, despite appropriate instruction and intervention.
Children with a learning disability:
- have underlying difficulties in a key academic skill which have a lifelong impact;
- do not perceive or process information as efficiently or accurately as children without a learning disability;
- often have a family member with learning difficulties;
- do not respond to appropriate intervention in the expected way;
- do not have an intellectual disability and may have highly developed competencies in numerous areas.
Percentage of Australian Children with a Learning Difficulty or Disability
Left unidentified and without appropriate intervention, a learning disability puts a child at significant disadvantage, with little likelihood of achieving at levels close to their academic potential.
The early identification of students at risk of literacy and numeracy difficulties, along with the introduction of effective intervention and support, is the key to academic success.