Investigate the concerns affecting your child.

Find out more about your child’s learning and behavioural needs through a professional assessment. Sometimes, an initial behavioural concern may be related to an unaddressed learning disability. Other times, an unaddressed learning disability eventually becomes related to behavioural concerns. For specific conditions, there may be social service agencies that can provide more support.

What are learning disabilities?

An individual may have learning disabilities if they require additional support in some or many of the following areas:
  • Listening or understanding others
  • Speaking or communication
  • Reading and writing
  • Following basic instructions in school
  • Following rules
  • Staying seated when required
  • Making friends
  • Interacting with others
  • Controlling their emotions

Consider professional assessment and support.

If your child or loved one is facing one or more of the above concerns, do get an assessment by a qualified professional to obtain a clear diagnosis, enabling helping professionals to provide the right recommendations for support.

Intervene Early.

Regardless of the type of learning disability your child may have, early intervention prevents problems from worsening. Barriers to learning can also be removed before they become too significant for your child, creating an aversion to learning and attending school. Behavioural difficulties can be addressed before the stress affects everyone in the family.

What are the usual types of learning disabilities/difficulties, and what should a parent or educator do when they encounter them?

Literacy Difficulties

The foundation for literacy development begins with language development for many individuals. Hence, parents and educators may become concerned when their child is struggling to pick up literacy skills despite adequate language development. This is usually a hallmark of a learning disability related to dyslexia. Another major red flag for such individuals would be continued difficulties in reading and writing despite intensive literacy interventions provided by the school. Parents and educators should consider referring their child for formal assessments to assess for dyslexia. Subsequently, their child can then access better literacy support options, such as reading interventions provided by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore or other school-based literacy support. On top of that, recommendations will be made for relevant learning accommodations that can help remediate literacy difficulties.

Social Communication Difficulties

Social communication difficulties can range from mild to severe. The severity can be gauged from the level of impairment they cause to an individual. The greater the social and emotional impact, the more severe the social communication difficulties are. For more severe social communication difficulties or for individuals who continue to struggle despite first-line social skills support at the school level, serious considerations should be made by the parents to seek out formal assessments to assess for autism. Individuals who meet criteria for the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder are likely to have other difficulties on top of their social communication difficulties, and these can only be identified by a qualified professional familiar with autism. Subsequently, decisions about learning and behavioural supports can become more targeted. Relevant options for more intensive social skills or behaviour interventions can be recommended.

Attention Difficulties

In Singapore’s education system, the ability to sit down, listen and focus for long hours is often expected. Those children who have difficulties sustaining focused attention, cannot sit still when required to, often get singled out if they move around the class or engage in any behaviours that are disruptive when the lesson is going on. For those who can sit still but struggle to do so, may exhibit their challenges when they return home from school. This may appear as increased hyperactivity or even displays of difficulty regulating emotions. From the perspective of parents and educators, it appears as a question of whether their child wants to focus or not. Some may wonder is it just plainly misbehaviour or boredom? From the perspective of a child with attention difficulties, it is a question of why they are only able to focus on things that catch their attention or are highly stimulating. They may feel perplexed why they are constantly seeking for stimulation. Most of the time, it is not a surprise they don’t find focusing on a classroom lesson stimulating enough, especially if it consists mainly of the teacher speaking (frontal teaching). They also cannot seem to organise their thoughts and what they need to do, often having to be nagged endlessly by parents for them to move on to carry out their daily routines. Considering the impact of the attention difficulties is one determinant of whether to seek professional help. Intervening earlier rather than later before the problems get worse is an even more important determinant of whether to seek help. If such difficulties have been persisting through childhood and are impacting multiple aspects of an individual’s functioning – in learning, in following their daily routines or in following basic instructions/rules across settings, it is time to seek professional help to assess for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and to obtain access to evidence-based treatments suitable for ADHD.

Intellectual Disability

Most individuals with intellectual disability have been diagnosed early on in their childhood and recommended appropriate educational placement and learning supports. However, there is a small group of individuals who present with a mild intellectual disability (IQ: 50 to 70) and may appear to struggle academically in mainstream schools. Without early detection, these individuals may continue to be perceived to be slow learners and struggle to keep up academically. They are also likely to be struggling in the development of their communication, daily living skills and socialisation skills. Despite growing up with delayed developmental milestones and requiring a slower pace of learning, individuals with intellectual disability can learn well and develop functional skills given a specialised education curriculum and structured learning supports. There is often a misconception that a person with intellectual disability cannot learn. This is definitely untrue and should never be a barrier for parents and educators to seek help and assess their child for intellectual disability. Parents and educators can then take the next steps to consider referring their child to the relevant special educational needs school that can best cater to the learning needs of their child (also based on the severity of the intellectual disability). The pathways in Singapore for special education and post-education, vocational opportunities, and engaged living for individuals with intellectual disability are still progressing, and can ensure every individual with intellectual disability can be supported to attain their own peaks of excellence in work and engagement.

Behaviour Difficulties

Behaviour difficulties can range from disruptive behaviours such as playing while a lesson is going on, talking while their teacher is teaching, to more severe behaviour difficulties such as aggression or self-injurious behaviours (hits self when frustrated). Behaviour analysts often cite behaviour difficulties as a common form of communication by an individual to reflect other underlying difficulties. This is even more likely when the individual has challenges in language and communication. More likely than not, behaviour difficulties are often symptoms of other unmet needs or any of the learning difficulties/disabilities stated above, which can only be picked up by a qualified professional familiar with learning and behavioural difficulties.

Next Steps

Navigating the roadmap of learning disabilities/difficulties to access the correct information and concrete intervention support services in Singapore is not easy. Recognising the need to look for help by parents and educators is the most important first step. Consulting a qualified Educational Psychologist could be the next step to make a positive difference in your child’s journey in learning and emotional development if you have any unaddressed concerns reflected above.
Mr Ryan Huang
Visiting Educational Psychologist
Private Space Medical