Falling Behind: Signs that Your Child is Struggling Academically and What You Can Do to Help

Signs for learning disabilities can appear early on in school, and the sooner a problem is identified, the better.

There are normal challenges for kids in middle school and high school, and then there are chronic, ongoing obstacles that inhibit learning. Sometimes it can be tough for parents to tell the difference. Does the child just prefer other subjects, or does he or she actually have a problem learning math?

As working parents, we know that getting an education is paramount, and at this age, it really starts to matter how well kids acquire and utilize their knowledge and skills. Therefore, it is really hard for us not to push them, not to say things like “When you’re older you’ll understand…” or to dangle carrots in front of them to incentivize them: “If you get straight A’s this semester, I’ll buy you a car.” We are so desperate for them to do well because we want to set them up for maximum opportunity and maximum fulfillment when they are adults.

As an alternative to high-pressure or bribery approaches, what we can do as parents is to learn how to identify problems and seek out concrete solutions. Here are some common signs that your child is struggling, and some possible strategies to help him or her.

Disinterest. If your child is in elementary school, disinterest can come from a couple places. First, eliminate the obvious possible causes. Is your child getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and experiencing plenty of active playtime? A lack of any of these essential components to a daily routine can impede attention span and affect mood. Check in with the teacher to see if that disinterest is passing or consistent, and engage in conversation around the subject with your child. It could be a social problem like they are distracted by a classmate, or it could also be eyesight or hearing. Eliminate these things off the top if you see that your child is falling behind.

The other possibility is that he or she is in a program that is not conducive to a personal learning style. Some kids need more hand-on experience, others are verbal learners, and some are visual. It can be disruptive to transition midstream, but sometimes it is the better solution if it means re-engaging academically.

Trouble Reading. Reading competes with so many other stimulating types of input, it can be challenging for kids to reduce the volume, and concentrate. But if your child is completely averse to reading, struggling with spelling, making the same mistakes repeatedly, or reversing letters and letter order as late as age eight or nine, this may be a sign that your child is dyslexic.1 Most schools have ways to identify these kids early, and depending on the type of dyslexia, a specialized program can help them work around it.

Trouble with Math. This can appear as trouble with the concepts, memorizing, or calculation. Sometimes kids who require special attention will struggle with things like lining the numbers up in the proper columns. This requires lots of practice early on, and educators will often introduce graph paper and one-on-one instruction.

Non-Verbal Difficulties. If you are seeing signs that your child has trouble with visual-spatial tasks, motor coordination, or social cues, or even frequently getting lost, this may be an indicator of a learning disability. Specialists say that children on the Autism Spectrum have trouble with eye contact, responding to body language, and texture sensitivity, and this usually emerges anywhere from 18 months to grade three1. The good news is that there are plenty of direct specialized learning techniques that can help rewire the brain, and get these kids back on track if parents and teachers identify the problem early.

Shut-Down Learner. This is when disinterest manifests into a larger problem, which is a rejection of learning altogether. There are a variety of reasons this can occur, most often a weakness in foundation that becomes compounded by time and a lack of resources or understanding on the part of the family. If your child actively hates school, avoids socializing, and gets no gratification from any one subject, this is a warning. Children naturally want to learn but if something is impeding that natural inclination, they become frustrated and isolate themselves.

If you are seeing any of these indicators, don’t panic. Take into consideration the following facts and apply these strategies:

De-stigmatize. Once that problem is labeled, things can go from bad to worse, largely depending on how family, teachers, and peers respond. We can take the heat out of the situation by educating ourselves and those around us. A learning or developmental disability is not a death sentence; it is a challenge and cause for individualized intervention. Talk to your child about the nature of the problem and demonstrate that it isn’t his or her fault. Explain that identifying the difficulty is half the battle and that there are solutions. Even modeling this problem-solving approach will benefit your child.

Do your research. Seek out educational organizations, support groups, tutors who specialize in learning disabilities, and any other relevant sources in your community. There are a plentitude of valuable support services online too. Once you find people in your situation, you and your child will breathe a sigh of relief knowing you are not alone, and there are plenty of things you can do to help them overcome the problem.

Many of the root causes regarding learning disabilities remain a mystery, as is the case with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but modern science knows more about the brain than ever. We understand now why play is an integral part learning and why bonding is part of development, and there are specific, structural processes we can put in place. Getting diagnosed and receiving support is the key for many children, and they go on to achieve success academically and lead normal, happy lives.

Here are some additional sources for learning disabled and special needs kids:

  1. http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/node/4060
  2. http://supportforspecialneeds.com/
  3. http://ldaamerica.org/




  1. http://www.canadianfamily.ca/kids/baby/class-struggles/
  2. https://www.sandiegofamily.com/resources-by-age/big-kid/495-six-strategies-to-help-your-academically-discouraged-child-climb-from-struggles-to-success




About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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