Dealing with Learning Difficulties


By Dr Amira Elbatrawy

Even the most experienced parents can have anxious moments during their child’s formative years. What is the benchmark, they wonder? Is my child developing skills and cognition at a normal rate? Let’s look at the important points and the most commonly voiced concerns.

At what age can you consider a child has a learning difficulty?

Not all kids develop learning skills at the same rate, but learning difficulty may appear as early as preschool years (e.g., difficulty learning  names  of  letters  or  counting  objects),  but  they can  only  be diagnosed  reliably  after  starting  formal  education.

What tests are carried out to ascertain what type of problem exists?

Learning disability is a clinical diagnosis, it can be identified by psychiatrists, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and other learning disability specialists through a combination of intelligence testing, academic achievement testing and class performance monitoring. Other areas of assessment may include perception, cognition, memory, attention, and language abilities, through tests measuring the executive functions of the brain.

What are the main problems you encounter?

The main problems seen in our clinics are difficulties related to reading, writing and math, mostly reading. This is always associated with academic deterioration and poor performance in school, with frequent complaints from the teachers. Many children have behavioral problems as well.

What are the critical ages in children’s development when they most need assistance?

Preschool years, especially 3-5 years of age, are considered the main critical age of development that needs assistance otherwise the problem will be much more devastating as long as the child grows.

How do you tackle the various issues?

Proper history taking, not only from the parents but from the school teachers as well, is very important together with ongoing clinical and psychological assessment of the child.

Do you involve the parents in the remedial process, and to what extent?

Parents are considered one of the cornerstones of management of such problems and they should be a crucial part in the management plan all through.

Does nutrition play a role in helping some conditions such as ADHD?

There’s no clear scientific evidence that ADHD is caused by diet or nutritional problems or that eating  special  kinds of food may help in relieving some symptoms.

Do you make recommendations regarding lifestyle adjustments?

Yes, of course, scheduling and structured daily activities for those children are very important. Also involving the child in activities and sports that help increasing attention and concentration may help.

How do you differentiate between a slow learner and a child with a deep problem such as dyslexia?

A slow learner is a child of below average intelligence, whose thinking skills have developed significantly more slowly than the norm for his/her age. This child will go through the same basic developmental stages as other children, but will do so at a significantly slower rate. On the other hand, a child with specific learning disability is one of average or above average intelligence who has specific difficulties, which can make learning very difficult. In short, if there is a discrepancy between the child’s potential and actual achievement.

How can a parent tell a difference between hyperactivity and ADHD?

Hyperactivity could be a normal finding in children, but it is considered to be a problem when it affects their functions, mainly their academic performance and social development.

What are the signs that indicate that the child needs therapy?

Communication skill problems, language and speech problems, behavioral problems, as well as academic deterioration are all considered signs that necessitate immediate intervention.

Is dyslexia a big umbrella under which a lot of other learning difficulties fall?

A reading disorder is the most common learning disability. Of all students with specific learning disabilities, 70–80% have deficits in reading. The term ‘developmental dyslexia’ is often used as a synonym for reading disability; however, many researchers assert that there are different types of reading disabilities, of which dyslexia is one. It is a common word, frequently used to describe learning disability in general, but scientifically, this is not what is actually present.


Professor Dr. Amira Nassieb Elbatrawy

Professor of Psychiatry-Faculty of Medicine-Ain Shams University

Head of Child Psychiatry Department-AlMashfa Hospital

Doctorate (MD) Degree in Psychiatry

Faculty of Medicine – Ain Shams University.

Diploma in Psychiatric Practice (DPP)

The Conjoint Board of King’s College – London University and Faculty of Medicine – Ain Shams University.

Master Degree in Neurology and Psychiatry

Faculty of Medicine – Ain Shams University.


Faculty of Medicine – Ain Shams University.

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