Strengths and Difficulties in Children with Specific Learning Disabilities

April 27, 2022

Key Takeaway: 

Students with a specific learning disability (SLD) have various factors that contribute to their social, emotional and behavioral challenges. This study shows that low family income, exposure to antenatal smoking, short breastfeeding period, and long screen exposure place children with SLD at a higher risk of behavioral problems. Teachers should be aware of this study and provide a multidisciplinary approach to supporting children with SLD. —Tanya Farrol

Approximately 5-15% of school children have a specific learning disability (SLD),1 which is described as “when children’s mathematical skills, reading, writing and self-expression skills are low according to their age and education level.”2 Students with SLDs have difficulties not only at school but also socially, such as limited interactions with peers and avoidance of social games that require attention. Early intervention is key to support these students with their emotional, social and behavioral issues.

The Role of Family Characteristics in Specific Learning Disabilities

This study examines the role that “family, natal, postnatal and childhood characteristics” have on the behavior of children with SLDs. It predicts that children with SLD have a “high risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems” relative to their peers. A Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was translated into Turkish and administered to 278 families with at least one child diagnosed with an SLD.

 Here are the findings from the study:

  • Children from low-economic families experienced more emotional difficulties and stress. The literature supports this, stating that children growing up in a financially disadvantaged home experience increased exposure to problems, such as “unemployment, broken family, mentally unhealthy parents, and the use of improper education methods.”3
  • Children who are exposed to antenatal smoking have difficulties in their cognitive development in the long term. Neural images showed that the neural changes were “similar to ADHD and functional involvement” with prenatal exposure to smoking.4
  • Children who were breastfed longer (over 12 months) had improved cognitive development, less behavioral difficulties, and fewer social problems. This was the same for children diagnosed with SLD. If a child with SLD was not breastfed or only breastfed for a short amount of time, then the child was more likely to experience difficulties with peer relationships in the future.
  • Families who had more hospitalizations in early childhood had more comorbidity with SLD and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD). In the study, this comorbidity was significantly higher in children diagnosed with SLD before the age of 8. One hypothesis suggested by the authors was that children who are more hyperactive, get into more accidents and therefore are more likely to visit the hospital.
  • Prosocial behavior problems increased in children with SLD the younger they were exposed to their first screens. It is suggested that “inappropriate parental attitudes” and less monitoring of screen time, especially during preschool years, impacted cognitive development, emotional issues, and problems at school. Children were deemed to have long exposure to screens with greater than four hours per day.

In summary, financial issues, exposure to antenatal smoking, short breastfeeding period, hospitalizations, early first screen use, and sustained screen use during preschool years are associated with problematic behaviors in children with a SLD. In essence, the authors found that the families’ circumstances increased the risks for children with SLD. Schools need to be aware of this study and implement a multi-disciplinary approach to providing appropriate support.

Summarized Article:

Ayar, G., Yalçın, S. S., Tanıdır Artan, Ö., Güneş, H. T., & Çöp, E. (2021). Strengths and difficulties in children with specific learning disabilities. Child: Care, Health and Development, 48(1), 55–67. 

Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.

Additional References:

  1. Karande, S., & Kulkarni, M. (2005). Specific Learning Disability: The Invisible Handicap. Indian Pediatrics, 42(4), 315–319. 
  2. Heller, T., Harris, S. P., & Gill, C. J. (2018). In Disability in American life an encyclopedia of concepts, policies, and controversies. ABC-CLIO, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC. 
  3. Lindström, M., Hansen, K., & Rosvall, M. (2012). Economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health: A population based study concerning risk accumulation, critical period and Social Mobility. BMC Public Health, 12(1). 
  4. Holz, N. E., Boecker, R., Baumeister, S., Hohm, E., Zohsel, K., Buchmann, A. F., Blomeyer, D., Jennen-Steinmetz, C., Hohmann, S., Wolf, I., Plichta, M. M., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Banaschewski, T., Brandeis, D., & Laucht, M. (2014). Effect of prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke on inhibitory control. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 786. 
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