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Specific learning disorders

"Specific learning disorders" is a collective term for a diverse group of conditions that manifest as significant difficulties in acquiring and utilizing skills such as speaking, understanding spoken language, reading, writing, mathematical reasoning, or counting. These disorders are inherent to the affected individual and are presumed to result from dysfunction of the central nervous system. Although a learning disorder may co-occur with other forms of disability (e.g., sensory impairments) or with environmental factors (cultural differences, inadequate or inappropriate teaching), it is not a direct consequence of such disabilities or adverse influences" (Matějček 1995).

The terms "specific developmental disorders of learning or behavior", "specific learning disorders", and "developmental learning disorders" are overarching concepts that include dyslexia, dysgraphia, dysorthographia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysphonia, and dysmuzia. The last three are specific to the Czech language and may not be encountered in foreign literature. All of these disorders have an individual character and arise from so-called dysfunctions of the central nervous system.

In terms of development, these dysfunctions signify incomplete function. Therefore, in the nomenclature of individual specific disorders, the prefix "dys-" means insufficient or incorrect development of a skill, while the second part of the term indicates which skill is weakened.

  • Dyslexia, derived from the Latin word "lego, leger", meaning to read, is a specific reading disorder.

  • Dysgraphia, from the Greek word "grapho", meaning to write, is a specific writing disorder.

  • Dysorthography, from the Greek words "orthos" (correct) and "grapho" (write), is a specific spelling disorder and is present in 90-95% of individuals with dyslexia.

  • Dyscalculia, from the Latin word "calculus" (number), is a specific mathematical function disorder.

  • Dyspraxia, from the Greek word "praxis" (action), is a specific disorder affecting the ability to carry out complex tasks, most commonly motor clumsiness, and is also known as a specific developmental disorder of motor function.

  • Dyspynxia, from the Latin word "pingo, pingere", meaning to paint or draw, is a specific disorder affecting visual arts skills.

  • Dysmuzia, from the Greek word "muse", meaning goddess of art, is a specific disorder affecting musical abilities.

In schools, pedagogical diagnosis is the fundamental starting point for determining support measures for primary education, not for diagnosis. The goal is to propose specific intervention measures based on specific descriptions of difficulties and other findings.

In the Czech republic, to establish a diagnosis of a specific developmental disorder, assessment in a Pedagogical-Psychological Counseling Center (in czech PPP) or a Special Education Center (in czech SPC) is required. Persistent and significant learning difficulties and any pedagogical intervention in primary and secondary schools are prerequisites for diagnosis.

More important than a diagnosis is identifying the fundamental areas where a child is struggling. Take a look at the metaphorical Tree of Child Development on the homepage. We can help children the most by identifying where they have weaknesses and then expect improvement once these areas are addressed.

If we address everything we can, children will have more time and energy to focus on what they truly struggle with. If they have a developmental disorder and also have persistent primitive reflexes, sensory integration difficulties, or problems with "partial functions" such as visual and auditory perception, it can become overwhelming for them.

  • Primary reflexes influence a child's psychomotor development, and therefore affect the foundation of everything. As a result, persistent primitive reflexes can have various symptoms. If these symptoms are connected in some way, it may cause symptoms of various learning disorders (such as dyslexia, dysgraphia...), autism or attention deficit disorder (ADHD, ADD).

  • Sensory integration: Rarely do we use only one sensory system. Each sensory system works in harmony with the others. In a process called sensory integration, our brains mediate complex and complete images of the environment. The brain detects, organizes, and allows us to use this information effectively.

These two areas are the foundation for other areas:

  1. Auditory perception disorder: Analysis and synthesis of speech sounds are important prerequisites for mastering writing. A child should be able to hear small differences in speech (nonsense words like flas-klas are used in tests).'. If we say the letters D-O-G, they should be able to create the word 'dog' from them. Before starting the first grade, they should also be able to distinguish the first and ideally the last letter in words.

  2. Visual perception disorders: Perceiving small visual differences is necessary to see differences between, for example, p, b, d, and q. Distinguishing figure and background is also important, as well as visual-motor coordination (hand-eye coordination).

  3. Spatial orientation perception disorders depend primarily on visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (movement) perception.

  4. Supporting the perception of temporal sequences is also beneficial, not only for children who have difficulty distinguishing vowel lengths.

Interventions must respect the developmental abilities of the child. For example, if a child has problems with auditory perception and also has persistent primitive reflexes, we must start with the primitive reflexes. Without addressing the "foundation" (primitive reflexes and sensory integration), further intervention will not be as effective.

Article author: Marja Volemanová


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