Learning difficulties

It is stressful for parents when children are having learning difficulties or other challenging times at school. It's important for parents to try to work together with the school to help their child. This section contains ideas about identifying learning difficulties, and social/emotional issues relating to school.

Signs of learning difficulties

  • difficulty following instructions
  • reversing letters and numbers
  • difficulty remembering information despite practice and repetition
  • difficulty learning in a specific area such as maths or reading
  • difficulties concentrating and paying attention
  • poor organisational skills
  • your child avoids school or shows signs of stress

What to do?

Your child's school may be able to organise an assessment with a psychologist to investigate their learning difficulties. This can be an anxious time for parents and it is important not to feel threatened by this process. If the school are offering to help they clearly have your child's best interest at heart.  There is also the possibility that by doing the assessment they can access additional support for your child in the classroom. 

What is a learning disability?

A specific learning disability or disorder is a difficulty learning in a person who has an average intelligence level, with significant delays in their ability to learn in specific areas such as numeracy or literacy skills.  A specific learning disability may not significantly improve over a person's lifetime, however, they may learn tools to manage their difficulty.  Additional tutoring or educational support can help.

What is an intellectual disability?

If your child has an intellectual disability it means that they are placed well below their peers in their intelligence level as measured by an IQ test, and in their adaptive behaviour skills (communication, daily living, socialisation and motor skills).  If your child has a mild intellectual disability they will need more support, repetition and practice in order to learn.  If their disability is moderate they will need more of an individualised program supporting them to develop life skills and independence. 

Attention & Executive Functioning difficulties

If your child presents with many of the following symptoms they may have an attention deficit disorder. This can occur with or without hyperactivity, and has been shown to have a significant impact on a person's learning and functioning across the lifespan. 

  • difficulty sustaining mental effort or maintaining attention
  • daydreams
  • appears as though they are in a 'fog'
  • has difficulty listening
  • has difficulty with executive functions, such as planning a task, organising their things and remembering parts of a task
  • frequently loses or misplaces belongings

Children with the hyperactive subtype of ADHD also present with fidgety, restless behaviour and difficulty managing their impulses.  Not all children will present with all of these behaviours. 


As there may be other explanations for the above symptoms, including medical issues, a hearing impairment, or anxiety, it is important to have an accurate assessment with an experienced professional.  Consulting a psychologist and a paediatrician is the best approach to having these difficulties investigated. If the symptoms persist you should have your child assessed as soon as possible.  Behavioural and pharmacological treatments are available.  The paediatrician will explain to you the benefits and side effects to medication and you will need to decide if this is the best option for you.  All children are different and respond differently to medication.  There are also many different medications to try.  These decisions are not easy but they are best made after being informed and from doing your research.


Psychologists can support by providing behavioural treatment and by working with the school to educate them about the condition and provide classroom strategies that are suitable for your child. 


ADD and ADHD have a strong comorbidity, or co-occurrence with other learning disorders, including language disorders, so other assessments may be required to support your child.