“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
Well, this famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner, knew where his genius lay and worked towards it. Eventually, he was able to make remarkable contributions to the world in the field of science. But, do you know that Einstein was, reportedly, a slow leaner. He learnt to speak later than usual, and his worried parents even took him to a doctor to see what was wrong with him. You see, even this genius had to face early setbacks in learning. So, fret not if your child shows symptoms of being a slow learner or is taking more time to meet his milestones. It does not mean he will have to struggle for the rest of his life.
However, an important thing to note here is that just because your child is a slow learner does not mean she is suffering from a learning disability. There is a difference.
How is a slow learner different from a child with a learning disability?
According to The Specific Learning Difficulties Association of South Australia, ‘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’. A child with a learning difficulty however may be facing a problem with certain learning functions like listening, reading, writing, speaking or reasoning, which might be making the process of learning difficult for her. She may have average or above average IQ for her age and yet be falling behind because of these difficulties.
Essentially, a slow learner has a problem with the pace of learning while a child with a learning disability faces a problem with a specific learning skill. However, both children, whether slow learners or those with learning disabilities, need more patience and encouragement from their parents.
- Some of the characteristics of a slow learner are:
- A slower pace of learning when compared to peers
- Problems with language or speech
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in understanding tasks with various steps
- Difficulty in associating old information with the new
- Lack of imagination and creativity
- Difficulty in grasping abstract and complex concepts
- Poor logical thinking and reasoning skills
- Inability to engage in self-evaluation
What parents of slow learners should not do
Here are some things you should not do, as a parent, if your child is a slow learner:
- Don’t blame your child: That’s one thing you should never do. Saying things like, “You don’t study hard enough,” or “You don’t pay attention” or even, “This is shameful” will only demotivate your child and she will disassociate with the learning process. The aim is to get her to learn and not start hating school and academics.
- Don’t ignore your child’s problems: It’s important that you pay attention and listen to your child’s problems. That’s one of the ways you can understand what difficulties he is facing at school. Ignoring problems will only make them become more complicated.
- Do not lose patience: Yes, as a parent, seeing your child struggle in school can be painful. But, your child needs your patience and understanding the most. If she is a slow learner, she is already under a lot of pressure at school and is trying to be on a par with her peers. Understand her struggles and help her achieve her goals patiently.
- Don’t be biased: If you have more than one child and one of your child underperforms, make sure you don’t make any comparisons between them. Also, don’t compare your child, if he is a slow learner, with another child who performs better. Each child is unique and meets milestones at his own pace.
- Don’t try to do it alone: If you have a slow learner at home, enlist help from her school and classmates. Ask the school if they can arrange extra classes after school for her and talk to the teachers to make sure she is not bullied or made fun of by her peers at school. You can also pair her up with other classmates for combined study.
- Don’t let your child quit: When every learning task becomes a challenge, the urge to quit can be overwhelming. You, as a parent, have to constantly motivate your child and encourage him to carry on despite hurdles. Let him take little breaks or talk about things he is good at to motivate himself to meet his goals. Tell him that he is unique, and he must never compare his achievement with others.
- Don’t focus on writing: Children who are slow learners tend to learn better through oral methods than the written mode. So, do oral revision with your child frequently or set up interesting quizzes to make the learning process fun for her.
- Don’t try to shield him: As much as you want to protect your child from the harsh realities of the world, it won’t help him in the long run. Help him along but let him have a go at solving a problem or a difficult situation once in a way. That’s the only way he will learn to overcome obstacles.
- Don’t ignore achievements: Achievements matter. And, for slow learners, it matters so much more. When your child achieves a goal, no matter how small or simple, acknowledge it and praise her for it, especially her efforts. This will motivate her to meet other goals as well.
- Don’t expect too much: While you must not talk to your child about his limitations, you must know them yourself. Do not put too much pressure on him to score a certain percentage or achieve a certain goal. He will meet them in his own time. However, never tell him that you expect nothing from him. This will demotivate him. Expect results but give him more time than you would others.
Each child learns differently, and these differences must be acknowledged and supported by his parents. However, a child with specific learning disabilities is one of average or above-average intelligence and need not be labelled a slow learner with below-average intelligence. Disorders in psychological processes may manifest in an inability to read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. It is important for parents to recognise the difficulty and seek appropriate remedial help. Empathising with children and nurturing their talents will go a long way in helping them succeed.
- Suchithra Seethapathy, Psychologist, Motivational Speaker and Special Needs Consultant
Don’t let your child be defined by his learning capacities. He may have other skills, which you need to note and encourage. He might be an environmental warrior or a very loving and caring child who loves to help others. After all, success is not always about what you achieve but what you manage to become despite your failures.
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