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Recognizing signs of learning and thinking differences in your child

(BPT) - After a year of interrupted learning, this school year, parents everywhere are reflecting on how their children are doing, academically and emotionally. And it’s not surprising — a recent study found that 61% of parents believe there will be increased challenges as children head back to school.

The study from nonprofit Understood — a lifelong guide for 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences — and UnidosUS — a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization — found that 68% of parents of children with learning and thinking differences said their children are a year behind academically and worry that they may never catch up. Concerns about the pandemic’s impact on children are even greater among communities of color, with 71% of Hispanic/Latino parents and 65% of Black/African American parents noticing that their child experienced learning challenges over the past year.

Learning and thinking differences are variations in how brains are wired and cause differences in how the brain processes information. This, in turn, can affect reading, writing and math skills, as well as the ability to focus and follow directions. Examples of learning and thinking differences include ADHD and dyslexia. Often invisible, they can be difficult to spot — particularly early signs.

If you're one of the many parents looking to help your child navigate the challenges of this school year, here are some signs to watch for that may indicate your child could have learning and thinking differences.

Fear of reading aloud. Children struggling with dyslexia, or difficulty learning to read or interpret letters and words, could be reluctant to read aloud, especially in front of a classroom.

Messy backpacks. If your child has a hard time organizing things, this can reveal difficulties with focusing and processing information.

Difficulties with homework. Your child may struggle with reading and writing, math — or tasks that require focusing and following directions.

Trouble making friends. This may mean your child is struggling with some aspect of learning, and may not necessarily just be about socializing.

Anxiety. People who learn and think differently are more likely to have anxiety than other people, it can show up in various ways — angry outbursts, trouble handling criticism, or avoiding social situations and school.

Challenges with taking tests. Some children with learning and thinking differences may receive lower test scores or have anxiety taking tests.

While the study found that 40% of parents surveyed said they can’t afford a diagnosis for the learning challenges they’ve observed in their children, it’s important to know that there are pathways to evaluation that are of no cost to parents. Additionally, there are several free resources available to help them better understand their child and find the support they need.

Take N.O.T.E. is one of those. Developed by Understood in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Take N.O.T.E. is a web-based interactive experience for parents who may need a guide to identify signs of learning and thinking differences, and to use that understanding to take next steps to support their child.

With interactive features like video and audio content, observation trackers, prompts and tips for conversation-starting and more, Take N.O.T.E. helps families at any stage of their journey in a four-step process:

Notice if there’s something going on with their child that’s out of the ordinary.

Observe and keep track of patterns.

Talk with other people who can help support their child, like pediatricians, teachers, and other caregivers.

Engage their child to get information and explore options for what to do next.

“Students who learn differently will face more challenges than usual this school year,” notes Amanda Morin, director of Thought Leadership and Expertise at Understood. “So providing resources, such as Take N.O.T.E., and opportunities to connect parents and teachers to address these challenges is more important than ever.”

For more information about children's learning and thinking differences, visit Understood.org.

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