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Learning Disabilities/Academic Delay/Cognitive Delay/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Learning Disabilities

The term “learning disability” is commonly used in educational circles to describe a condition in which a student is experiencing difficulty in learning. But what does it really mean? At the Vancouver Learning Centre we understand the complex range of issues involved with this kind of learning difficulty. That is why we have such outstanding success in helping children and youth overcome their problems.

Standardized tests reveal that some students (between 5% and 20%) who are generally intelligent people have difficulty learning in the same way or at the same rate as their peers or classmates. This shows up on standardized subtests when they cannot work as fast or hold as much information in short-term memory as their peers. These problems are cumulative and over time these basic problems produce difficulty in learning words, facts, information or procedures in subjects like English, written expression and math. Gaps in the learning platform appear that prevent successful performance in classroom tasks and tests.

These learning failures or disappointments produce frustration, lower self-esteem and cause acting out or avoidance behaviours that further exacerbate the problem. This brings them to the attention of their teachers, who report these problems to parents.


  Red Flags for Parents of Children and Youth with Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities demonstrate their unhappiness in a variety of ways:

  1. They appear depressed and unhappy at going to school. (Their best subject is recess or P.E. and their best day at school is the last day before summer holidays.)
  2. They act out in class, or act the clown to avoid showing they cannot do the task, or they are restless and cannot sit in their seats. They do not appear able to pay attention or focus for an appropriate time period. They are sometimes diagnosed by teachers or other school personnel as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These children are hard to handle in a class of 20 to 30 children and the teacher may request a visit to the doctor with the view to providing medication to solve their problem, or a visit to the school psychologist to confirm this diagnosis. This is a serious issue in that it fails to address the real cause of the problem. Moreover, taking medication to control their behaviour or to help focus attention may lead young people to believe that they need drugs to function effectively in society. This can have life-lasting effects and may lead to other problems as they become adolescents, particularly if they continue to have problems succeeding in school.
  3. They are challenged by the tasks of learning to read (decode) and understand what they have read (comprehension), to spell, to write, to compose their thoughts in written format (written expression) and to calculate (math).

    Because children with learning disabilities are different learners who are normal in all respects, parents are generally not alerted to the problem until the child begins school. Further, boys outnumber girls about four to one. Since boys are also slower to mature, conform and settle down to the classroom situation, teachers may not alert parents until they see the child having difficulty learning to read, to write, or to focus.

    Sometimes, the teachers assure the parents that the issue is developmental, that the child will outgrow it or that their system of Learning Assistance will handle it. While this is sometimes the case, such students are losing precious learning time when their sense of how intelligent they are is forming. They are disadvantaged when they fall behind their peers and they are at risk for low self-esteem.

    Addressing the issue with a proper diagnosis as early as possible will produce the best outcome for the child, especially if this is followed by a proactive strategy to address the delays in acquiring skills.

    It is interesting to note that parents who would react immediately if their child needed medical interventions, even simple antibiotics, will allow difficulties in learning and the emotional consequences to go unattended, sometimes for years. It cannot be overemphasized that the problems that arise from learning disabilities can and should be addressed as early as possible, especially if a child is not learning to read at a grade appropriate level by the end of Grade 1.

    At the Vancouver Learning Centre, children can be tested by the time they are 3 years old for early intervention. However, we also specialize in teaching children of 5 years and older the basic tools of learning to read with understanding, calculate, spell and write

    But what if children do not appear to have problems until they are older?

    Some children manage to keep up with their peers and appear at least average until Grades 4 or 5. They have managed to learn to read (to decode) and to spell and write. Often these children have difficulty with math but their other skills and their general intelligence mask their learning difficulties.

    In this case the problem may be in the auditory processing system and good habits, good intelligence and good attitudes have allowed them to “survive” rather than flourish. At this point, however, the need to effectively process oral instruction has reached their challenge level. These children’s problems can be addressed with effective strategies and new skills in Effective Listening (a VLC signature neurocognitive program).

    Some young people with learning disabilities have found smart ways to overcome their difficulties in elementary school. They reach their challenge levels in high school, often in Grade 8, but sometimes as late as Grade 10. Here too, strategies that address the difficulties directly allow these young people to achieve the grades they need to go on to post-secondary instruction.

    At whatever age, including adulthood, an effective, professional and thoughtful diagnosis can reveal ways to access strengths, overcome weaknesses in learning strategies, and become effective learners and performers. Because children with learning disabilities are different learners who are normal in all respects, parents are generally not alerted to the problem until the child begins school. Further, boys outnumber girls about four to one. Since boys are also slower to mature, conform and settle down to the classroom situation, teachers may not alert parents until they see the child having difficulty learning to read, to write, or to focus.

    Sometimes, the teachers assure the parents that the issue is developmental, that the child will outgrow it or that their system of Learning Assistance will handle it. While this is sometimes the case, such students are losing precious learning time when their sense of how intelligent they are is forming. They are disadvantaged when they fall behind their peers and they are at risk for low self-esteem.

    Addressing the issue with a proper diagnosis as early as possible will produce the best outcome for the child, especially if this is followed by a proactive strategy to address the delays in acquiring skills.

    It is interesting to note that parents who would react immediately if their child needed medical interventions, even simple antibiotics, will allow difficulties in learning and the emotional consequences to go unattended, sometimes for years. It cannot be overemphasized that the problems that arise from learning disabilities can and should be addressed as early as possible, especially if a child is not learning to read at a grade appropriate level by the end of Grade 1.

At the VLC standardized testing that leads to appropriate diagnosis shows that students with learning disabilities have widely disparate abilities in different processing areas, often more than two standard deviations apart. Scores on subtests that measure these functions may range from the 5th percentile or below to the 95th percentile or higher.

The subtests reveal both the areas of strength and the areas of difficulty. From this a proper diagnosis can be made and a program and strategy to address the difficulties can be created. This leads to addressing both the learning disability itself, and the problems created by the learning disability over the long term. Professional, experienced and thoughtful diagnosis of learning disabilities that leads to effective treatment can produce a “personal best” outcome over both the long and short term.

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Next Steps

  • If you would like to have answers as to what can be done, you can book a complimentary interview with Vancouver Learning Centre Director Andrew Taylor by telephone at 604-738-2277 or by e-mail.
  • If after you are fully informed through the interview and by reading this website you are interested in proceeding, Andrew will provide you with an assessment date to begin the process.
  • If you have further concerns or questions you can speak to VLC principal and senior psychologist, Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, either by telephone or by booking a further personal complimentary interview.
  • The assessment will provide a clear statement of the student’s cognitive and educational strengths and weaknesses along with a detailed program that is offered as a proposal. The program is delivered by the Vancouver Learning Centre’s highly qualified teaching faculty, one-to-one.


Academic Delay

Children and youth with learning disabilities have substantial difficulty learning at the same pace and the same rate as other children over the year. If they have difficulty or are delayed in language development, this often affects their ability to learn to read with understanding and to write or spell words they are not familiar with. Difficulty in learning to read, write or calculate in the primary grades extends into subsequent grades with more serious consequences. The primary tools are used in learning the second level skills of application and integration into complex third level skills of problem solving, preparing reports, and responding in a flexible way to novel situations as the grades progress.

Thus, as the child proceeds through school the learning disability begins to affect performance in all the content subject areas. Poor performance becomes integrated with the emotional issue of low self-esteem, and causes the child to avoid the use of tools like reading, which has not been mastered, or writing the minimum producing a short parsimonious response that does not earn the good grades they see their classmates earning.


Cognitive Delay

Cognitive delay is the delay of the development of cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills that depend on the application of primary level tools such as reading. It therefore often occurs as a consequence of academic delay. Thus, both the initial cause of the problem and the effects of the problem on classroom success combine to work against the ability of the intelligent but learning disabled child to develop their thinking and reasoning skills at a good rate in order to achieve success in school and in life.

If the learning disabled child is to succeed, these problems must be addressed. The neuropsychological and educational assessment delivered at the Vancouver Learning Centre is designed to detect root causes and create a personalized targeted program to directly address and rehabilitate these cognitive abilities with target designed and VLC signature learning programs that have the best chance of helping the learning disabled child to succeed.

When this process is integrated with the academic skills themselves, by filling in the gaps and extending and developing skills in an integrated and disciplined manner, student success is more likely, and long-term as well as short-term outcomes, are more productive.

Most importantly, as the young person begins to achieve new levels of success in academic outcome—as the fog that comes from lack of clear understanding of words or the inability to remember enough short-term instruction, begins to clear away—a whole new emotionally positive response to school emerges along with greatly improved self-esteem. In sum, what leads to the success we see in VLC students and alumni, is the combination, in a dynamic targeted learning program, of a clear integration of the data from the standardized tests with the needs of the learner to successfully master the academic skills the school requires.


  Red Flags for Parents of Children and Youth with Learning Disabilities

Because children with learning disabilities are different learners who are normal in all respects, parents are generally not alerted to the problem until the child begins school. Further, boys outnumber girls about four to one. Since boys are also slower to mature, conform and settle down to the classroom situation, teachers may not alert parents until they see the child having difficulty learning to read, to write, or to focus.

Sometimes, the teachers assure the parents that the issue is developmental, that the child will outgrow it or that their system of Learning Assistance will handle it. While this is sometimes the case, such students are losing precious learning time when their sense of how intelligent they are is forming. They are disadvantaged when they fall behind their peers and they are at risk for low self-esteem.

Addressing the issue with a proper diagnosis as early as possible will produce the best outcome for the child, especially if this is followed by a proactive strategy to address the delays in acquiring skills.

It is interesting to note that parents who would react immediately if their child needed medical interventions, even simple antibiotics, will allow difficulties in learning and the emotional consequences to go unattended, sometimes for years. It cannot be overemphasized that the problems that arise from learning disabilities can and should be addressed as early as possible, especially if a child is not learning to read at a grade appropriate level by the end of Grade 1.

At the Vancouver Learning Centre, children can be tested by the time they are 3 years old for early intervention. However, we also specialize in teaching children of 5 years and older the basic tools of learning to read with understanding, calculate, spell and write.

But what if children do not appear to have problems until they are older?

Some children manage to keep up with their peers and appear at least average until Grades 4 or 5. They have managed to learn to read (to decode) and to spell and write. Often these children have difficulty with math but their other skills and their general intelligence mask their learning difficulties.

In this case the problem may be in the auditory processing system and good habits, good intelligence and good attitudes have allowed them to “survive” rather than flourish. At this point, however, the need to effectively process oral instruction has reached their challenge level. These children’s problems can be addressed with effective strategies and new skills in Effective Listening (a VLC signature neurocognitive program).

Some young people with learning disabilities have found smart ways to overcome their difficulties in elementary school. They reach their challenge levels in high school, often in Grade 8, but sometimes as late as Grade 10. Here too, strategies that address the difficulties directly allow these young people to achieve the grades they need to go on to post-secondary instruction.

At whatever age, including adulthood, an effective, professional and thoughtful diagnosis can reveal ways to access strengths, overcome weaknesses in learning strategies, and become effective learners and performers.

But that is often not enough.

To become fully successful in life one needs to first become truly successful in school. To address this problem in a dynamic proactive manner, the Vancouver Learning Centre has developed a set of unique procedures to teach all the academic subjects needed for a successful school outcome. To learn what they are see Academic Skills Training/Difficulties in Reading, Reading Comprehension, Writing, Spelling and Math.


Next Steps

  • If you would like to have answers as to what can be done, you can book a complimentary interview with Vancouver Learning Centre Director Andrew Taylor by telephone at 604-738-2277 or by e-mail.
  • If after you are fully informed through the interview and by reading this website you are interested in proceeding, Andrew will provide you with an assessment date to begin the process.
  • If you have further concerns or questions you can speak to VLC principal and senior psychologist, Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, either by telephone or by booking a further personal complimentary interview.
  • The assessment will provide a clear statement of the student’s cognitive and educational strengths and weaknesses along with a detailed program that is offered as a proposal. The program is delivered by the Vancouver Learning Centre’s highly qualified teaching faculty, one-to-one.


Neurocognitive Training

Auditory processing ability is dependent on the physical clarity of the hearing system, the kind and amount of auditory stimulation, and the child’s natural genetic predisposition to learn from oral input from birth.

From birth (and even before) the growing child lives in a particular world of sounds and words. From this, language, the receptive ability to understand and the expressive ability to speak, develops.

If the clarity of input, especially in the speaking range, is impaired through many ear infections or allergic reactions that produce blocked ears and noses with fluid in the middle ear for extended periods greater than the norm, language and the development of speech is often delayed. This can be alleviated to some degree by inserting tubes in the child’s ear, sometimes with dramatic effect. However, it is important not to ignore the months and years from birth onward when the child’s hearing was affected.

If this delay is suspected due to speech delay or behavioural immaturity, and if standardized tests for early childhood flag the delay, rehabilitation can begin immediately by the age of 3, enabling the child to arrive at school with the problem addressed, if not fully resolved.

There are other causes for delay in auditory processing skills, including a child’s natural ability to learn in this way, or lack of specific stimulation when caregiving has not been given using English as the basic language.

Often, children or youth may have developed skills in listening to and learning from short and simple instructions, but they reach their challenge level on age appropriate, longer and more complex and challenging auditory input. This results in inexperience in processing the longer and more complex instruction in the higher grades.

In all cases, regardless of cause, the Vancouver Learning Centre signature program in Effective Listening will improve this brain-based skill.

But for us that is not enough!

The listening skill must be applied to learning better from oral instruction in general, and especially in the learner’s classroom, where to succeed in a larger group they need to learn as successfully as their peers from oral instruction.

Using a program that has produced successful outcomes over three decades, the Vancouver Learning Centre teachers are trained to deliver through both drill and oral delivery of increasingly difficult material a comprehensive program in improving simple and complex auditory processing skills.

This program is included in all VLC programs where test results indicate reason for concern.


Visual Processing

In a similar way visual acuity development begins early in a child’s life and increases with natural development and stimulation of various kinds.

Children who are natural visual learners and have no brain function impairment in processing simple and complex visual information, love to play with blocks, with patterns, and with pictures. They love to draw. Play experience builds strategic brain-based skills from an early age. However, if children do not experience this play, the development of these skills is often delayed. Combined with motor function, it affects their ability to learn to write, to spell, and to organize their skills visually.

In these cases, where the data points to inexperience in play-based and visual learning, the VLC signature programs for visual learners are included. Most important, however, is that the key core skill in school and in life is learning to read with understanding. Since reading is a sound/symbol task, both the auditory and visual modalities are included. When one of these systems is significantly impaired, difficulty in learning to read is often the first result. In these cases, the rehabilitation of both systems is addressed.

But this is not enough!

Such children must be taught and can be taught to read using a different approach than the ones used in the classroom. The VLC has four such innovative reading programs, and we have been using them, often in combination, to teach children to read successfully for three decades.


Executive Function

The emergence of human ability to think flexibly—to reason in an abstract manner, to organize, to plan ahead, to initiate, to adapt, to solve problems, to apply new learning to novel tasks—develops as children grow naturally. However, such second and third level skills are also based on the mastery of the primary first level tasks, such as learning to read, to write, to spell and to calculate. While executive function skills are very robust and often develop without the primary tools, in our society being able to read with understanding and having the language skills to communicate orally and in a written fashion are key to ongoing and future success.

This complex skillset draws on many other skills, and learners develop an internal guidance system or dialogue to guide their thinking in a step-by-step fashion, often by modelling the systems they see used by the adults in their lives, parents and teachers.

A delay in some aspect of the “feeder” skills often delays the development of executive function skills. This affects behaviour as well as emotional maturity, along with academic and cognitive skills. School and life success is impacted in complex ways by the delay in the development of executive function skills.

At the Vancouver Learning Centre, wherever the data indicates that executive function skills are compromised, our faculty are trained to apply the signature programs we have developed over the decades to address these skills.


Memory and Attention

Memory and attention are the first order and first requirement skills for all learners. Human beings produce the internal chemistry to make memory by paying attention.

Young children develop this ability naturally as the years and grades in school increase. However, whenever there is difficulty in paying attention, the first priority of the Vancouver Learning Centre is to teach and extend each learner’s ability to pay attention.

But this is not enough by itself!

Learners must be directly taught to transfer this new ability to paying attention in the classroom. Systems of cognitive behaviour Training (CBT) are used to ensure learners become more effective at paying attention.


Academic Training

The main job of children from 5 – 18 is to be a successful classroom performer in all academic content. When this does not happen in the expected natural manner, the impact on the student and even on the family is serious.

Therefore, while the root causes of the problem often lies in impaired neurocognitive function, the improvement must be directly applied in an integrated fashion to the learning of academic skills. Therefore, at the Vancouver Learning Centre a program of academic development using innovative methods is integrated in each program and taught one-to-one by trained and experienced faculty who often specialize in the subject area assigned to them.

The academic program emerges from the cognitive and academic test data by applying the neuropsychological lens to decide the best methods to teach the academic subjects. A program is built that fits each learner like a glove.

Whenever appropriate and possible this program is integrated with the learner’s classroom through the school visit, the team captain system, and the transparency approach to the family.

Subjects are taught directly through VLC resources and integrated with the class curriculum through the VLC signature “Week-Ahead” program.

In this system, the teacher is asked to provide directions on upcoming topics, and the VLC faculty in one-to-one dynamic process preview the material and ensure the vocabulary is understood to the degree possible. The concepts that build the current topic are reviewed and re-taught. This makes classroom mastery more successful.

Further, our learning-to-learn basket of skills such as mind mapping, word harvest and visual display are included in every program where they serve the needs of the student.

Subjects from grades K – 12 taught include:

  • Reading (decoding) and reading comprehension
  • Math, numerical operations, problem solving, math principles, algebra, geometry, trigonometry
  • Writing, grammar, punctuation, spelling and written expression
  • Social studies, science

Advanced courses in math, calculus, and statistics at the college level are now being taught by experienced faculty in our College and University programs.


Dynamic One-to-One Teaching of Academic Correspondence Courses/Earning Credentials

Sometimes, a learner is not able to master critical course content delivered at the pace and in the manner of classroom instruction. This does not mean this content subject matter cannot be mastered.

Using BC citizen’s access to correspondence courses in each subject at both high school and university and dynamic one-to-one teaching, using the tools and processes described above, VLC teachers specializing in the subject’s content teach the correspondence courses one-to-one.

The student then completes the practice exercises, sometimes with supervision, and independently prepares the “send in” exercises to a marker who provides an expert at-a-distance evaluation of the student’s work.

Students taught in this way usually achieve high grades that can become part of their transcript as they prepare and apply for post-secondary positions.

We also teach college level courses available through Thompson Rivers University (TRU) BC’s distance education system.

 









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