Mother helping daughter to read

Different influences that impact learning

Strengths, challenges, and issues that affect learning

Low academic self-concept

The extent to which a child/student feels comfortable in school and is influenced by sense of academic success, accomplishment, attitude, enjoyment of school, and ability to cope with assessments. Students with low academic self-esteem will avoid work (toilet visits etc), not contribute to discussions, and seek support after minimal attempt.

Low social self-concept

How comfortable a child is with their emotional/social relationships and is influenced by how much a child feels valued by their peers / peer relationships. You might see, for example, a child often being alone/playing alone, having lack of confidence in the classroom/peer discussions, being upset when faced with challenges, low resilience, and avoiding eye-contact.

Processing speed

Speed at which child absorbs and responds to information. Difficulties present as responding more slowly to reading/writing/speaking. Activities take longer, as a longer time is needed to think. The outcome may be good, but a longer than typical time has been taken. Children can appear hesitant, with slowness in speech and/or in articulating ideas. These children can find group work difficult as processing is slower and they feel an acute sense difference. They might miss important information and/or need to borrow notes to catch up.

Working Memory

Auditory Working Memory

The ‘temporary storage’ – following instructions, remembering a phone number whilst you dial it. Working Memory is the system that actively holds information so it can be manipulated or processed. Auditory working memory issues present as children appearing to forget things quickly, or drifting off task because the effort to stay on task is so exhausting. They may appear to forget instructions and need them repeated (and can still forget them).

Visual working memory difficulties

Difficulties holding visual information in the ‘temporary storage’ whilst being manipulated or processed. With visual working memory challenges, a child is likely to be uncomfortable working with maps or diagrams, may not be good at recognising faces, may not enjoy card/board games, and find discriminating the subtleties between objects challenging.

Expressive and receptive language difficulties

Expressive language is the language we use – what we say. Receptive language is what we hear or understand. A child might appear able in writing and reading but appears to have difficulty with receiving or expressing verbal information. These children can appear to have poor listening skills or inattention.

Language development challenges

When the above (expressive and receptive language difficulties) are present in younger children they may have challenges with one or a combination of: speech, grammar, vocabulary and semantics, and pragmatics. The child might have unclear speech or need visual instructions to support verbal instructions.

Phonological difficulties

Challenges are evident when recognising, processing and organising sounds that make up words. Children may struggle to link sounds with symbols, know if words rhyme, or be able to read ‘sight words’. This is often linked to dyslexia.

Sensory impairment – hearing

If a child has hearing challenges when in their early years, their ability to acquire language is disrupted. The most common cause is due to a build-up of liquid in the middle ear. Regardless of cause, it is important to address this as early as possible and symptoms can include, for example, needing louder audio, being inattentive, pulling at ear, earaches or irritability.

Visual stress

Children can experience visual stress despite having sound vision. Tracking may be a challenge, or oversensitivity to contrasting print on pages, or suffer headaches and eye strain. They may omit words or mis-read visually similar words.


Dyslexia can present with any one or more of being able to read accurately, reading fluency (speed), and reading comprehension. Children may have problems decoding words and may feel hesitant or avoid reading.

Spelling challenges – dyslexia

Challenges converting the spoken language into written language due to visuals or sounds. Children may be reluctant to write, or not use their repertoire of vocabulary when writing. This can cause challenges with self-concept in school.

Early Literacy difficulties – aged 4,5 and 6 years old

Challenges can be seen with learning phonics (which letters represent the sounds), word recognition, reading comprehension, letter formation and spacing, spelling, and writing meaningful text (sentences). This can be associated with language development, phonological awareness, visual and auditory processing and memory. It is rare to diagnose dyslexia in children under 6 years old but these might be early signs.

Social Communication challenges

Children may appear to lack social and interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence. They may be sensitive to sensory stimuli (such as noise), appear disruptive and avoid crowded places. This can also be associated with autism spectrum, intellectual giftedness and ADHD.

Dysgraphic and hand-eye coordination difficulties

Associated with fine motor skill challenges, dysgraphia can often present as poor handwriting or difficulty manipulating very small items. This can accompany spelling difficulty and resistance to showing ‘what they know’ on paper. Can be linked to dyspraxia and dyslexia. Dysgraphia also presents in hand-eye coordination such as catching a ball.

Gross Motor skills

There are many reasons that people can present with gross motor skill difficulties. They are evident when a child appears clumsy or appears to have difficulties in sports, dance and games.

Coordination, motor planning and proprioception difficulties

Children may be challenged in one or more of: understanding what the body needs to do, planning the movement, and completing the movement. The brain uses ‘proprioception’ or ‘body awareness’ for this. Either or a combination of gross and fine motor skills can be affected.

Sensory integration and sensitivity challenges

When processing through some or all of the senses is difficult: vision, touch, taste, sounds, smell, and movement. The brain can receive all information from the senses, but the information might not be processed efficiently or accurately. This is often associated with, for example, dyspraxia, dyslexia, and autism spectrum. Children may present difficulties with, for example, body awareness, intolerance to smells or textures, distractibility and inattentiveness.

Auditory Processing Difficulties

These children can appear to be inattentive or not following instructions. The hearing is within normal range but the challenge is the ‘processing’ of the information. Background noise can make things more difficult and classrooms can be very difficult environments to learn in.

Attention Difficulties

Inability to sustain and control attention. Children can be easily distracted, drift off task, daydream and be fidgety. Can be linked to ADHD and auditory processing disorder when a child is around aged 7 plus (when, developmentally, the brain should be able to control impulsivity and attention).


Impulsivity relates to difficulties controlling impulses and is often associated with ADHD. Impulsive children do things without thinking or filtering first. They seem to act on a whim and not consider the consequence of their actions. They may not learn from experience, do not easily take turns, and interrupt people.

Self-monitoring and planning difficulties (executive functioning)

These difficulties can be seen in, for example, poor planning, poor organisation of work, and lack of self-correction. Metacognitive skills appear reduced (the ability to ‘think about one’s thinking’). This can be a sign of challenges with working memory, attention, auditory processing, and sensory processing. These are usually a ‘symptom’ of something happening and not the cause.


Hyperactivity is an excessive level of activity – the child is always on the go. Often linked to ADHD and impulsivity, the child can lack focus, be easily bored, and easily distracted. These children can have excellent social skills and become good at multi-tasking, but find it very hard to stay on task, be patient, and meet academic expectations.

Dyscalculic tendencies

Difficulties are evident with arithmetic and calculation. This can be seen with challenges behaviours when doing any form of mathematics, such as memorising times-tables and basic around ordering, sequencing and wider mathematical thought. Children will use avoidance operations. In younger children there would appear weaknesses in recognising, learning, ordering or understanding numbers.

Autism Spectrum

Autism spectrum is a developmental disability that presents in range of intellectually diverse children from gifted, to those with intellectual disability, and the full range between. Children on the autism spectrum can communicate, interact, behave and learn in different ways to other people. There are many combinations of different indicators including challenges with social interactions, sensory sensitivity and obsessive interests.


Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is listed in the  DSM-5 under Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders and defined as “a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behaviour, or vindictiveness” in children and adolescents.

Maladaptive Perfectionism

Maladaptive perfectionism presents in several ways and is often associated with anxiety. Students are concerned about making mistakes, are sensitive to criticism, and tend to ruminate about events. Students will avoid tasks and tests and have high levels of test or performance anxiety. Unsupported this can lead to poor mental health outcomes, high anxiety, low self-concept, lower than expected academic outcomes, and high dropout rates.


Anxiety is an emotion that is characterised by worry, inner turmoil, overreactions to stimuli, and tension. It can be non-visible or can be accompanied by ruminating, muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, withdrawal and concentration problems.


Depression affects thoughts, behaviours, motivation, positive feelings and a sense of wellbeing. It presents as a state of low mood, sadness, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, changes in appetite and fatigue. Students may demonstrate a sense of dejection, aversion to activity, and hopelessness.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

SPD (also known as sensory integration dysfunction) is a condition in which multisensory integration (from the environment) is not adequately processed by the brain. Such challenges can be with one or more of the sensory systems: Somatosensory system, Vestibular system, Proprioceptive system, Interoceptive system, Auditory system, Visual system, Olfactory system, and Gustatory system.

Gifted learners with disability (GLD)

Also called: Twice-exceptional (2e), dual exceptionality, gifted with learning disability

GLD students are considered exceptional because of their ‘giftedness’ (in the intellectual, creative, social, or physical domain) and their disability that affects learning (e.g. specific learning disability, neurodevelopmental disability, other disabilities that affect learning). The disabilities can include dyslexia, autism spectrum, ADHD, anxiety, depression and many more. These students present as a paradox to parents and educators.

Gifted learners – also known as: high potential, high ability, intellectually advanced, and more able

Gifted learners are those with ability significantly higher than average (in the top 10% of peers) in the domains of intellectual ability and/or, creativity and/or, social ability and/or, physical/motor ability. Gifted learners who also develop their gifts to performance at a high level (top 10% when compared with others) are also called talented.