Learning difficulties, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder


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Similar to the language development, the learning process itself should be determined by the interest und curiosity of a child in learning new things, followed by concentrating on the learning process. But what if not? What if a child has difficulties to concentrate her-/himself in general? And / Or especially on the learning process?

According to the Oxford Dictionary the term learning difficulty is defined as „difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the normal level expected of those of the same age, especially because of mental disability or cognitive disorder. The phrase learning difficulties became prominent in the 1980s. It is broad in scope, covering general conditions such as Down’s syndrome as well as more specific cognitive or neurological conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. In emphasizing the difficulty experienced rather than any perceived ‘deficiency’, it is considered less discriminatory and more positive than other terms such as mentally handicapped.“

Obviously not every child having learning difficulties can be classified as hyperactive and / or having an attention deficit disorder, but in order not to be broad here, especially the topic of attention deficit is to be deepened here, so what about a child being more active than other children? What are the reasons for hyperactivity? Where is the difference between an active child and hyperactivity? Is there even one?

The Oxford University defines attention deficit in the following way: “Any of a range of behavioural disorders occurring primarily in children, including such symptoms as poor concentration, hyperactivity, and learning difficulties.”

This definition already mentions several key words and signs, so a first approach is here to classify and to be clear about the following aspects:
An attention deficit includes:

1) Distractibility

  • Being inattentive very often, not realizing details and making a lot of mistakes during homework
  • Not keeping the same level of concentration while playing
  • Seems to be not listening and not remembering what has been said
  • Not being able to organize and structure tasks received
  • Being distracted really easily due to external influences

2) Hyperactivity

  • Moving a lot on the chair, moving hands, feet, etc.
  • Standing up during school lesson or in any other moment where it is required to sit down
  • Running around in situations where it is unusual
  • Seeming to be always on the move, more than the average and not really controllable by another person

3) Inner Unrest/Impulsiveness

  • Answering questions before the full question has been heard
  • Having difficulties to wait in a row and / or to wait for her/his turn
  • Disturbing the school lesson
  • Talking a lot without realizing if it is suitable or not

Certainly some children may show these signs of conspicuous behaviour in a moderate way and without attention deficit. Thus it is important to check every individual child by an expert to identify the level of attention deficit symptoms. Considering the signs and attitudes in summary, they seem to be a bigger problem for the environment than for the child itself, but these behaviours might cause severe difficulties within school and the homework. On the other hand many hyperactive children are unhappy or even depressed as they can be seen as outsiders who are not accepted by their peers. Even more, this kind of behavior often makes a child a target for bullying.

So what to do now? As classified above the difficulties might affect different areas and might be of different distinction. They therefore need to be addressed in different ways and not everybody might have the professional background of addressing the above listed characteristics. As mentioned at the beginning a normal development includes certain steps at a certain time and most of this behaviour does stop in the adult age. Nevertheless these difficulties might have far-reaching consequences for the whole life and the curriculum of a person. A learning difficulty and / or attention deficit should thus be taken serious from the start and it might be advisable to contact therapists as soon as it is noted by parents or teachers.


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Title: Training mindfulness

Objective: To enhance maintenance of attention

Contents:  Give each child a cup of tea (or juice) and ask the children to fully concentrate on their cup of tea (or juice). They shall slowly drink a little bit of the tea (or juice) and think on the question “How does it smell?” They shall drink another little drop of the tea (or juice) and think on the question “How does it taste?” Ask the group to drink another little bit of tea (or juice) and think on the question “What does it remind me of?” The children shall finish the cup slowly, but always remind them to fully concentrate on the drinking process and the characteristics of the tea (or juice). Do not let other thoughts come in.

This is an easy implementable activity which should be repeated regularly.

Material: No specific material needed

Title: Which letter am I referring to?

Objective: To support the ability to concentrate.

Contents: Think on a word (for example “firefighter”) and a number (for example 8) and ask a child or group of children “My word is firefighter and my number is 8, which letter am I referring to?” The correct answer would be “You are referring to the letter h.” This activity can be adapted to the groups’ knowledge and interests, repeated regularly and fits as a surplus to possible delays in language development (see section on language development) as well.

Material: No specific material needed

Title: Counting

Objective: To support the ability to concentrate.

Contents: Sit in a circle and start with saying “1”, the person on your left says “2”, the next person says “3” and so on. If you knock on the table, the sequence changes until you knock again and so on. You can invent some more changes to make it more difficult and to support the children in the necessity to fully concentrate on their task and role here.

Material: No specific material needed

Several of the activities proposed in the section “delays in language development” do fit here as well and can be used to support the ability of concentration and address in an easy, playful but effective way learning difficulties, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder.

To combat hyperactivity it is recommendable to realize an activity in the style of the d2 Test of Attention. One example is the following worksheet with scoops, the ones showing to the right shall be coloured in red and the ones showing to the left and shall be coloured in green.

 Case studies

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John is a five year old child who has difficulties to integrate himself into the class, as he always interrupts the other children, disturbs any lesson or game and always tries to have the teacher’s full attention. The teacher needs a lot of effort to calm the class down, as John frequently performs his role as the class clown. After some weeks the teacher consults his colleagues and they propose to get in touch with his parents as even they have realized John’s difficulties.

John’s parents don’t see any difficulties in John’s behaviour and say that he’s just an active child. The parents refuse all invitations by the teacher and see it as the teachers task to take care of John during the day. As John just moved to the city there’s no further information from any other experts, so the teacher does not even know if these difficulties exist since a longer time or are just caused due to difficulties in integrating himself into the new environment.

Reflection Questions

  1. Imagine you’re the teacher of John, what would you do and why?
  2. Imagine you’re a colleague of Johns teacher, what would you do and why? Which recommendation would you give to support your colleague?
  3. Imagine you’re an external consultant normally in touch with the teachers working environment (a doctor, someone from the municipality, etc.), what would you do and why? Which recommendation would you give to support your colleague?