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Focus on strengths to beat learning disorders: expert

An emphasis on difficulties, without consideration of children’s strengths, may be undermining attempts to treat learning disorders, according to a leading educational expert from the US, who is presenting at the APS College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists Conference in Melbourne today.

Professor Nancy Mather, a special education expert from the University of Arizona, said that all children learned differently and each child has learning strengths that can be harnessed to improve learning.

She said that the role of specific cognitive processes in learning could now be isolated, learning problems identified and programs developed to assist individual children.

 “Learning disabilities relate to how children receive and process information related to learning, including how easily children can memorise and recall information, how well they can identify visual symbols, how well they can hear and understand sounds,” Professor Mather said.  

She said that the complex interplay of factors meant there was no one-size-fits-all solution for learning disorders, but working with a child’s strengths and altering a learning program to accommodate difficulties is now recognised as the best approach to improve learning.

“Some children are better with verbal instruction or information and others with written so it is possible to adapt your teaching style to meet a child’s learning needs.”

She urged parents to fully investigate their child’s learning difficulty with the help of an expert with specific experience in that area of difficulty.
“It can be baffling because often a parent sees that their child is competent and able in many ways but seems to be failing in one area. This can lead to the assumption the child is lazy, when they have a specific deficit that is holding them back,” she said.

Finally, she added: “Children are more than their academic abilities. There are a whole range of other abilities such as creativity, social skills and common sense that will affect their success in life.  While we want to help them as best we can we also need to know that many other factors will influence their path in life.  A focus on the whole child and developing each child’s unique potential is best.”

About the conference

The Conference —Theory to Practice: Positive Development and Wellbeing, Educational and Developmental Psychology Conference 2011— is  being hosted by the APS College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists to promote a broad spectrum of research in the sector from psycho-social wellbeing through to learning, literacy and numeracy.  The College is committed to evidence-based practice and to promoting the best research and latest developments in the field.

To view the full Conference program, including research papers, visit the Conference website.


For more information, or to arrange an interview please contact: Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or Karen Coghlan on 0414 740 891.