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Learning Difficulties

Learning difficulties may be described as affecting any child who is not realising his/her full potential. This broad umbrella term includes some common named conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and many children who do fit any of these but have their own unique learning issues.

Osteopaths may be able to help release physical strains that may interfere with the child’s ability to sit and concentrate, and which may affect the brain’s ability to process information.

Gradual recognition of learning difficulties

Learning difficulties do not suddenly happen. Usually there are indications that a problem may be present from birth onwards. Early on the child may be able to overcome these difficulties, and seems to be reaching milestones. However, as demands are placed on him at school, it may become increasingly difficult for him to keep up with his peers. Eventually he falls behind, and a ‘learning difficulty’ is identified.

Early diagnosis

Physical stresses respond more readily to treatment when the child is very young. Early treatment also reduces hindrances to growth and development, thus helping the child to maximise his/her learning potential.
It is therefore helpful to be able to recognise characteristic early signs of a problem in the health, development and behaviour of a child as young as possible.

Indications of physical tension in a child

As a baby
An unsettled baby who cries excessively, often disturbed sleep.

As a toddler
Mobility and play: The child may sit, crawl and walk early, seeking movement to relieve physical discomfort. The child may not become engrossed in play for any length of time, preferring to be on the move. This may contribute to poor concentration later on.

Sleep patterns often remain disturbed. They may be a light sleeper, often finding it difficult to drop off to sleep at night. Behaviour is often at the difficult end of 'normal' toddler behaviour! Teething may be particularly uncomfortable as the already stressed bony structure of the face resists the rapid changes necessary in the eruption of teeth. Head banging or pulling at the head or hair is often an indicator of stresses within the head, and not simply a sign of frustration.

A child who is physically uncomfortable may not complain of aches and pains. The stresses have probably been present since birth, and have become 'normal' for that child. They may be affected at a subtle level and display any or all of the following characteristics:

  • Behaviour may be volatile, in the same way that anyone who is feeling tense may overreact emotionally.
  • Illnesses. The child often has a depleted immune system and succumbs to many infections. Learning can be detrimentally affected by both a child feeling unwell and increased time lost from school.
  • Physical signs. There may be asymmetries in the child's posture, such as holding the head on one side, or one shoulder being higher than the other. It may be easier for the child to turn to one side than the other. The child may complain of headaches, growing pains, stomach aches or other physical aches and pains.
  • Clumsiness, poor balance. The child may fall a lot, often seeming to bump the same part of their body (such as the head!).
  • Handwriting is laborious and often untidy.
  • Fatigue. The child displays general lethargy in day to day activities.
  • It is noticeable how similar these signs are to many of those classically associated with learning difficulties.

Osteopathic treatment

Osteopathy is not a cure-all, but by helping to make the child comfortable so that he or she can sit still more readily, improving sleep quality and improving concentration, it can be of help to children who are struggling to achieve their potential.

Other factors

There are other factors that can cause or aggravate learning difficulties, including impaired hearing or eyesight, and retained primitive reflexes. Specialist teaching is also essential for some children.

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