There are often challenges in early childhood development, especially in terms of learning. Younger children across the world often have challenges that result in them having difficulty learning in the same way others do. In Europe, for example, around 15% of school children have special academic needs. These barriers to learning are important to understand, especially from a teacher or parent perspective, in order to help children achieve their goals.

What are Barriers to Learning?

Barriers to learning range from Severe and Complex learning difficulties at the low end of the spectrum to Giftedness at the high end of the spectrum. Between these two extremes will be a range of more specific learning difficulties which include Dyslexia, Dyspraxia (DCD), Dyscalculia, ADD and ADHD; conditions nowadays common in our homes and classrooms.


In primary school, increasing workloads can be hard for students to keep up with. For some kids, this is when symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) first become noticeable – and teachers may see signs before parents do.

Here are some ways ADHD can impact learning in primary school:

  • Starts assignments but doesn’t complete them
  • Is always talking
  • Doesn’t do well in groups
  • Appears to be daydreaming during classes

Research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.

ADHD is a condition that becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is hard for these children to control their behaviour and/or pay attention. The principle characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

There are three subtypes of ADHD recognized by professionals:

  • Predominantly hyperactive or impulsive – does not show significant inattention;
  • Predominantly inattentive – does not show significant hyperactive-impulsive behaviour;
  • Combined – displays both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.


Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

Dyscalculia is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for kids to perform math-related tasks. It’s not as well known or understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common.

Here are some of the possible signs of dyscalculia:

  • Has trouble learning to count and skips over numbers long after kids the same age can remember numbers in the right order.
  • Struggles to recognize patterns, such as smallest to largest or tallest to shortest.
  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols (knowing that “7” means seven).
  • Doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of counting. For example, when asked for five blocks, she just hands you an armful, rather than counting them out.

Testing for dyscalculia should be done as part of a full evaluation. That way, any other learning and attention issues can be picked up at the same time.


Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that makes it difficult for people to read. It’s the most common learning issue, although it’s not clear what percentage of kids have it.

Some experts believe the number is between 5 and 10 percent. Others say as many as 17 percent of people show signs of reading issues. The reason for the wide range is that experts may define dyslexia in different ways.

Dyslexia is mainly a problem with reading accurately and fluently. Kids with dyslexia may have trouble answering questions about something they’ve read. But when it’s read to them, they may have no difficulty at all.

Dyslexia can create difficulty with other skills, however. These include:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Spelling
  • Writing
  • Math

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia in pre-school children:

  • Has trouble recognizing whether two words rhyme
  • Struggles with taking away the beginning sound from a word
  • Struggles with learning new words
  • Has trouble recognizing letters and matching them to sounds

Many kids have more than one learning and attention issue. There are a number of issues that often co-occur with dyslexia. There are also issues that have symptoms that can look like dyslexia, which is why testing for dyslexia should be part of a full learning evaluation.


If your child struggles with motor skills, you might hear people describe it using two different names. Dyspraxia is one. Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is the other. These terms aren’t totally interchangeable. But they describe many of the same difficulties.

Dyspraxia refers to trouble with movement. That includes difficulty in four key skills:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Motor planning
  • Coordination

If your child struggles with motor skills, there are lots of ways you can help. Working with the school and with specialists can help your child get the best possible help.

Other Barriers to Learning

There are various other barriers to learning that should also be noted, these include:

  • Emotional and health barriers
  • Financial issues
  • Cultural and social issues
  • Language and education
  • Barriers within the academic system
  • Lack of potential development


Barriers to learning can be internal (originating within the child) or external (circumstances in the child’s development). Also, sometimes barriers to learning may compound – think for instance of a physically disabled child in a poor community.  His parents may worry that he will not be able to contribute meaningfully to the family income one day and choose not to send him to school, but rather spend their resources on his able-bodied sibling’s education.

When it comes to these and other barriers to learning, it is very important for us to be aware of them, so that we can remove them for our children and also find ways to prevent these barriers from becoming an issue in the first place.

For more information about early childhood development or to book a consultation, contact Anel Annandale at 021 423 0739 or via email at