Learning disabilities in children are not always recognized as such. At church, sometimes there is a discrepancy between what we think a child can do and what he or she actually does in the classroom. Who would think that a four-year-old who seems to know everything about trains could not learn the alphabet and the catechism or answer a question about Noah’s ark?
Children tend to function according to what adults expect of them, which we base on their intellect. Most children with learning disabilities have average-to-superior intellects. But with certain types of tasks, their brains seem to stall. Performance in Sunday School may be inconsistent, with some skills on par with or even ahead of their peers while other skills are missing.
Often, children are diagnosed with learning disabilities because they have challenging behaviors that do not improve with common strategies for positive and negative reinforcement. In the church setting, it is increasingly challenging for children with problem behaviors to grow and learn about Christ alongside their friends.
In most churches, proper behavior and obedience are valued most. We focus on behavior rather on learning—or lack of learning—that occurs in the classroom. We may assume that children are not learning because they are overactive. But in children with learning disabilities, they often do not possess the skills to attend to tasks or to sit still as long as their peers do.
Characteristics you may observe in children with learning disabilities:
- Short attention span
- Difficulty following directions
- Poor planning and organizational skills
- Inability to carry on conversations
- Social immaturity
- Lack of impulse control
When you see misbehavior, instead of assuming that a child is making willful choices, first consider that what you are seeing may be a function of a learning or communication challenge. Addressing the learning needs and skill deficits of kids may well be the key to their growth in Christ and the elimination of behavior issues.