There is an overlap of difficulties between the disorders: ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), language and semantic disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, pragmatic language disorder (how language is used in context), autistic spectrum disorders and Asperger’s syndrome. These are:
• Task analysis – being able to break down a task into smaller components.
• Time concepts – difficulty with aspects of time.
• Word finding difficulties
Specific areas can be targeted to support the child with one or more of these disorders:
1. The classroom environment and delivering the curriculum:
* to have less auditory (verbal) input and more visual input with kinaesthetic experience (movement/action).
* use multi-sensory experiences rather than requiring the child to do multi-tasks.
* reduce distractions and memory overload by frequent learning breaks and a variety of short activities.
* keep language direct, uncomplicated and relevant; simplify your sentences.
* teach children to say when they don’t understand or need help (active listening strategy).
* support the child’s planning and organisation with checklists, reminder systems, writing frames, desk organisers etc.
* help the child by breaking tasks down within the overview of the ‘whole’ project.
* help to develop the child’s internal sense of time with an external, visual time line.
* explain clearly any ‘unwritten rules’ to reduce the need to understand inference from language, tone of voice or the social context.
* use visual explanations of routines and expected behaviour; make a picture story of what is expected in a social situation.
* teach and model skills that the child does not use i.e. active listening, eye contact with the speaker/listener, turn taking, when to speak, think before you speak.
2. Organisation: this is improved by teaching time awareness, sequencing of events, and routine.
3. Social understanding: through social communication groups working on aspects of body language, the way we talk, conversations, friendship skills and assertiveness skills.
4. Active listening: teaching the child to be engaged in the listening process and to say when they don’t understand or need help.
5. Phonological awareness: being aware of words and syllables, and then sounds; to blend and segment sounds within words.
6. Vocabulary development: teaching words and concepts, and links between them; this helps organisation skills as well.
As we help by breaking tasks down and identifying the building blocks and connections, then children will access meaning and be less confused. They will have practise in formulating tasks and so will gradually acquire the skills of task breakdown. As we identify the processes, conventions and rules of communication (which includes vocabulary and time concepts) affecting behaviour and activities (organisation and memory), the children will be better able to function independently. We should present any information:
• visually (in the here and now)
• in it’s entirety (we fill in the gaps)
• through a single learning channel (no multi-tasking – the child can’t listen to the teacher and copy from the board at the same time).
• In a linear spatial arrangement i.e. checklists or worksheets should be single row left to right, single column top to bottom.