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Causes of Special Needs and Learning Difficulties



See our Special Needs Header Page for a full list of special needs information and resources
There can be many causes of special needs and learning difficulties and there is often an associated communication problem such as a delay with speech, language, social language and behaviour. However, no matter what the level of communication difficulty, there are many options available to help develop and improve communication skills. Even children with profound difficulties have the potential to increase their level of communication, allowing them to respond and make choices. By using some key principles, parents, and teachers can enhance communication.


Causes of Learning Difficulties
There may be many causes of a learning difficulty such as a genetic abnormality, injury, or impairment due to disease such as meningitis. Some children never have a formal diagnosis, but always struggle with learning and/or communication.

Autism – children on the autism spectrum often display a range of communication difficulties from mild to profound. Some of these communication difficulties are quite unique to the disorder of autism and are described as an impairment of communication, imagination and social interaction (triad of impairments). See icommunicate’s Autism Section for information and strategies to facilitate communication and behaviour for children with autism.


Cerebral Palsy and Brain Injury – children who experience an injury to the brain, during pregnancy, birth or in childhood can have long lasting difficulties with cognitive function, communication and motor skills. Following damage, the brain will continue to grow and develop during childhood, and different parts of the brain may compensate for the damaged areas, but as this process takes place, these children may be left behind academically by their peers. Damage to the brain in the early years of life means that children are having to cope with a brain injury at a time when they are learning some key foundation skills. This means that some of them will have difficulties and delays throughout childhood. Visit our section relating to Traumatic Brain Injury.


Developmental Dyspraxia – dyspraxia can often cause speech difficulties, but can be far more severe affecting gross and fine motor movement, planning and cognitive functioning. Visit our section on Dyspraxia for more information.


Genetic Syndromes – with the advent of medical advances there has been a greater emphasis on the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders or syndromes. Genetic tests can often give a diagnosis to a unexplainable disorder. When we have a diagnosis we have an idea of what symptoms may present over time and we can plan accordingly. There are thousands of different syndromes and many have associated communication difficulties. See our section on Genetic Syndromes.

For more information about special needs and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Special Needs go to the Downloads section.

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