Early Detection of Classroom and Family Problems

by: Marcy P. Schaffer, Ph.D. and Sylvan J. Schaffer, J.D., Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at, Vol. 1, Issue 1, 1987, pp. 5-6. Appears here with permission.
The yeshiva student, like any other student, must cope with a variety of academic, social, familial, and medical problems which can affect classroom performance. It is important for teachers, parents and school personnel to be able to identify such factors since early identification and intervention improve the chances that the problem can be dealt with.
Classroom problems, though they may take many forms, can usually be grouped into two primary areas: learning problems and emotional problems.
Children who are learning disabled are, by definition, those of average or above average intelligence but who manifest mild to severe deficits in specific areas of functioning such as language, visual-spatial reasoning, memory, sequencing and motor function. They exhibit discrepancies in functioning, peaks and valleys in performance. Children with language disorders may be below grade level in reading and spelling but on grade level in math; whereas children with visual-spatial disabilities may be poor in math and word recognition but may have satisfactory reading comprehension skills.
The type and severity of the learning disability determine the effect of the deficit on the cognitive, social, emotional, and other spheres of functioning and, therefore, affect the level of potential stress on the child. Children having difficulty with expressive or receptive language are often the most impaired, since language is not only critical to higher intellectual functioning, but also mediates thought, self-control, and behavior. A child who is language impaired may resort to physical outbursts if he or she is unable to express anger verbally.
There are several signs that may be indicative of possible language disorders:
A) Speech Motor Difficulty – Disarticulation
Signs may include slurred speech, poor articulation, gross mispronunciation or infantile speech patterns.
B) Expressive Language Difficulty
1. Dysnomia – word retrieval difficulty (“tip of the tongue” phenomenon).
2. Circumlocution – talking around a point.
3. Verbal sequencing difficulty – inability to retrieve verbal information in proper sequence, i.e. numbers, days of the week.
4. Auditory sound blending difficulty – inability to integrate individual sounds into meaningful words.
C) Receptive Language Deficits
Signs include the inability to distinguish sounds, inability to understand complex verbal information, and inability to follow directions.
Reading deficits – since so much schoolwork is reading related, a disability in this area can be very detrimental to a child. Among the signs which can be warnings of a reading problem are: reversed letters, reading one word at a time, child loses place on page frequently, substitution of words, omission of words, sub vocal speech when reading, poor word attack skills, repetition of lines.
These are some of the major areas of learning disability. When these or other disabilities are suspected, psycho-educational testing can be helpful in diagnosing the problem and suggesting treatment plans.
While it is impossible to review all the emotional issues which may affect a child’s classroom performance in the limited space allotted to this article, it would be useful to review some of the early warning signs which may alert the teacher or parents to the existence of an emotional problem.
Emotional problems may come from a variety of sources. One, which is related to the learning disorders discussed above, is the result of the stress, frustration and poor self image which may afflict a learning disabled child as a result of his disability.
A second source is the child’s individual emotional problems. These problems may have a psychological, biochemical, or neurological origin and may include such disorders as depression, hyperactivity or school phobias. The treatment may depend on the source of the disorder.
A third major source of emotional disorders is family related. Family stress may commonly originate from marital strife, divorce, death, financial stress, sibling rivalry, child abuse, parental psychopathology or parental pressure for the child to perform.
Some early warning signs may include a change in the child’s eating habits, a change in sleeping patterns, excessive daydreaming, acting out, moodiness, a decline in grades, hyperactivity, rebelliousness, depression, test anxiety, nervous mannerisms such as nail biting, tics, etc. While teachers may respond to the child who is acting out since “the noisy wheel tends to get greased”, the quiet, passive child may also be suffering and should not be overlooked.
When teachers and parents stay alert to these and other signs, they can follow up with referrals to the school guidance department or to professionals who can then assess the problem and recommend remedial or therapeutic interventions. The earlier this process begins, the greater the chance that the intervention can be helpful.
Questions and requests for further details may be addressed to 141-49 70th Road, NY 11367; (718) 969-0549
DR. SYLVAN SCHAFFER is an attorney and a clinical psychologist. He is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Einstein Medical School and works on the interaction of law and psychology in such areas as jury selection, infliction of emotional harm and child custody.
DR. MARCY SCHAFFER is a psychologist in private practice and Coordinator of the Psychology internship at Yeshiva University

The Lookstein Center