Learning barriers

Learning Barriers: What You Need To Know

Written by Megan van Wyk

School time is here. Is your child going to cope? Do they have a history of struggling with learning?

I think a constant worry in any parent’s mind is “Will my child be okay at school? Will he/she be able to learn to the best of his/her ability or will he/she have to fight an uphill battle?” The term “learning barriers” sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it? Here’s the good news – it’s not the end of the world! If your child’s learning barrier can be identified, it can be treated! Here are some warning signs you should be aware of.


Probably the most obvious one – a significant drop in your child’s marks or worrying comments marring your child’s report at the end of the term. Most children with learning barriers are very intelligent, but they struggle to use that intelligence to do well in school.

Listen to your child’s teacher. Remember, teachers come into contact with plenty of children during their careers. More often than not, they will be able to see whether a child is really struggling, or if it’s just a phase. That being said, don’t take the teacher’s word for it. If they do mention something, don’t ignore it! Take it further. Take your child to the doctor so that they can investigate and determine whether, number one, there is a problem and, number two, what can be done to help your child. 

One of the first things you should do if your child is struggling at school is to have their hearing and sight tested. The solution may just be something as simple as a cute pair of glasses, a hearing aid or speech therapy.

Something else that will help is to identify what type of learning style your child responds to best. We created a 5 minute quiz to help you with this. You can try it for free here.

Pay attention to homework and class work

Do you ever look at your child’s school books? If you don’t, now would be a good time to start. 

Does your child complete worksheets or exercises at school, or are there constant comments of “work incomplete” in glaring red pen everywhere? 

How is your child’s work set out? Is it neatly dated and numbered or does he/she just write anywhere on the page?

Have a look at your child’s handwriting. Can you read it easily or do you need to turn the book every which way to try and make out what your child has written? 

Children with learning barriers often struggle to complete tasks, and fine motor skills may not be age-appropriately developed.

If you notice any of these signs, go and talk to your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Remember, the quicker the learning barrier is identified, the sooner treatment can start.

Apple with pencil and books on top of a desk in a classroom

Hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsivity

Hyperactivity. Most children are naturally very active, but hyperactive children just do not stop. They are constantly moving, running around and climbing on everything in sight. The phrase “bouncing off the walls” is often used to describe hyperactive children, because they move so quickly from one thing to another.  They often try to do several things at once, and so hardly ever finish one task. They might start by building a puzzle and halfway through decide that they want to climb the tree outside, so they leave the half-built puzzle, never to return. They also tend to talk excessively, and have quite a quick temper.

Sitting still for a hyperactive child is nearly impossible. Even if they are forced to sit still, they will find some way to move, fidgeting, tapping their feet or drumming their fingers. It’s nearly impossible for these children to relax and play quietly.

If your child is hyperactive, there may also be a chance that they have ADHD. We wrote an article discussing the signs of ADHD, and what to do to about it. You can check it out here.

Inattention. Does your child struggle to focus? Is he/she easily distracted? Does he/she get bored easily? Does he/she struggle to organise and plan ahead when projects are due? Children who struggle with inattention simply cannot concentrate as easily as they should be able to. They often lose or misplace things like books and toys. They can ‘space out’ in conversations, not listening to what is being said to them. 

Following instructions is nearly impossible for these children, even more so when you give more than one. You might tell you child to brush their teeth and put their shoes on, and consider yourself lucky if he/she comes back to you with their teeth brushed. At school, a child who struggles with inattention may not read the whole instruction and make careless mistakes as a result.

Impulsivity. Most children are taught to think before they act or say something. Children struggling with impulsivity find this nearly impossible. People may describe them as “having no filter”, because they might interrupt conversations, ask inappropriate or overly personal questions and make tactless comments. They may seem extremely impatient and tend to overreact emotionally, because they are unable to process powerful emotions.

At school, they might ask irrelevant questions in class and shout out answers before the question has been completed. As a result of their impulsivity, peers may view them as weird, needy and annoying.

South African IEB and CAPS Worksheets


Imagine trying your utmost best to do well in school, or to fit in with your peers, only to find that nothing, NOTHING, works. How would you feel if people are constantly exasperated by or irritated with you? 

Children with learning barriers might be very unhappy at school. If your child comes home seeming ‘down’ or acts sick to try and get out of going to school, you might want to investigate the possibility of a learning barrier. 

Does your child have friends at school? Does he/she tell you about the fun things they got up to with their friends at break time? Do they ask to see their friends after school and over weekends? Children with learning barriers can be seen as ‘weird’, ‘annoying’ or ‘stupid’ by their peers. Social awkwardness and the inability to make friends is a definite and serious warning sign that something is not right, because by nature children make friends extremely quickly. Make a point of asking your child about their friends, and take note of their body language and facial expressions.

Another serious warning sign is a child who has no interest in learning. Children are supposed to be curious and inquisitive, but if your child is struggling to learn, he/she might just ‘give up’. He/she isn’t getting anywhere, so why bother trying, right?

Young Girl Looking Sad

The good news is that learning barriers are treatable, and if your child does experience learning barriers, he/she can still go on to lead a happy, successful life. The key is to know what to look out for, and act on it immediately! Communicate with your child constantly and be involved in their lives. Take note of out of character behaviour. Remember, you know your child and what’s ‘normal’ for them better than anyone else. Trust your instincts and listen to your gut!

Also, why not try WorksheetCloud? We have many children that suffer from learning barriers that use it and who have had great success with it. Try it out for yourself and let us know if it helps. You can sign up here.

A special thank you to my wonderful friend, Annelie Corbett, for giving me some personal insight into this topic.

I’m very interested to hear how you help your child with their learning barriers. Post your comments, suggestions and questions below. I personally read and answer every comment.

The Author - Megan van Wyk

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

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  1. Vanessa


    My son has Add the inatentative concentration. He hates maths, and all homework. he gets angry when we tell him to do his homework. Ive tried everything we are registered on worksheet as well, I’m starting to get frustrated as im also studying part time and he does not want to help himself

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Vanessa! Thanks for your comment! There are many things parents can do to reduce the signs and symptoms of ADHD without sacrificing the natural energy, playfulness, and sense of wonder unique in every child.

      Take care of yourself so you’re better able to care for your child. Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, find ways to reduce stress, and seek face-to-face support from family and friends as well as your child’s doctor and teachers.

      Establish structure and stick to it. Help your child stay focused and organized by following daily routines, simplifying your child’s schedule, and keeping your child busy with healthy activities.

      Set clear expectations. Make the rules of behavior simple and explain what will happen when they are obeyed or broken—and follow through each time with a reward or a consequence.

      Encourage exercise and sleep. Physical activity improves concentration and promotes brain growth. Importantly for children with ADHD, it also leads to better sleep, which in turn can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

      Help your child eat right. To manage symptoms of ADHD, schedule regular healthy meals or snacks every three hours and cut back on junk and sugary food.

      Teach your child how to make friends. Help him or her become a better listener, learn to read people’s faces and body language, and interact more smoothly with others.

      These are just some of the things you can try to exercise with your child. I hope this helps.

      Ross 🙂

  2. Ntombi

    Where do I go, I suspect my child has a learning disability

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Ntombi! Thanks for your comment! If you do suspect your child to have a learning disability, then I would suggest learning the specifics about your child’s learning disability. Read and learn about your child’s type of learning disability. Find out how the disability affects the learning process and what cognitive skills are involved.

      You may want to speak to a educational psychologist in your area, where they’ll be able to run a series of tests to determine if your child really does have a learning disability and the next steps forward. I hope this helps 🙂

  3. Rockie

    My child chews his pencils, erasers and even the collar of his clothes. This distracts him when he is doing his school and homework. He also sucks his thumb. Can you advise what to do?

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Rockie! Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. After reading up on some popular google articles, I’ve found some really interesting info regarding children chewing on things.

      Children may be chewing on their clothes at school as a way to help them stay focused and pay attention… Some children may chew on their clothes because they need to stimulate their jaw muscles. While one would chew in order to give them something to do and help them concentrate, listen, or think… a sensory sensitive child might chew when they feel embarrassed or shy or overwhelmed as a way of calming down their central nervous system or releasing some of the emotion they are feeling. Ultimately, kids chew as a way of meeting a need.

      LOTS of children chew, it just isn’t something we talk about that often and so we can sometimes feel like our child has a serious problem. You can look through this article for some useful tips on how to help your child concentrate on his homework: https://www.arktherapeutic.com/blog/10-tips-for-kids-who-need-to-chew-an-oral-sensory-diet/

      I hope this helps!

      Ross 🙂

  4. Carol

    Hi my son does not concentrate on books and his reading is not good,he even forget easily .But tell him about games and cartoons ooh yes!!!. As a parent I need help for my son and me because I do loose temper when I’m trying to help him

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Carol! Thanks for your comment on our blog! Learners with barriers require a lot of patience, so I completely understand your concern. If he likes cartoons, maybe get him a written cartoon to read, this will help him engage with something he enjoys, as well as gets him to read.

      I hope this helps. Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Ross 🙂

  5. Josie Lambert

    Thank you for the article!
    You have to be prepared that educating a child with learning disabilities will be an even more difficult task than a standard education. But still, it’s possible and feasible. The main thing is that you’ve emphasized it, and it’s important!
    There are many features, the so-called barriers, and each of them needs its own approach.
    This scares many parents and some teachers because of the lack of information on how to work with such children. But it is a good thing that there are now specialists who can consult, as well as enough useful information online if you look for it.


    Wow, thank you so ,uch for the information on learning barriers. I was beginning to feel so helpless, because i have no idea how to help my child. Ive never heard of learning barriers before, and it describes my son’s situation to the tee!
    He is repeating grade 3 this year,and i have been stressing about the journey ahead. I feel a bit better now,knowing a bit more. I will definitely try to sign up.
    Thank you,thank you,thank you!

    • Kyle Roets

      Hi Natasha, thanks for your comment! We appreciate you taking the time to be open with us about your son’s situation.

      I’m glad to see that you found our quiz helpful. I trust that your son will do really well this year and that he will pass to Grade 4 with flying colours.

      Please let us know if there are any other blog topics or useful surveys you would like us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Kyle 🙂

  7. Julia Biehl

    Good day I think my child has a learning disability called dyscalculia and went to school about the problem.What can I do to support and help her with this problem it is causing so much unhappiness and anxiety.Please can someone give me some advice.


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