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Learning difficulties As a special needs teacher, learning difficulties are something I deal with everyday. From my years of experience, I have noticed that learners who are often labelled as ‘challenging’ are usually the ones with some type of difficulty--it could emotional, social or a learning difficulty. What is a learning difficulty and why does there seem to be so many children who have them? In my opinion, there has always been children with learning difficulties. However, as times have changed and more research has been developed, we are now able to see and understand children as a whole differently. Learning difficulties can be branched off into a variety of themes. The child can be viewed as someone who is just struggling with basic reading or as a child who is dyslexic or a child who is autistic. All these different difficulties have their place in the classroom and once we understand what each one is and what strategies and techniques we as teachers can use, children will be able to cope and function in the mainstream classroom. This is essentially the ideal world of inclusion. However, I realize that some learners with learning difficulties will not be able to thrive in mainstream education and therefore will need to attend specialized schools. I believe children's learning difficulties create wonderful opportunities for us as their teachers to teach other learners in our class about empathy and understanding for differences. Arguably, children are a lot more resilient than adults and they are a lot more understanding and accepting from a younger age. Having children in our class who have learning difficulties allows for an inclusive environment, which is something that is imperative in all schools and society. Why did I choose to go into this field of working with special needs children? I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and some of my teachers felt that school was not for me and that I would be better off in a special school or homeschooled. My mother was truly incredible. She understood that I was hyperactive and she knew that I struggled to focus, but she never believed that I wouldn't be able to cope in a school environment. Initially, I was in a mainstream school with large classes and teachers who did not know and understand learning difficulties. Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate enough to attend a private school with smaller class sizes, more skilled educators and better resources. For me it was my mother's resilience, her absolute trust in me, and her incredible patience in teaching me concepts, creating games and writing songs to help me learn the information to be able to succeed in school. Knowing that there was a vast influx of learners being diagnosed with learning difficulties, I wanted to provide them with the same support, nurturing and understanding I had received in order for them to succeed. Students who have learning difficulties possess an amazing ability to teach us things in a different view. They see concepts and they have ideas that are outside of the box of standard education. In my experience, most of the children I have worked with have ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and ASD (Asperger's Syndrome). Although we understand what dyslexia is, it is often difficult for teachers to truly grasp without putting him/herself in the shoes of those experiencing it. I have worked with other specialists and creating and delivering workshops where teachers are placed in a situation where they are given a text to read where the letters were moving, blurry or missing. In this simulation activity, the teachers are then asked questions. The activity raises awareness and helps teachers experience what difficulties their students face. With new and advanced technology, students with learning difficulties are able to function more independently and therefore more successfully. Some of the resources I use for students is ‘speech-to-text’ and audio books. Accommodations for incorrect spelling allow learners with dyslexia to achieve success in the classroom. Dyscalculia is another learning difficulty that is often misunderstood. How can a child understand a sum or a math problem one day and the next day has no idea how to do it? Knows all their times table one day and then does not have any idea? Allowing students to use calculators and formula sheets can alleviate stress. The learning environment that these learners are placed in needs to be one that is well structured and planned, as well as providing students with the ability for more freedom of movement and alternative learning spaces. Students with learning difficulties are able to see the world through different lenses and there are a variety of tools that we as teachers can use to help everyone understand and experience the world fully.