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Your child’s slow-paced learning is okay

Your child’s slow-paced learning is okay

When the child’s developmental milestones are slower than the peers, the child could be a slow learner. But this can be managed with remedial classes and adapting the instructional style
Slow learners can perform well. Along with psychologists, special educators and teachers, parents act as the fourth wheel
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

In June 2016, at the onset of the academic year, Nikhil, 15, from Jaipur, knew his worst fears were nearing – the board exams. “I feared I would fail,” he tells Happiest Health. “I had prepared well, but I always find it difficult to understand the concepts taught in class.” But his parents assumed he was not investing enough time and effort, not realising that he was a slow-learning kid.

Nikhil is one of the many children who finds it difficult to understand what is taught in class despite repeated efforts to learn. “A level above 100 in an IQ test is termed as good. Slow learners are those streamlining between 70 and 85. The test involves a person’s response in numerical, logical reasoning, verbal and spatial intelligence,” explains Harshika Pareek, a psychotherapist and founder of Counselor’s Chair, a private therapy practice in Jaipur.

Nikhil’s IQ was below 85 and he had cognitive processing difficulties. Pareek points out that he was a slow learner. But simplifying the syllabus and giving remedial classes helped him understand complex concepts.


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How to identify slow-learning 

Pareek explains that if the child is taking more time to understand concepts taught in class compared to peers, despite putting in the effort, the child could be a slow learner. The delay could be in speech, hearing or understanding instructions as expected from a child of that age.

Academic performance and developmental milestones (cognitive and physical) are the easiest indicators for identifying slow learners, says Dr Shruthi NM, pediatric neurologist, First Neuro Hospital, Mangaluru.

Observation can help one identify these signs, according to Zoha Merchant, a counselling psychologist and founder of I Spy Hope, an organisation that helps with SEL (social emotional learning) for children in Bengaluru.

Analyse the gaps – tests for slow learners

Tanay, a six-year-old boy from Bengaluru, completed his first two years of schooling virtually (at home) due to Covid. His mother, Trisha Ramnath (34) recalls, “It was a challenge to get him to write his language homework and also read story books. We assumed this is due to the limitations of virtual classes.”

In almost a year of regular schooling, the teachers identified his difficulty with writing and reading certain English alphabet letters. Immediately, the school recommended expert intervention.

Academicians recommend it is also the teachers’ responsibility, along with parents, to identify a child’s learning gaps (if any). This helps early identification of issues in learning and/or behaviour. The learning gap is easily identifiable when a child of a certain age is unable to perform on par with peers of the same age group.

IQ tests, skill tests (that assess gross-motor skills and fine-motor skills), attention-related tests (assessed by engaging the child in any activity that demands their attention for two to three minutes) and communication tests are conducted. Next, learning disabilities or other physical deformities such as hearing and visual are ruled out.

In Tanay’s case, these tests were carried out through drawing and writing exercises, colouring sheets and a casual conversation in English with the counsellor. The mother says, “Once they ruled out learning disability, a special educator was appointed to help him with his academics for about six months. Additionally, he has been undergoing occupational therapy sessions and speech therapy sessions. He is gradually improving.”

How to deal with the dilemma

Dr Shruthi says that issues such as hearing or visual deficits can be corrected through technological and medical assistance. In these cases, one must consult an ENT specialist and/or ophthalmologist to correct hearing and/or vision issues respectively.

If the child has mild to moderate cognitive impairments (difficulty in understanding, learning, memory or recognition), it requires the intervention of clinical psychologists and special educators.

It is okay to be slow: acceptance is crucial

Slow learners can perform well. Along with psychologists, special educators and teachers, parents act as the fourth wheel.

  • Acceptance is the first crucial step for parents.
  • Consistent reinforcement is the next step.
  • Understand and adopt the same teaching style as adopted in school.
  • Repeat instructions and break down the instructions from complex to simple.

Educators share an equal responsibility

Considering the child spends a major amount of time in school, a teacher’s inclusive approach can help the slow learner adapt.

  • Personalised support is a must. Pareek says, “It is a good practice to provide visual, auditory and interactive instructions. Nikhil’s learning was supported with relevant visual aids along with interactive instructions that helped him understand the concepts better.”
  • Designing a simpler syllabus based on the comprehensive syllabus is the key.
  • Activity-based instructional style is the most suitable. “If a six-year-old has to be taught addition, using props such as balls or fruits or finger-counting helps,” says Merchant.

Appreciate the child and never compare

Pareek points out that slow learners just take more time to learn than their peers; It is not that slow learners cannot learn at all. “Teachers and parents should not consider their queries as lame or a joke, as this will discourage them from further queries.”

Ramnath recalls, “Tanay understands any concept well when taught with pictures. He is slow, but we give him the time.”


  1. Some children learn slower than others, which is okay.
  2. Focus on individualised support with visual, auditory and interactive instructions.
  3. Activity-based teaching can help slow learners the most.
  4. Appreciation and positive reinforcement are encouraging.

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