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Some slow learners didn't receive stimulation in early years

August 07, 1997|By James Dobson

Question: What causes a child to be a "slow learner"?

Dr. Dobson: There are many hereditary, environmental and physical factors that contribute to one's intellect, and it is difficult to isolate the particular influences. For many children who have difficulty in school, we never will know precisely why their ability to learn is limited. Let me tell you what is now known about intellectual development that may explain some - but not all - cases of learning deficits.

Accumulating evidence seems to indicate that some children who are slow learners and even those who have borderline retardation may not have received proper intellectual stimulation in their very early years. There appears to be a critical period during the first three to four years when the potential for intellectual growth must be seized. There are enzyme systems in the brain that must be activated during this brief window. If the opportunity is missed, the child never may reach his capacity.

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Children who grow up in deprived circumstances are more likely to be slow learners. They may not have heard adult language regularly. They have not been provided with interesting books and puzzles to occupy their sensory apparatus. They have not been taken to the zoo, the airport, or other exciting places. They have not received daily training and guidance from adults. This lack of stimulation may inhibit the brain from developing properly.

Parents must understand the difference between stimulation and pressure. Providing books for a 3-year-old is stimulating. Ridiculing and threatening him because he can't read them is pressuring.

If early stimulation is as important as it now appears, then the lack thereof may be a leading cause of learning impairment among children. Parents should take time and invest their resources in their children.

James Dobson is president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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