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Learning Difficulties: What Are The Warning Signs?

The biggest mistake that parents make when they notice their child may be experiencing a learning difficulty is to “wait it out because they think ‘children develop at their own pace,’” says Ashraf Samsudin, director of specialised educational services at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).  “Have them assessed immediately so they can get the help they need.”

Below is the DAS checklist for preschool teachers to help them identify potential learning difficulties in their students. Parents can also use this list as a way to informally assess their children, and if you find yourself answering “yes,” “sometimes,” or “always” to the following behaviours, do discuss your concerns with your child’s teachers and seek their advice on next steps. You may also contact the DAS to find out about their free screening test. The test takes only 15 minutes and results are available almost immediately.   

37802110 - chinese mother homeschooling her child teaching her daughter to write


  • Has difficulty learning to sing the alphabet song
  • Has difficulty learning nursery rhymes
  • Has difficulty picking up the sounds of letters despite repeated teaching
  • Has difficulty isolating sounds in words
  • Has difficulty blending sounds to make words
  • Has poor auditory discrimination, or mishears similar-sounding words (e.g. bad/bed, fifteen/fifty)


  • Likes listening to stories but shows no interest in reading
  • Guesses wildly at words
  • Has difficulty recognising familiar words
  • Substitutes words of similar meaning when reading aloud (e.g. road for street)
  • Gets confused over similar-looking words (e.g. on/no, was/saw)

Writing & Spelling

  • Has difficulty writing letters of the alphabet
  • Has difficulty writing own name
  • Has difficulty learning to spell
  • Mirror-writes letters and numbers (e.g. b/d, p/q, m/w, 6/9)
  • Has poor handwriting (e.g. poor formation, alignment of letters, or poor spacing)
  • Writes poorly compared to spoken language ability
  • Is noticeably more frustrated during reading/writing-related tasks as compared to during play time


  • Started speaking later than other children
  • Gets the sounds in words mixed up (e.g. says “beddy tear” for “teddy bear”)
  • Cannot seem to remember the labels for known objects
  • Finds it difficult to express thoughts
  • Communicates more with gestures rather than words
  • Has difficulty telling and/or retelling a story in the correct sequence
  • Says irrelevant things during conversations
  • People who do not know your child well have difficulty understanding what he says

Motor Skills

  • Is unusually clumsy
  • Does not seem to be well-coordinated (e.g. difficulty catching a ball, skipping)
  • Has difficulty cutting along lines with a scissors


  • Appears intelligent but is surprisingly poor in learning
  • Finds it hard to carry out two or more instructions at a time (e.g. put the toys in the box, then put it on the shelf) but is fine if tasks are presented one at a time
  • Has difficulty keeping rhythm or clapping a simple rhythm
  • Performs well on some days and poorly on other days for no apparent reason
  • Has difficulty sitting still on a chair for more than five minutes
  • Cannot concentrate for more than 20 minutes
  • Cannot wait to take turns
  • Has trouble interacting with peers
  • Forgets names of friends, teachers, colours, etc.
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