How does a learning difference affect behaviour?

The first indications that a child is experiencing problems at school can be misbehaviour. Day dreaming, not following instructions, not completing work, fidgeting and being disruptive. A behaviour problem in children with a learning difference is sometimes seen as a characteristic of their diagnosis.

Some behaviour problems may seem deliberate, but are actually a compulsive solution. They may become disruptive or the class clown. By disrupting the class they can avoid having to complete their work. The teacher sees this behaviour as deliberate and sends them out of the room as punishment to sit in the hallway. Success! They are now out of the confusion of the classroom. A behaviour that has worked at least once becomes the only way to do something, it becomes a compulsive solution. Being confused or frustrated triggers the compulsive solution.

The stress and frustration that occurs during the day will also appear at home, but may start out as a stomachache in the morning or even a headache. What starts off as being a way to avoid going to school again becomes a compulsive solution and becomes real.

Those with dyslexia and other related learning differences try very hard at school – or at least they start out that way. They try their hardest, but can’t produce the quality and quantity of work like their peers. In the beginning they don’t notice, but as they get older they do – and so do their classmates. This can lead to embarrassment, lowered self-esteem and frustration.

We need to understand why they behave in the way they do. A child with a learning difference like dyslexia usually has a great imagination and are often in a state of mind called disorientation. This is seen as day dreaming or zoning out, not paying attention.  When they are disoriented, they do not hear instructions properly, cannot complete work, are easily distracted and lose track of time.

It is natural to feel frustrated as a parent or teacher, often our reaction is to punish. When we understand that their disorientation is the cause of their behaviour, we then need to devise better ways of communicating with them, giving them the tools to help them to listen and remember.

Deliberate misbehaviour however should not go unpunished and they should be treated like any other student or sibling. They should be held accountable and know that their reaction is not an appropriate outcome. Here we need to teach consequence, cause and effect, before and after.

What can you do to help your child?

  • Praise them for good behaviour and small victories
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Being responsible for self, starts at home, give them some simple chores
  • Make visual reminders for chores, what to take to school etc
  • Encourage them to try new things that they can succeed at
  • Remember that the behaviour stems from the difficulty with learning, be prepared to look for help outside of school


“Thinking of your child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of your child as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through the process.”

I am a Facilitator of the Davis Dyslexia Programmes, if you have any questions about dyslexia or related learning differences please contact me at

[email protected]