Children labelled as lazy by teachers and parents may have numerous learning difficulties that could underlie their apparent lack of motivation, a study by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) educational psychologist Dr Linda Gilmore has found.
Dr Gilmore, from QUT’s School of Learning and Professional Studies, studied 20 children aged 7 to 10 years old who were regarded as lazy by their parents and teachers and found that three-quarters of the children had phonologically-based learning disabilities and/or significant problems with attention.
"Reports by teachers that children ‘need to try harder’ or ‘make more effort’ and ‘apply themselves more’ often convey the stigma of laziness to children and their parents," said Dr Gilmore, a registered psychologist.
"Parents in the study reported their children seemed to have little interest in school, often failed to complete work and gave up very easily.
"For some children only one learning area was a problem, such as mathematics or reading, but homework was a major issue for many families who reported pleading, nagging and pushing their child ‘every step of the way’."
The children completed two standardised tests to provide diagnostic information about their cognitive and academic strengths and weaknesses, and basic reading, spelling, reading comprehension, writing and mathematics.
Depending on results of these two measures and the type of difficulties described by parents and teachers, the children were then assessed on more specific areas to pinpoint their particular problems.
"Only three children out of the 20 showed no particular difficulties," Dr Gilmore said.
"Half of the children were found to have clinical signs of inattention and/or hyperactivity, others were found to have anxiety issues, visual perceptual or fine motor problems, and eight children had clear signs of dyslexia."
Dr Gilmore said these unrecognised difficulties could have led the children to withdraw from learning experiences and appear lazy.
"These sorts of problems influence a child’s ability to learn effectively and their capacity to function appropriately within the classroom," she said.
"Early diagnosis of such learning problems is essential to prevent children from experiencing multiple failures that undermine their feelings of competence and self-esteem."
Dr Gilmore said early diagnosis was particularly important because learning and attention disorders in childhood had been linked to numerous adverse outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, including youth suicide.
Dr Gilmore and co-researcher Dr Gillian Boulton-Lewis’ findings were published in the December 2009 issue of the Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling.
(Source: Queensland University of Technology: Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling: April 2010)