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Ask Susan: Is Dad’s Death to Blame for Learning Problems?

Dear Susan

My name is Halowine and I’d like to tell you about my grandson’s problem.

When he was two-and-a-half years old he lost his father in a very brutal way: The place that they were living in burned down with the dad in it, and that man really meant a lot to my grandson even at such a young age. His dad was working at Lewis Stores and he made it his task to get his son dressed and ready for crèche each day. They shared a bond that couldn’t be broken!

As he grew up I could see that something is not right with him. He is 10 years old and currently in grade three and he is not coping. The school has had him assessed by a psychologist and they have decided to send him to a school for slow learners. I went to have a look at his books a few days ago and it is so heartbreaking for me to see that he gets marks like 0/10 in all his tasks.

I am desperately looking for a solution to his problem because I am convinced that there is one. Please can you give me some advice on this matter, how do I go about making a difference in his life.



Dear Halowine

I am deeply touched by your story. I can only imagine how much pain this father’s death has brought his family and friends, and especially his son.

Experiencing trauma can have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our minds, even years after the event occurred. This does not exclude young children. When young children experience or witness a traumatic event, adults often think they’re too young to be affected. However, young children are affected by traumatic events, even though they may not understand what has happened.

Has your grandson’s loss been dealt with adequately?

My first concern would be to ensure that your grandson’s loss has been dealt with adequately. Thus, if you suspect that this tragedy is still impacting him, I encourage you to seek help from a psychologist or counsellor who specializes in trauma counseling.

Language problems and deficiencies in cognitive skills

My second concern is your grandson’s learning difficulties. Of course it is too complex to understand exactly how much this tragedy, and the changed circumstances following this event, have contributed to his learning problems. Unfortunately we cannot change the past but we can better the future.

A child who struggles so much usually has language problems as well as deficiencies in cognitive skills. Language is generally taught and assessed in terms of four skills:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

Cognitive skills are mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge. Cognitive skills include:

  • Concentration
  • Processing
  • Memory
  • Reasoning

These skills have shown to separate the good learners from the average and poor learners. In essence, when cognitive skills are strong, learning is fast and easy. When cognitive skills are weak, learning becomes a challenge.

There’s good news

The great news is that weak cognitive skills can be improved, strengthened and enhanced, which in turn opens the door to improve language skills such as listening, reading and writing. Edublox Online Tutor offers multisensory cognitive training that enables learners to overcome reading problems and learning challenges and reach their full potential.

Edublox Reading Tutor aims at improving the cognitive skills that are foundational to reading and spelling, including concentration, visual and auditory processing, memory and reasoning ability. The program also comprises a comprehensive exercise aimed at teaching reading and spelling, and at expanding vocabulary.

Before starting Reading Tutor one needs to select the introductory level for the learner. Choose one of three: Basic, Intermediate or Advanced. Examples of the words in each level are provided — two start-up words and two words more toward the end.

  • Basic: 2-4 letter words, starting with at and hop, and ending with twig and hope.
  • Intermediate: 4-9 letter words, starting with kite and straight, and ending with continue and encourage.
  • Advanced: 6-15 letter words, starting with thwart and rhythm, and ending with ophthalmologist and extraordinaire.

Based on your email I recommend that you start at the Basic level.

Best wishes,


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Send your questions to [email protected]. Skype name: susanpilot.

Try to give as much detail as possible when sending your questions. Include your child’s age and grade and the specific problems that you have noticed, which concern you.

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More about Susan

Susan is an educational specialist in the field of learning problems and dyslexia and has a B.A. Honors in Psychology and B.D. degree from the University of Pretoria. Early in her professional career Susan was instrumental in training over 3000 teachers and tutors, providing them with the foundational and practical understanding to facilitate cognitive development amongst children who struggle to read and write. With over 25 years of research to her name Susan conceptualized the Edublox teaching and learning methods that have helped thousands of children who were struggling academically to read, learn and achieve. In 2007 Susan opened the first Edublox reading and learning clinic and now there are 25 Edublox clinics internationally. Her proudest moments are when she sees a child who had severe learning difficulties come top of their class after one or two years at Edublox. Susan always takes time to collect the ‘hero’ stories of learners whose self-esteem is lifted as their marks improve.