Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




King, Colin


Significant learning challenges can manifest years before children are often eligible to be diagnosed with a Learning Disability (LD). Without a formal diagnosis, many children are often limited in the resources and supports that may receive and critical opportunities for early intervention are missed. This study sought to understand and assess the impact of learning challenges experienced by school-aged children (Grades 1 to 9) who had not yet formally received a diagnosis. Ten parents were recruited from London, Ontario and its surroundings counties (Elgin, Middlesex, Oxford) who were caring for children with significant learning challenges. Data were collected using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodology. Study participants completed a range of standardized measures to assess the severity of children’s challenges across academic, behavioural, socio-emotional and familial domains. A semi-structured interview was also used to explore parent’s caregiving experiences and perceptions of self-determination. Descriptive data indicated that children and their families were significantly impacted by learning challenges notwithstanding formal diagnostic recognition of their challenges. Qualitative content analysis revealed three overarching themes. These included parent’s knowledge and understanding of children’s learning challenges, prominent caregiving needs and available supports. Parents perceptions supported the concept of self-determination as illustrated by specific behaviors of children in this sample. Results highlight continued areas of improvement in how supports are provided for children with learning challenges across school, community, and professional services.

Summary for Lay Audience

Children are impacted by learning challenges years before they can be diagnosed with a Learning Disability (LD). In many provinces, an official LD diagnosis is required to be considered eligible for various supports and services. This study will demonstrate the experiences of school-aged children (Grades 1 to 9) with learning challenges and their families before receiving a formal diagnosis. We recruited 10 families from London, Ontario and its surrounding counties (Elgin, Oxford and Middlesex) to participate. Study participants completed a series of questionnaires and took part in a short interview. Questionnaires measured parents perceptions of the impact of the child's learning challenges on academic, behavioural, social, emotional, and familial domains. The interview explores parent's views on caregiving children impacted by learning challenges. We asked questions about their child's everyday caregiving needs, parent's knowledge and understanding of learning challenges, parent's main concerns in caregiving, and their child's supports. We also asked parents to discuss behaviours that show their child is able to act independently. Our results show the effects that learning challenges have on children and their families, and highlights areas where supports could improve to better meet the needs of children impacted by learning challenges and their families.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.