One size does not fit one and all!

Growing Up


At A Loss: Often teachers do not realise that every child is different. Dh File Photo

All experienced teachers can broadly group children on the first day itself into children who do not pay attention, children who cannot sit still, children who are upto mischief, children who are anxious and children who seem slow to learn. These descriptions fall broadly into the areas of attention, hyperactivity, behaviour problems, emotional problems and learning difficulties.

Often teachers do not realise that each category is separate and should not be mixed with the others. Therefore, when faced with a new class, the best approach is to observe carefully and mentally group children based on their strengths and weaknesses. Correct grouping, for example, placing an overactive or aggressive child near the teacher, or giving more time to a child who is slow to pick up, leads the way to correct adaptation of the environment and ultimately enhances learning in every child.

Being clear about the reasons for a child’s problems is the first crucial step to helping the situation. Too often we hear older experienced teachers wave off a child as ‘naughty’ or ‘wilful’ or ‘brazen’. Special educators smile at such descriptions as they are too simplistic a way of shaking off a child. Such a child may actually be in need of mild medication to maintain calmness, or may need to be taught in a way that is different from what the teacher is insisting on or may need behavioural modification. Thus behind such adjectives are symptomatic psychological and educational diagnoses which need to be addressed.

Thus, let us look at the main possibilities that most teachers will be faced with in the first term of the academic year:

Attention Deficit

Teachers of young children need to be on lookout for signs of unusual attention problems. While it's normal for five and six-year-olds to be active, those with real attention problems may have unusual difficulty following directions and completing simple projects. Apart from being inattentive, some children may be overactive as well. There are quiet calm inattentive children, as well as inattentive children who cannot sit still.

Inattention may not become apparent until a child enters the challenging environment of school.

Hyperactivity

Signs of ADHD (Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder) often begin showing up in kindergarten, a child's first school experience that demands a higher level of learning and cognitive skills. Parents of such children will be able to tell you how weary they have been for the last few years because of the high energy levels of the child and the tension they cause by their impulsive nature. Many parents and teachers tend to think an unfocused six-year-old will just grow out of it. They might, after another six years! In the meantime, it is important to address the issue and accept the problem.

Symptoms of ADHD:

* Easily distracted, and frequently interrupting ongoing tasks to attend to trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others.
* Inability to sustain attention on tasks or activities.
* Difficulty finishing schoolwork or paperwork or performing tasks that require concentration.
* Frequent shifts from one uncompleted activity to another.
* Forgetfulness in daily activities (for eg., forgetting to bring lunch or pack books or wear the badge)
* Frequent shifts in conversation, not listening to others and not following details or rules of activities in social situations.
In very young preschoolers and early primary school level the symptoms include:
* Unable to sit still, constantly fidgeting.
* Getting up frequently to walk or run around.
* Running when one can walk, jumping whenever possible.
* Having difficulty playing quietly or engaging in quiet activities.
* Often talking excessively.
*Gets hurt often.

Behavioural problems

Young children will tend to react to stressful situations with impaired physiological functions such as feeding and sleeping disturbances. Older children may exhibit relationship disturbances with friends and family, poor school performance, behavioural regression to an earlier developmental stage, development of specific psychological disorders such as a phobia or psychosomatic illness.

It can be difficult to assess whether the behaviour of such children is normal or sufficiently problematical to require intervention. Judgement will need to take into account the frequency, range and intensity of symptoms and the extent to which they cause impairment.

Habit disorders

These include a range of phenomena that may be described as tension reducing such as thumb sucking, nail biting, breath holding, head banging, hair pulling etc.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety and fearfulness are part of normal development, however, when they persist and become generalised they can develop into socially disabling conditions and require intervention.

Learning disabilities

Learning disabilities involve difficulties in concentration or attention, language development, or visual and aural information processing. Specific learning disabilities affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or focus attention on a task. These disabilities include problems in reading, mathematics, spelling, written expression or handwriting, and understanding or using verbal and nonverbal language.

Mild to moderate learning disabilities are usually not recognised until school age, children may have trouble learning the alphabet and may be delayed in activities like colour naming, labelling or identifying objects, counting, letter naming etc. Affected children may not understand what is read, have very messy handwriting or hold a pencil awkwardly, have trouble organising or beginning tasks or retelling a story in sequential order, or confuse math symbols and misread numbers.

Disturbances or delays in expressive language or listening comprehension are predictors of academic problems beyond the preschool years.

Better soone r than later

In the first term itself, it is every teacher’s duty to present a list of children who are having difficulties in various areas to both the head of staff as well as to the principal. Parents need to make the school accountable for early identification. Informing a parent at class five that the child has all along had problems is inacceptable.

When the staff are alert, the principal becomes aware of the magnitude of the problem and will usually set up learning support services.

Coping with each diagnosis requires different approaches, methods and long term goal planning. That is the second step. The first step is to ensure early identification.

(Read about the different approaches available to deal with these problems in the next supplement)

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