To snip (dis)order in your child's learning curve

GROWING UP

VARIED APPROACH NEEDED: Every child is not the same. Therefore every disorder needs to be handled differently . DH File Photo

Once a child is diagnosed and assessed by professionals it is important to provide relevant support and intervention. Let’s look at the approaches used to help children with various disorders.

Habit disorders
Habit disorders are repeated movements such as nail biting, head banging, self hitting, hand flapping, breath holding etc. Habit-like behaviour is normal for a developing child, for example, approximately one half of all two-year-old children engage in thumb sucking.

However, if this behaviour persists through childhood, the likelihood of it becoming a substantial problem may increase with age.

For nail biting:
* Coating the nails with a bad-tasting substance (sometimes in the form of a special nail polish).
* Wearing a rubber band on their wrist as a reminder and family members can snap it when they see nail biting.

Like other nervous habits, nail biting is sometimes a symptom of an emotional problem. In these cases, resolving the underlying problem can help to lessen or eliminate the nail biting habit.

For head banging:
* Helmets may be required for children with severe and persistent head banging, particularly those with clinically significant developmental disabilities.

Consultation with a developmental-behavioural paediatrician, child psychologist, and/or child psychiatrist may be indicated. Most of the childhood habits that do not involve self-injury are benign and disappear without any special intervention. When a habit persists and interferes with daily functioning, intervention is warranted. Behaviour therapy is the mainstay in the treatment for children with habit behaviours. The prognosis for reducing and eliminating habit disorders is typically good. Treatment research shows that behavioural intervention can reduce the habit behaviour by 90 per cent.

Behavioural problems
Every child will have an occasional ‘bad day’, and it is appropriate for young children to have high energy levels. But, if your child is experiencing persistent problems that interrupt his or her participation in school or interaction with other children, or, if your child shows signs of social withdrawal, an inability to focus their attention, or is impulsive and unduly aggressive, it may be time for you to seek professional help to determine what is going on. Treatment programs can take many forms and are best when specifically tailored for the child. They may include psychotherapy including cognitive-behavior therapy, or behavioral management training; parent education, social skills training, and family support services. If it is determined that your child needs medication in addition to the behaviourally based treatment it is often most effective if both types of treatment are employed together.

ADHD
The treatment of ADHD (Attention deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) includes:
n Pharmacological treatment where the doctor will recommend a daily dosage which can be short or long acting. After this initial dosage is set there may be a need for your doctor to increase or curb the dosage for the drug to have the desired effect. Results can vary from child to child so it is important that parents monitor and work with your doctor.

n A growing body of research points to nutritional deficiencies - especially with essential fatty acids and amino acids - as a contributing factor of Attention Deficit Disorder and learning deficiencies. Purdue University researchers have found that boys with low blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have a greater frequency of Attention Deficit Disorder. ADHD adults, as well as parents of ADHD children, should include food high in Omega-3 fatty acids daily such as rich salmon, mackerel and sardines.

n The most recommended approach is the multimodal approach. Although ADHD is relatively common, our knowledge of the problem is incomplete. Current ADHD treatment includes a mix of approaches, such as drug therapy, counseling, supportive services in schools and communities, and various combinations of the three.

Learning disabilities
If the child has been diagnosed with a learning disability, it is best to pursue an Individualized Education Programme (IEP), which is drawn up by a special educator. It states the current abilities of the child and the goals to be achieved both short term and long term. The IEP enables teachers, parents, and school administrators to design an educational programme customised to the child’s needs. Everyone has their own unique learning style. Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing. You can help your learning disabled child by identifying his or her primary learning style: Is your child a visual learner (prefers to see and learn), an auditory learner (prefers to say/hear and learn), or a kinesthetic learner (needs to do in order to learn)? Once you know how your child learns best, you can take steps to make sure that type of learning is reinforced in the classroom and during home study.

Another problem that may crop up is that within the family, siblings may feel that their brother or sister with a learning disability is getting more attention, less discipline and preferential treatment. Even if your other children understand that the learning disability creates special challenges, they can easily feel jealous or neglected. Parents can help curb these feelings by reassuring all of their children that they are loved, providing homework help, and by including family members in any special routines for the child with a learning disability.

Language difficulties
This is a complex area often overlooked. Children who don’t talk or talk later are usually defended by their parents with one excuse or the other. Some children may have difficulties in understanding language (receptive difficulties), some in using language (expressive difficulties), and some in both understanding and using language.  Some children do not develop speech and language as expected. They may experience difficulties with any or all aspects of speech and language - from moving the muscles which control speech to the ability to understand or use language at all. These difficulties can range from the mild to the severe and long-term. Sometimes these difficulties are unrelated to any other difficulty or disorder and are therefore said to be specific language difficulties. Some children may have both a specific language difficulty and other disabilities. Parents can refer their child to a speech and language therapist. They do not need a referral from a GP. Speech and language therapists will undertake assessments to identify difficulties which a child may have, following which speech and language therapy programme will be given to the child.

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