Flag learning disabilities

Flag learning disabilities

Is low academic performance pushing you to consider a change of school for your child? Then wait. First find out if your child has a learning disability. Chethana Kini gives you tips on recognising the signs and symptoms that mark out a child with a learning difficulty.

Anita has just returned from her eight-year-old’s PTM. The teacher has complained that her daughter is impulsive, distracted and doesn’t complete her classwork. The teacher feels that the child should work on her handwriting and spellings.

Anita is confused that her daughter who is considered to be really bright by her extended family can have such difficulties. She feels maybe the class strength is high and hence individual attention to her daughter is not possible. She considers moving to an International school though it’s not within her budget.

Suraj, is fed up with homework time. His nine-year-old still struggles to read, is clumsy and seems unmotivated. Suraj has had several meetings with the school authorities but no one knows why the child is like this. Suraj has seen a new school’s ad which reads “We help every child learn because we teach how he learns”. He is also impressed that they have a multimedia setup, sports facilities etc. His boss is also moving his child to this school. Suraj has also applied.

Majid’s six-year-old had a speech delay, however he speaks well now. Majid’s wife is not educated in English. His son is struggling in school since he cannot understand English. He has neither picked up alphabets nor is able to read. Majid sends his child to a school where children with similar backgrounds go. They all have picked up reading and are comfortable in their grade 1. Majid feels that his child will benefit from a school where children from English speaking families go to.

12-year-old Satish has failed twice in his class 5. His teachers feel that he is bright but maybe the CBSE syllabus is too much for him. His parents feel that he is not a bright child and he won’t be able to achieve much. So they are thinking of admitting him to a State board school.

It is easy to interpret that the above problems stem from inadequacies in school. Though the Indian education system needs a complete makeover, we must remember that many of the top Indians have emerged from this system. In a class of 25 at least 18 sail through and manage in life with exposure from outside in their later years.  There are even stories of children raised in poverty and who still do well academically.

So in the same class, why aren’t these 7-8 children faring well? This can be attributed to several reasons. However, the most common ones are emotional problems / personal problems at home, lack of stimulation at home / school / preschool and learning difficulties.

Emotional problems may arise due to sibling rivalry, high parental expectations, fights at home, divorce, sexual assault, corporal punishments etc. Children also suffer from lack of stimulation, which can happen due to improper parenting, living conditions, excessive TV etc.

In this article, let us understand learning disabilities (LD)

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability affects your capacity to be taught or to communicate in some way. It can manifest itself in the way you listen, speak, write, reason or perform mathematical calculations.

There are different types of LD which can broadly be divided into three categories: academic skills disorder (problems with reading or writing), speech and language disorders (difficulties with pronunciation, articulation or understanding other people), and problems with motor skills and memory.

What causes it?

Generally, LD is related to the brain’s development before, during or soon after birth, in early childhood. It can also be due to nutritional, emotional, language or educational deprivation. LD also tends to run in families. Often, however, the cause is unknown. So it doesn’t help parents to look backward to search for possible reasons. There are too many possibilities to pin down the cause of the disability with certainty. It is far more important for the family to move forward in finding ways to get help for their child.   
Recognising the signs

Symptoms of LD can vary in each individual, and can span out from childhood through adolescence.

We can list some common red flags for learning disorders from the following checklist. Remember that children who don’t have learning disabilities may still experience some of these difficulties at various times. You need to be concerned only when there is a consistent unevenness in your child’s ability to master certain skills.

Preschool signs and symptoms

*Problems pronouncing words

*Trouble finding the right word

*Difficulty in rhyming

*Trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, colours, shapes, days of the week

*Difficulty following directions or learning routines

*Difficulty controlling crayons, pencils, and scissors or colouring within the lines

*Trouble with buttons, zippers, snaps, learning to tie shoes

*Difficulty paying attention, too quiet or too talkative, hyperactivity

Grades K-4 signs and symptoms n Trouble learning the connection between letters and sounds

* Unable to blend sounds to make words

*Confusing basic words when reading

*Consistently misspelling words and making frequent reading errors

*Trouble learning basic math concepts

*Difficulty in telling time and remembering sequences

* Slow in learning new skills

* Incomplete classwork, low motivation to do homework

* Does better with 1:1 attention

* Either bullies or is bullied

* Difficulty in organising, forgetful and clumsy

* Marked difference in oral tests vs written

Grades 5-8 signs and symptoms

*Difficulty with reading comprehension or math skills

*Trouble with open-ended test questions and word problems

*Dislikes reading and writing; avoids reading aloud

*Spells the same word differently in a single document

*Poor organisational skills (bedroom, homework, desk is messy and disorganised)

*Trouble following classroom discussions and expressing thoughts aloud

*Poor handwriting

*Poor self esteem, low motivation

*Fails or gets low marks consistently

*Cannot do independent study

My child does show some signs. What do I do next?

Learning disorders may be informally flagged by observing significant delays in the child’s skill development but a 2-year delay in the primary grades is usually considered significant. Actual diagnosis of LD, however, is made using standardised tests that compare the child’s level of academic ability to what is considered normal development for a person of that age and intelligence. In certain cases the services of a speech therapist, psychologist, physician, audiologist, neurologist etc. may be sought.

School change cannot be the solution to this. Enrolling in remedial classes can be a short-term solution. If the LD is mild then the child can continue in the mainstream with exemptions for language/math and also avail a reader/scribe.

Enrolling in a school specifically equipped to handle LD is also a good option. In Bangalore, Aurinko Academy, Brindavan Trust, Legacy, Sameeksha etc. are schools which have the Open Schooling (NIOS) route for these children to complete their Grade X. The certificate is considered on par with CBSE/ICSE and Secondary State Board.

Keep these in mind

*The learning problems of children who are quiet and polite in school may go unnoticed. Children with above average intelligence, who manage to maintain passing grades despite their disability, are even less likely to be identified. Children with hyperactivity, on the other hand, will be identified quickly by their impulsive behaviour and excessive movement.

*LD cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong issue. It is important to
remember that a person with a LD can learn. The disability usually only affects certain limited areas of a child’s development. In fact, rarely is LD severe enough to impair a person’s potential to live a happy, normal life.  With the right support and
intervention children with LD can succeed in school and go on to successful, often distinguished careers later in life.

*Parents can help children with LD achieve such success by encouraging their strengths, knowing their weaknesses, understanding the educational system, working with professionals and learning about their strategies for dealing with specific difficulties.