How to succeed with disability

Last Updated : 14 March 2012, 17:40 IST
Last Updated : 14 March 2012, 17:40 IST

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Have you been struggling to deal with your child’s learning disability? Geetha Bhat offers help.

How do you explain concepts to a student who struggles to read, write, spell or learn Math, although he/she does not have mental retardation, emotional problems or educational disadvantages and has normal vision, hearing and language capabilities?

One explanation could be that the student has a learning disability.  It is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities.

These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to a central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across one’s life span.  Most definitions agree that students with learning disabilities are at least average in intelligence, but have significant academic problems and perform significantly below what would be expected.

Students with learning disabilities are not all alike. The most common characteristics are specific difficulties in one or more academic areas — poor coordination, an attention deficit, hyperactivity and impulsiveness; problems organising and interpreting visual and auditory information; disorders of thinking, memory, speech and hearing and difficulties keeping and making friends.  In fact, students with other disabilities (such as Attention Deficit Disorder) and normal students may have some of the same characteristics.

Now, not all students with learning disabilities will have these problems, and few will have all of the above-mentioned problems. 

Some psychologists believe that the learning disability label is overused and abused.  Some students may just be slow learners in school, average learners in high-achieving schools, students with second-language problems, or students who are behind in academics for various social and economic reasons.

Early diagnosis is important so that students with learning disabilities do not become terribly frustrated and discouraged.  These kids are usually at a loss, wondering why they have trouble with learning and become the victims of learned helplessness.

Diagnosing disabilities

Assessment is an important step in diagnosing learning disabilities. Find helpful information on special education, diagnosis, and work with schools throughout the assessment process and beyond.

Here are some tips for parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities
nPraise the child when he/she does well. Children with learning disabilities are often very good at a variety of things. Find out what your child really enjoys doing, such as dancing, playing soccer, or working with computers. Give your child plenty of opportunities to pursue his strengths.

nFind out ways the child learns best. Does he/she learn by hands-on practice, looking, or listening? Help your child learn through his or her areas of strength.
nBreak tasks into smaller steps, and giving directions verbally and in writing
nAllow assignments to be typed, taped or dictated

*Increase the time allowed or decrease the amount of work load

*Omit handwriting as a criterion for evaluating reports

*Construct tests that require minimal writing such as multiple-choice or matching

*Provide opportunities for group projects, peer tutoring and/or learning centres

*Allow the use of calculators or other manipulative aids

*It can be tough to face the possibility that a child has a learning disorder. No parent wants to see his or her child suffer. You may wonder what it could mean for your child’s future, or worry about how your kid will make it through school. Perhaps you’re concerned about your child’s learning problems being labeled ‘slow’ or assigned to a less challenging class.

But the important thing to remember is that most kids with learning disabilities are just as smart as everyone else. They just need to be taught in ways that are tailored to their unique learning styles. By learning more about learning disabilities and your child’s learning difficulties in particular, you can help pave the way for success at school and beyond.

(The author is a child mental health practitioner.)

Published 14 March 2012, 12:39 IST

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