Detecting learning disabilities

Detecting learning disabilities

Identifying children with learning disabilities early on ensures maximum benefit from remedial measures, observes Shivananda Nayak.

Although a good number of children in India are found to be with learning disabilities (LD), there’s no proper mechanism among parents and educators to identify them and impart special education. So, identifying children with learning disabilities and helping them out is an inevitable challenge to modern-day parents and teachers to ensure quality education for all.

Usually, children are taken for assessment only when the problem starts impairing the academic performance to a severe degree. As those assessments are done in the department of psychology or psychologists, parents show a lot of reluctance to approach them, too. A study from NIMHANS noted that the mothers of children identified with LD were at least college graduates.

In other words, when the parents are better educated the chances of them being open to such assessment are greater.

Often parents discuss the problem with pediatricians and when refered to a psychiatrist or psychologist, either they drop the topic or the doctor. Whether educated or not, when children show early signs of LD, parents tend to neglect them or force themselves to believe that there is no problem.

“They will pick up as they move to higher classes,” is a common refrain. Later when the child is unable to produce the expected academic performance they are sent to tuitions. In some cases they are sent to ‘memory’ and ‘personality development’ trainings which only make a short term impact, emptying parent’s pockets.

Some go to the extent of putting the child in a boarding school. The child suffers permanent damage both academically and emotionally. Failing to match up to parents’ expectations children may even resort to the extreme step of committing suicide, which are common around exam results’ time.

Indicators of LD

A large number of children brought with ‘handwriting problems’ are seen to be children with LD. The handwriting problems can range from gross illegibility to unorganized writing, spelling errors, incomplete notes / homework, non-completion of exam papers, slow writing, reluctance to write, confusion between letters (for example, between b, d, & p) etc.

Added to this, the child may have problems with maths, reading, restlessness in the class or at home, poor attention span (not applicable to watching TV) and the like. Yet, they are found to be active and normal in other activities, like operating a new mobile phone, computer, remembering movie songs, sports etc.

Yes, they are intelligent and have good IQ scores. But fail in certain other aspects. Some common complaints from parents are, ‘they do it deliberately’, ‘they are lazy’, ‘it’s because of watching too much TV’ and so on.

However, handwriting can only be an indicator and not a conclusive evidence for LD. The child will have to be assessed in detail to confirm the problem, type and also the extent.

Children can have problems with reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), maths (dyscalculia), spelling etc. Sometimes there can be two or more types coexisting. Only after confirming the type and extent of the problem, the remedial teaching can be planned.

Early detection, maximum benefit

Though there are no specific studies to prove the prevalence, it is estimated that about 20% to 25% of children in India may be having this problem to some degree or other.
LD affects the child mostly during his/her academic days as s/he not only has to learn but also reproduce this learning in the form of qualifying examinations.

While the problem of LD may not be overcome completely, once the individual takes up a vocation the impact is felt less.  In USA corporate trainers have to prepare their training materials keeping in mind people with LD. It is estimated that about 10 -15% of the trainees may have had LD.

A lot of work needs to be done in sensitizing both, the parents and teachers / schools, regarding the issue so that LD is detected early. Remedial measures are seen to benefit the child only when the problem is detected early.

According to Dr Venkatesan, HoD, AIISH, Mysore, who is an expert in the field, “The child can be trained to overcome the problem, to about 90% when detected before reaching 4th Grade, about 50% when detected before reaching 8th Grade, and very little can be done once a child reaches high school level. Nonetheless these children can be helped with the use of provisions that are given to them under various laws (like RTE).”

Provisions

Here is a list of some benefits/exemptions, mandated by United Nations Convention for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), provisions under persons with disabilities (Equal) opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act (1995) and Right to Education Act (2009) for children with recognizable disadvantages.

*Provision for extra individualized coaching

* Objective type simplified questions and exercises (such as match the following, one word answers, true/ false statements etc) during examination in place of ‘long’ and descriptive answers.

* Learner paced individualized and activity based curriculum.

*No denial of admission

* Prohibition of holding back, detention and expulsion

* Integration with “normal” school going children for pursuit of regular school education

*Non-discrimination in provision of opportunities, school admission and inclusion in regular academic programs

* Barrier-free environment by elimination of physical, psychological or attitudinal tests that prevent the child from having access to normal education

* Non-use of physical or psychological punishment, and pressure provoking practices either intended or otherwise.

It goes without saying that to implement the above provisions every school needs to have a trained special educator who also need to know how to identify LD. With schools focused on producing 100% pass and high scores, children with LD (not even identified) are left in the lurch.

Many a school management have dirtied their hands to achieve such results consistently. They adapt to covert tactics to eliminate such students once they reach 8th or 9th grade.

Sensitizing the school managements and teachers can save the ordeal of the children with LD. Parents with awareness can stand for the rights of their children.

(The writer is a psychologist, graphologist and corporate soft-skill trainer.)

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