WHAT IS A SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY?
A child with a specific learning disability (SLD) typically does badly in school though they often have normal or above average intelligence. Having a learning disability affects a child’s ability to deal with information, to read, write, speak, do maths and build relationships with others. Dyslexia is a learning disability in the area of reading. It is estimated that 10% of all school going children are learning disabled.
WHAT CAUSES LEARNING DISABILITIES?
The exact cause is not known, but research has shown that in many cases, dyslexia runs in families. Many children who have difficulty learning early reading skills also have problems in hearing individual sounds in words, analyzing whole words by breaking them into parts and blending sounds into words.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS TO LOOK FOR?
If your child often shows many of the problems given below, this may mean that he has SLD.
IN A PRESCHOOLER (3-6 years)
- Late talking compared to other children
- Difficulty learning the sounds each letter makes in English e.g. “b” says “buh”
- Mixing up of syllables within words (e.g. says ”pollyop” for “lollipop”)
- Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word (e.g. says “that thing to cut” instead of “knife”)
- Difficulty with rhyming words: cannot say what rhymes with “cat” (mat, fat) or “rain” (pain, gain)
- Trouble learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, names of colours
- Difficulty remembering what comes before or after a certain number, which number is greater or smaller
- Extremely restless and easily distracted
- Trouble interacting with peers
- Poor ability to follow directions or routines
AT PRIMARY LEVEL (6-11 years)
- Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds (e.g. that “b” makes the “buh” sound)
- Slow recall of facts
- Trouble learning about time
- Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left) and substitutions (house/home)
- Transposes number sequences (e.g. 21 for 12) and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
- Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorisation
- Lack of planning, acts without thinking of consequences
- Unstable pencil grip
- Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents
HOW CAN A CHILD WITH SLD BE HELPED?
If parents suspect that their child may be learning disabled they can:
- Observe and collect information about the child’s performance: Meet the child’s teachers to understand his school performance.
- Observe the child’s ability to study, do homework and finish tasks.
- Have the child assessed by a trained professional: A thorough assessment by a psychologist and language pathologist can measure the child’s strengths and weaknesses in learning. Hearing and vision testing is also very important.
- Focus on the child’s strengths while helping him with his difficulties: Children with learning disabilities are often very good in other areas e.g. they may be good leaders or may be good at creative arts or sports.
- Talk to the child about his disability with honesty and optimism: Explain to him that even though learning is difficult, he can still succeed. Tell the child that having SLD is not his fault and that you know his it trying his best.
CAN CHILDREN WITH LEARNING DISABILITY IMPROVE?
School performance can improve through remedial education programs that focus on sharpening reading, writing or spelling skills. Ideally the school must have a trained remedial teacher and a resource room, where the child can go in order to get individual attention in academics during school hours. This program starts at the child’s level of ability and gradually becomes more challenging, as the child gains confidence. Remedial education is not the same as tuitions, where the child is taught whatever is done in class at a slower pace, with repetition. The remedial program uses different methods that are designed according to the child’s strengths and difficulties in a particular area. The child is taught in the way he learns best, using games, puzzles, art and other fun activities. Good communication and sharing of responsibilities between teachers and parents is vital.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS PROVIDED FOR CHILDREN WITH SLD?
The Dept. of Education, Govt. of Goa has a Special Needs Scheme, under which children with SLD are eligible to receive financial aid, as well as academic concessions in school. The child needs a certificate from the Institute of Psychiatry & Human Behavior, Goa Medical College, Bambolim to avail of these benefits. The scheme also provides grants to schools to start resource rooms staffed by trained remedial teachers.