Dealing with LDs: Helping your child with Learning Disability at school

If your child has been assessed with a learning disability, you need to find the right school to support his special learning needs, to maximise his learning potential and prepare him for the future.

By Dr Meghna Singhal

Dealing with LDs: Helping your child with Learning Disability at school

The teacher asks Shitij to come to the blackboard to solve a math problem. On his way to the blackboard, Shitij, who struggles with dyscalculia and low self-confidence, punches a classmate without provocation. The teacher punishes Shitij. She does not realise that his behaviour was probably precipitated by his fear that he would not be able to solve the problem and would be embarrassed in front of his classmates. He, therefore, prefers to deal with his teacher’s anger (and the subsequent punishment), rather than face the humiliation of not knowing how to solve the maths problem.

In dealing with a child with any Learning Disability (LD), it is important for you, as a parent, to remember that any child would prefer to be viewed as disruptive or disobedient, rather than being viewed as incompetent or incapable. Thus, it is up to you to avoid labelling (or even perceiving) the child with LD as dumb.

Any child would prefer to be viewed as bad than dumb!

It is also important to understand that most children with LD are just as intelligent as their peers but their brains are simply wired differently for learning. They need to be taught in ways that are best tailored to how they process information.
When children with LD receive help early, it significantly improves their chances to learn strategies that will enable them to succeed in school. Realms of research has found that among children with dyslexia, a majority of those who do not receive help by grade 3, will struggle with reading throughout life. But if these children receive help by grade 1, almost all of them will achieve age-appropriate reading ability. Let us examine how you could help your child with LD access this help by choosing the right school.

To know more about Specific Learning Disabilities, click here.
To know more about accepting your child with a Learning Disability, click here.

Choosing your child’s school

As a parent of a child with LD, you need to find the right school for your child. Depending on the severity of your child’s difficulties, you could choose between a mainstream school that offers inclusive education, or a special school for children with special learning needs. Let’s understand more about these two school options for your child:
Special school refers to a learning space where children with similar kinds of disabilities study together. If the child’s difficulties are severe, you could opt for a special school. Depending on the child’s progress, you could switch to an inclusive or mainstream school, if necessary.
Inclusive school is defined as a learning space where both children with and without learning disabilities study in the same class. The objective is to make classrooms equitable for all students despite their differences. If a child has mild to moderate difficulties, an inclusive school is the best option.
When evaluating a mainstream or inclusive school for your child with LD, ask the following questions:

  • Is the school staff trained to work with conditions like LD and are they willing to support these children? Speak not only to the principal and school staff, but also speak to parents of other students with LD to assess the sensitivity of the school
  • Does the school have special education support such as remedial teachers, counsellors, and psychologists on board? If not, does it have tie-ups for easy referral to occupational therapists, sensory and integration therapists, and speech and language therapists?
  • If the school does have special educators, does it have the capacity to provide remedial instruction (see below for more details on this)?
  • Is the school open to discussion about the child’s current level of performance, the child’s needs, and his progress? Does it keep the parents involved in the child’s academic journey?
  • How is the teacher-student ratio? It should ideally be 1:5 or maximum 1:10

What is a Remedial Teaching Program?

A Remedial Teaching Program (RTP) provides learning support to students with LD. It entails adapting the school curricula and teaching strategies to suit the unique requirements of each student with LD.
Whether the student is in an inclusive classroom or in a special education setting, the focus is on specific and individualised remedial instruction for students who are struggling with learning.
The flowchart below demonstrates the process of development and delivery of a RTP.

Dealing with LDs: Helping your child with Learning Disability at school

Understanding Remedial Teaching Strategies

As a parent of an LD child, it is important for you to understand some of the key strategies used to help a child with LD succeed in school.

1. Individualised Education Plan (IEP)
An IEP is a planning tool and written record, tailor-made for each student with LD. It takes into account the following:

  • Information on LD assessment results
  • Relevant medical/health information
  • Accommodations required
  • Special education and related services
  • Assessment of strategies used in student’s progress
  • Life skills or vocational skills required (if the student is 14 years or above)

Monitoring the IEP is an ongoing process, and changes are made as often as required. The school should collaborate with the parents in developing an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) for each student with LD.

2. Accommodations
These are some alterations that can be made in the learning environment to help students with LD take in information and communicate back their learning. These could include:

  • Classroom alterations (seating the child in front, providing a space with minimal distractions, and so on)
  • Class or homework alterations (individualising assignments, alterations in length of assignment, quantity, due date, and so on)
  • Timing alternations (allowing frequent breaks, extending allotted time for a test and so on)
  • Examination alterations (oral examinations, help in reading of question paper, allowance for spelling errors and so on)

It is important to understand that accommodations don’t constitute an unfair advantage to students. Assignments and tests completed with accommodations are graded in the same way as those completed without them. In fact, if timely accommodations are not made, students could be labelled, which in turn leads to stigma and causes a serious dent to their self-confidence and academic achievement.

3. Modifications
These are the changes in the delivery, content, or instructional level of the subject matter or tests. Unlike accommodations, modifications to content may change or lower expectations. This tends to create different standards for children with LD from others in the same class. For example, a grade 5 child with LD may still be working on addition and subtraction (of grade 2 level), because he isn’t ready to learn fractions and decimals.

4. Peer Support Programme (PSP)
More suitable for students of higher grades, PSPs entail training students who perform better in a particular subject to guide those facing difficulty in a subject. This could take the form of self-study sessions, group teaching, or study sessions outside the classroom. A PSP not only helps students with LD in their areas of difficulty, it also helps their peers develop crucial communication and interpersonal skills.

Accommodations by CBSE

The following concessions are provided by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for students diagnosed with LD in India:

  • Provision of a scribe
  • 25% additional time for completion of examination paper
  • Oral tests along with written tests up to Class IX, and promotion based on the average of both
  • Exemption from second and third languages
  • Flexibility in choosing subjects
  • Standards of Arithmetic are relaxed as per the level of the child
  • Permission to use calculators
  • Exemption from diagrams, charts, and graphs
  • Direction errors in geography and other subjects to be ignored

Students with dyslexia also receive provision for the question paper to be read out to them. They are also exempted from spelling errors and writing answers in detail.

Questions to keep in mind while evaluating the school’s RTP

Step 1: Has your child with LD been assessed?
Assessment includes a thorough evaluation of the child’s learning style, learning needs, strengths, and interests.

Step 2: Have the goals and expectations been chalked out?
The goals to be achieved and specific expectations for the current academic year of the child with LD are formulated after Step 1 is complete. In this process, the student’s current level of achievement should also be taken into account.
It’s is also important to provide ample opportunities for independent and well-designed exercises for more intensive practice - an key way to help a student acheive her learning goals. This helps foster a sense of achievement in the child and makes it easier for her advance further in her learning. For example, while giving homework, emphasis could be laid on application of the concept taught in class. If addition of 2 digit numbers has been mastered, homework could include instructing the child to take a shopping list and add the price of all the items purchased.

Parents and professionals dealing with special needs children must consistently recognise that their methods, strategies, and approaches must be child-oriented. It is the needs of the students that should determine the curriculum … it is not the responsibility of the child to adapt to the curriculum. If children can't learn the way that we teach … we must teach the way that they learn.
Laurence Lieberman, education consultant

Step 3: Have curriculum adaptations been made?
Curriculum adaptations help accommodate the learning characteristics and requirements of the students with LD. A common example of such an adaptation is classifying textbook content as core and non-core, in line with the teaching objectives and the student’s ability. Core content would involve in-depth learning and application on topics which are considered basic and important. For example, in arithmetic, knowledge of multiplication and division is considered core because it is important for use in everyday life. On the other hand, non-core content is that which is not essential for everyday living, such as trignometry - it could be streamlined or selectively taken up for learning.

Step 4: Do teachers make adaptations in teaching strategies and materials?

  • Theory-heavy teaching, which is devoid of application, does not work with students with LD. Instead, teachers should look to diversify teaching activities to enable the students to participate actively during the learning process. For example, discussions, oral reporting, games, oral quizzes, role play, field trips, and experiments - these may help enhance a student’s interest in learning and stimulate his thinking
  • Use of appropriate teaching aids and materials help consolidate a student’s learning. Examples include use of models, figures, concrete objects, number cards, word cards, sand tray, or audio-visual equipment
  • A well-designed learning environment is also crucial, especially to capture a student’s attention and facilitate an interest in learning. A teaching environment that is pleasant, comfortable, and stimulating will help support remedial teaching. For example, setting up a self-learning corner, book corner, toy corner, science corner, stationary/learning resources corner. Seating arrangements could be flexible to meet the specific teaching purpose of each activity - forming a circle to hold discussions, or setting up paired seating for small group learning

EXPERT TAKE

ParentCircle interacted with Hamsa Sriram, a special educator at a school in Chennai. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How does a special educator help a child diagnosed with LD such as dyslexia or dyscalculia?
As special educators, we:

  • First assess a student’s ability, his strengths, his weaknesses, his needs. Then we put together an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) for the child
  • Focus on the learning rather than curriculum, which is crucial
  • Give the child successful experiences to motivate her to learn and cooperate further
  • Modify the curriculum without lowering the standards, and create a learning space where the child feels safe and competent
  • Provide special accommodations during exams, like time extension, reading questions orally and so on
  • Work closely with teachers, parents and therapists to help speed up learning

Q. How common are remediation teaching programs (RTPs) for children with LD in India?
Currently, RTP is not very common in Indian schools. But it is picking up. There are many institutions working on spreading awareness and setting up of teacher training programs all over India. Now, a new concept is evolving - instead of creating special educators, teachers are given training on how to handle children with LD in a regular classroom setup.

Q. What is an Individualised Education Plan (IEP)? How is it helpful?
An IEP is a blueprint that sets the goals to be achieved by the child in different academic areas and other extracurricular activities in the school environment. It is to ensure that all of child’s needs are met and the child will have a great experience at school. It is not a usual practice in most schools, but awareness is increasing, so one can expect positive results.

Communicating with your child’s school

Let us look at some things you may say to your child’s teacher(s), and how you can say it better:

Dealing with LDs: Helping your child with Learning Disability at school

Patience, respect, and a willingness to aid learning are the best tools for helping children with LD. Investing all your time and energy in the school as the primary solution for your child’s LD will not solve the issue on hand. School, forms only one part of the solution. Your attitude towards your child and your involvement in supporting your child are equally important in helping your child deal with his learning challenges and become successful in life.

Look forward to the next article in this series that deals with the role of parents in helping their child with LD.

In a Nutshell

  • As a parent of a child with LD, you need to find the right school for your child. Depending on the severity of your child’s difficulties, you could choose between a mainstream school that offers inclusive education, or a special school for children with special learning needs
  • A Remedial Teaching Program (RTP) aims to provide learning support to students with LD. It entails adapting the school curricula and teaching strategies to suit the unique requirements of each student with LD
  • An RTP includes assessment of the student with LD, formulating goals and expectations, making curriculum adaptations, and modifications in teaching strategies and materials
  • Be mindful of the words you use to communicate about your child with his school

What you can do right away

  • For your child with LD, collaborate with your child’s school in formulating an Individualised Education Plan (IEP)
  • Speak to your child’s school about offering accommodations to your child with LD, based on her unique profile of strengths and challenges

About the expert:
Written by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 30 September 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia). She is Head of the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle.

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