Ways To Identify And Overcome Learning Disabilities In Your Child

Is your child facing challenges in writing, reading or speaking? She might be suffering from Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Identify the cause and help her overcome her learning difficulties.

By Sarika Chuni

Ways To Identify And Overcome Learning Disabilities In Your Child

What do inventors Leonardo Da Vinci and Thomas Alva Edison, actor Daniel Radcliffe, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver have in common? They are all achievers who faced challenges in the classroom that inhibited their learning.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is a term used to describe a group of neurological conditions that interfere with a person’s learning process. In simple terms, an individual suffers from a learning disability because of the way his brain is ‘wired’. Children with learning difficulties are often smart, or even smarter than their peers. However, they may face challenges in reading, writing, spelling, recalling or organising information because of their differences.

Before, children who had trouble in reading, writing or working with numbers were labelled as ‘lazy’, ‘obstinate’, ‘dumb’ or ‘irresponsible’. Many of them were forced to drop out of school and were denied their right to education and pursue a career. However, things have drastically changed in the past two decades, with educational boards, such as the CBSE, including several provisions for students with SLD to include them in mainstream education.

What is a learning disability?

In 1977, the US Office of Education defined Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in a study titled ‘Assistance to states for education of handicapped children: Procedures for evaluating specific learning disabilities’. In the report, SLD was defined as ‘a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems, which are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages’.

Identification and diagnosis of SLD

A child with SLD needs to be identified and subsequently treated by a qualified psychologist, so he gets the appropriate support at the right time. If the symptoms are diagnosed early, it is easier for the child to cope with the challenges through targeted intervention. The common SLDs and their symptoms are as follows:

Dyslexia

Some of the symptoms of dyslexia are -

  • Slow, inaccurate reading or reading that requires excessive effort
  • Difficulty in comprehending the meaning of words while reading
  • Difficulties with spelling
  • Grammatical or punctuation errors in writing
  • Reversing or mirroring letters

Dysphasia/Aphasia

In dysphasia, the child has problems in speaking and comprehension of speech and language. Some signs of dysphasia are:

  • Difficulty pronouncing speech sounds
  • Difficulty putting ideas into spoken forms
  • Difficulty listening to and following simple verbal directions
  • Difficulty understanding what other people are saying
  • Difficulty in having a fluent conversation with others

Dyscalculia

This SLD inhibits the child’s capacity to understand basic arithmetic concepts or develop an efficient number sense. Some signs are:

  • Confusing the common symbols like the multiplication symbol (X) with addition (+), or division symbol (÷) with subtraction (-)
  • Trouble understanding the time sequence of events or reading time
  • Problems grasping the place value or the number line concept
  • Difficulty processing word problems
  • Inability to write the problems on paper correctly

Dysgraphia

In this SLD, the child has problems with writing. Some of the symptoms are:

  • A strong dislike for writing, drawing or colouring
  • Problems staying within lines while writing
  • Loss of energy or holding a bad posture while writing that persists even after corrective action has been taken
  • Saying words out loud while writing
  • Leaving words or sentences unfinished or omitting writing letters in a word

5 Ways to identify learning differences at preschool level

While some of the above signs might be evident only in later childhood, research has indicated that symptoms of SLD can be detected at the preschool stage as well. Some of these symptoms are:

  1. Has difficulty fastening buttons and shoelaces. Shoes are often worn on the wrong foot.
  2. Has issues with phonological awareness. For example, your child might have trouble telling you that the beginning sound in ‘bat’ is ‘b’. This will also extend to difficulty with rhyming.
  3. Has difficulty in skipping, hopping or clapping to a simple rhythm.
  4. Is confused between left and right.
  5. Has a history of slow speech development.

In case your child shows any of the above symptoms, you should seek a consultation from experts, such as the child’s paediatrician, a clinical psychologist, a special educator, the school counsellor and other early childhood care professionals. This will help you identify and plan an intervention process that will help your child.

How to help a child suffering from learning difficulties

Unlike physical disabilities, identifying learning differences is not easy. Children suffering from these challenges have to work harder to succeed. They may also experience feelings of frustration, anger, depression, anxiety and worthlessness.

Luckily, the human brain can often rewire itself to work in new ways. But, the brain’s ability to rewire itself is more pronounced in childhood.

It is, therefore, imperative that children with SLD are identified earlier and given remedial measures suited to their needs. Parents can help their child facing learning challenges in the following ways:

  • Learn about the SLD
  • Find out different ways your child learns faster
  • Approach a specialist to conduct a formal assessment, if required
  • Seek the help of the school and the child’s teachers
  • Be open to counselling, both for your child and yourself

Some specific tips for helping children with SLDs are:

For dyslexia and dysphasia

  • Teach phonics
  • Use more visual aids for teaching; use flowcharts or mind maps to teach concepts
  • If you want to check their power of recall, ask true or false or multiple-choice questions
  • Teach your child to consult a dictionary when stuck on the spelling of a word
  • Allow alternate ways for your child to express herself. For example, she can draw a picture or make a PowerPoint presentation to explain a topic they learned

For dysgraphia

  • Make sure your child has normal vision
  • When copying from a book, show your child how to use the index finger of the free hand to hold the paper while writing on it
  • If required, request the school to make your child sit at the front of the class to copy from the board
  • Help your child with writing tasks if he gets tired and is interfering with his ability to comprehend the topic
  • Allow your child to use something other than pencil or a paper; help her write with a chalk or a marker on boards

For dyscalculia

  • Understand the way your child can memorise information best. If he can recollect verbal information better, record multiplication tables on the phone and play them back to him till he learns them. For more visual learners, make charts of multiplication tables and hang them around the house.
  • Play repetitive games involving mathematical symbols with your child
  • Teach concepts using tactile aids like coins, blocks, puzzles etc
  • Let your child use the calculator (a provision allowed by CBSE for students with SLD)
  • Use graph papers to line up words and numbers in problems

Other tips:

  • Try not to make the child anxious about his differences
  • Play memory games to boost your child’s recall power
  • Consistently provide positive reinforcement; focus on the positives
  • Find a school that is supportive of your child’s issues; find out if the school has a special educator
  • Collaborate with the child’s teachers to get their support

Learning differences should not be treated as a death sentence for your child’s future. An astoundingly high number of achievers have successfully overcome their learning challenges through gentle guidance, support and love given to them by their loved ones. There are a number of resources and support groups available, both online and offline, to help parents of children with learning differences. Inform and empower yourself, and help your child succeed.

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