Written by Dr Meghna Singhal and published on 12 July 2021.
If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability, you need to find the right school to support their special educational needs, to maximize their learning potential and to prepare them for the future
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 doesn’t realize that his behavior was probably precipitated by his fear that he wouldn’t 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 math problem.
In dealing with a child with any learning disability (LD), it’s important for you, as a parent, to remember that any child would prefer to be viewed as disruptive or disobedient than incompetent or incapable. Thus, it’s up to you to avoid labeling (or even perceiving) the child with LD as “dumb.”
It’s 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 help them succeed in school. Studies have found that among children with dyslexia, a majority of those who do not receive help by Grade 3 will struggle with reading throughout their life. But if these children receive help by Grade 1, almost all of them will achieve age-appropriate reading ability. Let’s examine how you could help your child with LD access this help by choosing the right 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 your child’s difficulties are severe, you could opt for a special school. Depending on your 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.
A remedial teaching program (RTP) provides learning support to students with LD. It entails adapting the school curriculum 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 individualized remedial instruction for the student who is struggling with learning.
The flowchart below demonstrates the process of development and delivery of an RTP.
As a parent of a child with a learning disability, it’s important for you to understand some of the key strategies used to help a child with a learning disability succeed in school.
1. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
An IEP is a planning tool and written record, tailor-made for each student with a learning disability. It takes into account the following:
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 IEP for a student with a learning disability.
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:
It’s important to understand that accommodations don’t constitute an unfair advantage to students, as these students are graded in the same way as the other students in the class. In fact, if timely accommodations are not made, students could be labeled, which in turn leads to stigma and causes a serious dent to their self-confidence and academic achievement.
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 Programs (PSPs)
More suitable for students of higher grades, PSPs entails 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 but also helps their peers develop crucial communication and interpersonal skills.
The following concessions are provided by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for students diagnosed with LD in India:
The question paper will be read out to students with dyslexia, and they are exempted from spelling errors and writing answers in detail.
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. In this process, the student’s current level of achievement should also be taken into account.
It’s also important to provide ample opportunities for independent and well-designed exercises for more intensive practice—a key way to help a student achieve their learning goals. This helps foster a sense of achievement in the child, and makes it easier for them to advance further in their learning. For example, while giving homework, emphasis could be laid on the application of the concept taught in class. If the addition of two-digit numbers has been mastered, homework could include instructing the child to take a shopping list and asking them to add the prices of all the items purchased.
Step 3: Have curriculum adaptations been made?
Curriculum adaptations help accommodate the learning characteristics and requirements of students with LD. A common example of such an adaptation is classifying textbook content as core and noncore, in line with the teaching objectives and the student’s ability. Core content involves in-depth learning and application of topics considered basic and important. For example, in arithmetic, knowledge of multiplication and division is considered core because it’s important for use in everyday life. On the other hand, noncore content is that which is not essential for everyday living, such as trigonometry. Noncore content can be streamlined or selectively taken up for learning.
Step 4: Do teachers make adaptations in teaching strategies and materials?
ParentCircle spoke to 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 a learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia?
A. As special educators, this is what we do:
Q. You mentioned an individualized education plan (IEP). How is it helpful?
A. 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. The plan is designed to ensure that a 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.
Q. How common are remedial teaching programs (RTPs) for children with LDs in India?
A. Currently, RTP is not very common in Indian schools. But it’s picking up. There are many institutions working on spreading awareness and setting up 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 LDs in a regular classroom setup.
Communicating with your child’s school
Let us look at some things you can say to your child’s teacher(s), and how you can say them better:
Patience, respect and a willingness to aid learning are the best tools for helping children with LDs. Investing all your time and energy in the school to help your child with a learning disability is unlikely to solve the issues. Schools, after all, form only one part of the solution. Your attitude toward your child and your involvement in supporting your child are equally important in helping your child deal with their learning challenges and become successful in life.
In a nutshell
What you can do right away
For your child with a learning disability, collaborate with their school in formulating an individualized education plan (IEP).
Speak to your child’s school about offering accommodations to your child, based on your child’s unique strengths and challenges.