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'Learning disability' refers to a wide range of learning difficulties. Children with this problem suffer from issues associated with reading, writing, spelling and other learning-related activities.
In India, there is now a far greater level of awareness about this problem than it was before. As a result, our education system has started offering assistance and concessions to children diagnosed with learning disability.
However, many parents are still unaware of the signs and symptoms of learning disability. Because of this, many children with this disability remain undiagnosed and, consequently, don't receive early intervention.
To help diagnose learning difficulties and begin intervention early on, it is important for parents to understand the problem and be aware of some early warning signs. So, let's look at different types of learning difficulties and how to identify them.
There are different types of learning difficulties, although 'dyslexia' is the most widely known and spoken-about in India. The reason for this could be popular media, and the release of films such as 'Taare Zameen Par'. Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder, which impacts a child's ability to read and spell. However, dyslexia is not the only learning difficulty that children suffer from. There are other difficulties as well, such as dysgraphia (difficulty writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with Math) and dyspraxia (fine-motor skills difficulty). Some experts also consider visual, auditory and sensory processing disorders to come under the blanket of learning difficulties.
Although in a majority of cases, learning difficulties are identified only after a child starts schooling, it is certainly possible to detect the presence of such problems much earlier. Below are some of the warning signs that you should watch out for in your toddler or preschooler:
1. Delayed speech or other milestones
One of the first red flags that might be indicative of the presence of a learning issue would be a delay in achieving certain milestones. These can range from a delay in beginning to walk to speech delay. In our culture, families tend to trivialise speech delays by rationalising that it runs in the family. However, delayed speech can be indicative of dyslexia, and with early interventions, its negative impact on the child's self-esteem can be minimised.
2. Difficulty with rhyming words
Getting toddlers and preschoolers to rattle off nursery rhymes boosts a parent's pride and joy. If your little one is struggling with rhymes, you might want to watch for some of the other signs listed here, and consider an early evaluation for learning difficulties.
3. Inability to sing the alphabet song
When your child is very young, mixing up the letters of the alphabet may sound adorable. However, even after the age of three, if your toddler is struggling with getting the order of the letters in the alphabet right, you may want to address the issue seriously.
4. Trouble with sequencing
Young children with learning difficulties often find it difficult to put things in sequence, particularly the days of the week or the months of the year. Such children also find it very difficult to comprehend the concepts of before and after, yesterday and tomorrow and so on. So, if your child is having trouble with any of these simple sequences, it might be an indication of difficulty in learning.
5. Mispronunciation of words
Don't be amused at incorrect pronunciation and baby talk. When a child's speech lacks clarity, some parents find it endearing, and end up reinforcing incorrect pronunciation. For example, if your child says "Vinayachapututi" for "Vinayaka Chaturthi", and is unable to get the pronunciation right even after repeated efforts at correcting it, consider getting an expert to evaluate your child for the presence of a learning difficulty.
6. Difficulty recognising or copying simple shapes
By the age of two, most children are able to recognise shapes correctly, and by the age of three, they are also able to reproduce the shapes with a fair degree of accuracy. If your child is facing problems in these areas, it could also signify potential learning difficulties.
7. Difficulty with tasks that involve fine motor skills
Tasks such as threading beads together, making simple knots, opening the lid of a container or tiffin box, closing a water bottle and so on, involve the use of fine motor skills. Most children master these tasks before they start schooling. Children who find these tasks highly challenging might need an evaluation for possible learning difficulties.
If you notice any of these warning signs, approach either a psychologist or a counsellor, who can then guide you with the next steps. The above pointers are only meant to provide a guideline to parents in recognising possible problems so that early interventions may be initiated. This article is not meant to substitute a professional evaluation to confirm or rule out the presence of a specific learning difficulty.
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)