LEARNING DISABILITIES…. THE SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT

Mar 22, 2022

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― Dr. Bindu Kapoor - Counseling Psychologist

Pathetic handwriting ,gross spelling errors, silly math mistakes, inability to read, horrible pronunciation are few concerns raised for children by the parents and educators on pretext of their academic performances. These look very general and common problems. Most of the times they even get resolved but in few cases the condition goes static or even decline.

Dyslexia off late has become a very commonly used term in context to academic gaps. It is often speculated that the child who is unable to perform at par is dyslexic. The blog intends to bring some clarity on what and why happens around dyslexia like conditions and other factors rotating around this orbit. In the first place let me mention that dyslexia is just a slice of the pizza called Learning Disabilities.  

Learning disability includes delays and academic discrepancies displayed  in areas  like arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling and comprehension. It has nothing to do with mental retardation, sensory deficits and   emotional disturbances. The main reasons attributed to this can be either genetic or neurobiological mismatches which alter brain processing in a way that cognitive functioning related to learning is impacted.

It can also be understood as like wiring in the brain circuit gets lose or connected to other socket and hence misfires. Basic skills like reading, writing, spellings, copying down, math and comprehension show gaps offering  a bumpy academic road due to pitfalls or lags on the way. For instance  a grade one student who  could not absorb the concept of  addition from its origin is likely to perform at below average level  for all mathematical concepts where addition is involved like in multiplication, factors, square roots and henceforth.  A kindergarten baby who could not correlate letters and sounds as told by the teacher would naturally display gross spelling errors and reading  hiccups. It is very important to note that there are two terms used while talking about unsatisfactory scholastic performances, learning difficulty and learning disability. The difference between these two is learnt when the child’s psychoeducational assessment report is received.  Learning difficulty is stated when the academic gaps are not too wide that is limited to one grade or little more below performance. For eg. if a grade 5 student displays the current level to be in between grade 3 and 4 it shall be considered learning difficulty but if the results mark it to grade 2 level.it becomes learning disability.

Academic performance or understanding if found below 2 grades is diagnosed as learning disability. Disabilities can be both specific and mixed. Specific only when when one area is affected like math, it becomes when two areas are involved, both math and language. A brief view of varied learning disabilities.

Dyslexia – a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as reading disability or reading disorder.

Dyscalculia – a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.

Dysgraphia–a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.

Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders – sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.

Non verbal Learning Disabilities – a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions.

Individuals with learning disabilities are liable to traced in the school years, not all are diagnosed in the initial primary school years due to several reasons.  It depends on the severity level, teachers’ unawareness about the disabilities, absence of school counsellor etc.  Many a times illegible handwriting, spelling and grammatical errors are seen as the outcome of negligence for academics. The old thought of school education still claims that learning disabilities are not real but claimed as an excuse to not study. Bollywood  movie “Taare Zameen Par” showcased the realistic picture of it in our society. The educational boards like CBSE, ICSE and many state boards have now made mandatory positions for School Counselor and  Special Educator as a catch early mission. The typical chronology of identifying learning disability runs in flowlike this:

Ø The teacher on observing a  student with learning gaps becomes more vigilant, makes efforts to better the situation

Ø at times the parents also are the first ones to contact the school after observing a deviant learning pattern

Ø  the school counsellor is contacted

Ø  the counsellor interacts with the child, observes and takes up informal in house assessments based on basic academic skills like reading, writing, spellings, calculations etc.

Ø  If her estimation signals that the child can be potential

Ø she recommends the parents to the Clinical Psychologist for the Psycho Educational  Evaluation to know the facts behind the age and grade inappropriate academic performance.

Ø Once the Learning Disability diagnosis is established, interventions like special education, occupational therapy, exemptions from the board step in.

Hence paying attention to normal developmental milestones across all ages is crucial. Early identifications helps bridge the gaps more proficiently than late detection. Learning Disabilities are not to be taken as taboo or in a blame game stride. None be it the student or the parent can beheld responsible for it. Its like a condition which is  out of control. The under control factors are to be pro active on it:

Ø not to ignore a consistent pattern of academic deviation or red flags

Ø take professional consultation

Ø do not delay the evaluation

Ø prioritize the interventions

Ø indulge in the suggested activities

Ø avoid self diagnosis

Ø create or join support groups

Ø refrain from making nasty remarks to the child, his self esteem is priceless

Ø target the deed not the doer

Ø appropriate reinforcements to be offered

Ø explore the child’s strengths or passions as a booster shot

My professional experience working as  both, the school counsellor and a clinician gave closer insights of what all besides the surface level happens at the individual and family levels.

The condition can be extremely frustrating for the  child when he struggles with a skill set while his counterparts are at ease with the same. Constantly  getting nagged at for low performance causes lot of hurt and embarrassment which weakens  the body image and self respect.  In some cases they are barred from participating in cultural and sports events  or exempted  from responsible tasks. This usually happens when schools  are not inwardly progressive in nature. They do not take apt measures to educate and orient the teachers scientifically about learning disabilities. Teachers often consider them under the category of  slow learners, mental retardation, low IQ mainly because of unawareness.  Kids with learning disabilities face major challenges  in  expressing their feelings and needs.  Calming themselves down and reading nonverbal cues from others is a major hurdle which adds to their existential crisis and doubles their difficulties  in the classroom and with their peers.

I have known parents who had big time acceptance for the condition, denied the diagnosis. compared with siblings, called it the school system failure or blamed the partner for the negligence.  Few parents did not receive the family support afford the evaluation and interventions and in extreme cases the parents abandoned their social life, restrained meeting friends and relatives as to avoid shame and awkwardness.  To balance out the idea of support group works as a respite where free discussions can happen because the environment of such spaces seem relatable. The apprehension of being judged and picked does not exist. Better understanding, empathy and practical suggestions are the take a ways to consolidate the inner self.

But believe me these concerns can be smoothly handled if the general awareness about it is made a wide spread mission. All adults and care takers in a child’s vicinity if are timely oriented that this is a condition not a disease and is manageable under the conducive measures.  The notion that all it requires  is patience, commitment, trust and unconditional support, sends across huge message towards acceptance.  And not to forget that all scholars  are by default  successful and successful individuals have been big time school achievers are the myths.

As a mental health professional I can vouch that aware and sensitive  teachers,  tactfully handled parents, right measures and  realistic expectations have taken so many of my students  dealing their life and careers with grit and excellence.  And that’s the big reason that why the term , “Learning Disabilities” is replaced by “Learning Differently” . The big difference comes when the  teaching strategies and tricks are made different and unique to suit the individual’s wiring system.

Parents, the Maatri app for your convenience has  provided a comprehensive checklist  for learning disabilities in the wellness section for your reference.