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Handling children with learning disability

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Children with learning disability are often neglected by people around them and society. And really, it could be frustrating handling this category of children, if one does not have the expertise. Child Developmental Clinician and CEO of Nobelova Gradani Psycho-Educational Services, Mrs. Helen Oshikoya discussed what learning disability in children is all about, signs parents should look out for and how they can help these children, Geraldine Akutu reports

What are the indicators for learning disability?
The indicator is the fact that such children are not doing well in school. This disability is basically any condition that prevents a child from actually learning the way normal children do, or the way their peers learn. Learning disability is a global definition of a child’s inability to learn, especially in an education environment, self-help skills and anything that is supposed to allow the child to be able to understand his or her surroundings and environment.

This condition is very common and of various types, namely learning disorder and specific learning disability. Within the context of learning disabilities, we have such specific learning disabilities as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. These disabilities are specific in the developmental domain.

Dyslexia affects reading, writing and comprehension. Dyspraxia affects motor skills. Dyscalculia affects ability to learn calculus (mathematics), whereas Dyspraxia is more of the combination of the other three. In technical terms, they are often referred to as the 4D’s. Those are really the types of learning disability found in schools.

A bigger umbrella of learning disability is neurodevelopmental disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the current position of the taxonomic and diagnostic tool.

How does it affect a child’s development?
It affects a child in the sense that it doesn’t allow him/her to develop at the same pace as his peers. Most times, learning disability starts out as a delay, when a child does not meet a particular milestone. Children must meet milestones of cognition, physical, speech, language, communication, self-help and social interaction. These are things that should be observed because most times, if there is a delay in attainment of these milestones, the possibility is that the child hasn’t developed properly and is, therefore, at risk of learning disability.

I wouldn’t say learning disability is what affects development but in the real sense, it is actually the development or lack of it that brings about a learning disability. People often confuse learning disability with learning disorder. Learning disability normally is just with regard to academics, whereby the child has difficulty in learning. But learning disorder has to do with a lot of things like academics, adaptive skills, communication and speech. So, most times we have children in our schools that have learning disorders, as opposed to learning disabilities.

Is learning disability curable?
With regard to cure, it’s relative. Technically, there is no cure for learning disability, but it can be managed very well, depending on how early it is detected. If you have a child who has issues with reading, writing and comprehension, they can be detected as early as four years, six months using a particular diagnostic tool such as dyslexic screening tool and so on. The thing about learning disability is that early intervention programme needs to be put in place immediately the child starts showing symptoms of having the disability.

Learning disabilities are most times observed in the classroom. So, the classroom teacher has to be observant, and the only way a teacher can do that is if he or she is actually trained on the specific types of learning disabilities.

Presently in the United Kingdom and America, all teachers are trained in identifying, detecting and putting in strategies for children with learning disabilities. It is actually part of their teaching curriculum. You might not do it up to specialised level, but you have to do it at the basic level. So, it’s really a basic component.

What are the treatment options?
There are various options. You can’t actually put in treatment, if you don’t know what is actually wrong. It’s like having a headache and you assume you have a cancer, for instance. So, you have to understand what learning disability is and how to identify it before you can put in treatment. Most learning disability treatments are structured programmes whereby; the specialist or one who is more specialised puts in structured programmes to help children cope with the challenge. Most programmes for specific learning disabilities are actually treatment programmes and not medication. It helps a child to cope better with the inability to learn.

How can parents and society ensure that children with learning disabilities are accommodated?
To achieve this, schools have to train all teachers in special education or in additional needs, so that a teacher is able to observe, identify and refer. The second thing is that once the child is identified, the school must have external means of identifying to confirm. So, you have the school health screenings that come in and do tests, which help to detect children at risk of learning disabilities. Once that is done, further evaluation takes place, and then you know the type of learning disability affecting the child. After this has been done, the specialist will put in programmes and the teacher or anybody who is more specialised in the school system would be able to carry it out.

Learning disabilities don’t affect children physically, just that they are not able to learn. And because children with learning disabilities are unable to learn, certain things have to be done to accommodate them, even during examination time. For instance, a child with the issue of dyslexia can get extra time for examinations, modified examination paper, a prompter, scribe, or word processor. So, there are many things that are given to assist. But you can’t offer all these, if you don’t have an idea of what learning disability is from the beginning.

Special education services can be obtained within the school setting, if the school actually understands what inclusive education is about. So, it is paramount for school owners to embark on at least a basic training of inclusive education, so that they will be able to accommodate and understand.

My advice to parents is that if their children’s school has school health screening programme, they should subscribe to it and when the outcome of the screening is done and the child is identified, they should follow through the school health provider’s advice.

Some parents know their children have the problem but are in denial. Denial is their right, but who compels them? The thing with learning disability is that it starts from when the child is young, but if the child is grown, there is really not much that can be done. However, if your child is identified at a young stage, then he/she has a better opportunity to overcome challenges of learning disabilities.


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Dysgraphia
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