When a child is found to face problems at school, it is important to ascertain the nature of and reasons for the problems. An assessment can reveal all aspects and levels of the problem areas. More often parents find it difficult to accept the situation, and they need counseling themselves.
Children with special needs require unique instruction by specially trained professionals. It will help these kids achieve their highest potential and strive to progress beyond their limitations.
Based on a child’s condition, after an assessment, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed by a team that includes the child’s parents and school staff. This is a program that lists, among other things, the special educational services that the child requires.
Well-known problems of school-going children are learning disabilities, learning disorders, slow learning, ADHD and autism. Reasons for these problems may include genetic factors, prenatal issues, environmental conditions, parental/peer pressure, fear complex triggered by teachers/peers, dislike of the subject, peer comparison and competition, bullying by peers or seniors or teachers etc. All these factors can retard learning.
Effective management of these problems depends crucially on: early identification; careful designing of an appropriate IEP; sympathetic and committed implementation of the IEP with the fullest co-operation of parents, special education teachers and the institution.
What is learning disability?
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.
It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.
Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, visual perception disorders, auditory processing disorders, and language disorders fall under the umbrella of learning disorders. Many children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) too have coexisting learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities listed above are the reasons for poor reading comprehension, reading fluency, listening comprehension, oral expression, written expression and poor performance even in basic mathematics. Kids with such learning disabilities need to learn differently with the help of sympathetic specially trained teachers.
With the proper testing and evaluations, every child’s learning disabilities can be diagnosed and an individual education plan devised so that the child can learn, and be taught to compensate and overcome the learning problems. The child can thus lead a happy and productive life like any other normal child.
The slow learner, by appearance and function, is normal, has adequate memory and possesses common sense. S/he requires more time and attention to learn. Her/his condition is elusive and difficult to identify, and requires formal evaluation by a special educator.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is the commonest childhood brain disorder, and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include: difficulty in staying focused and paying attention; difficulty in controlling behaviour; hyperactivity (overactivity) that makes it difficult for an ADHD child to succeed in school, get along with other children, or adults, or finish tasks at home.
Inattentive ADHD children are easily distracted, cannot easily focus on one task, and may daydream. ADHD children have trouble sitting still, being quiet, and being patient, among other behavioural symptoms. These behaviours significantly interfere with daily life, and are present in more than one domain in youthhood.
The brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed, on average, by about 3 years as far as learning goes. The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, paying attention, and planning.
To be diagnosed with this disorder, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months, and to a degree greater than other children. The consequences of having ADHD are diagrammatically represented as given below:
Duties of a Special Educator in early intervention:
- assess development
- plan intervention
- implement intervention
- coordinate services
- follow through with recommendations from others
- assess family resources, priorities, and concerns
- plan and implement services for families
- coordinate interagency services
- conduct program evaluation
- serve as an advocate for children & families
Treating these children
Some or all of these options will help plan carefully appropriate treatment of these children: psychological analysis, guidance, encouragement and fixing the goal; memory tips, self reading, sincere practice and special expert guidance.
Interventions should be individually and developmentally appropriate, and properly attuned to age.
Mrs. Srithi Kannan is available for consultation on Tue/Wed/Thur between 11 am and 1 pm at Kauvery Hospital, Alwarpet, Chennai.