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Friday, February 28, 2020
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Majority of children with learning disabilities go undetected

G Sree Devi
Dr Geet Obroi

Majority of children with learning disabilities go undetected and are branded for bad behaviour and indiscipline. The crux of the issue lies in identifying the problem. Early intervention is the only way out but are our schools equipped? 


Numbers, they say, only tell half the story. But some statistics are staggering. Sample this: 15.7% of Indian students are diagnosed with Learning Disability (LD). Most children diagnosed with LD are in the age group of 8-12 years studying in English Medium schools. While the overall literacy rate is increasing, children with learning disabilities end up going unnoticed. 89% of kids with learning disabilities are enrolled in primary school, while only 8.5% actually go to secondary school, and finally, only 2.3% of the special needs children reach higher secondary.

If these children were identified at the primary school itself, the statistics above would not be as dismal. According to a study by New Delhi based Centre for Child Learning in March 2018, the survey in 29 states in 25,000 schools across the country of children between Class I and Class IV found that most cases ‘go undetected’. Many with learning disabilities including Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia were unable to cope up and teachers, not realizing that the children have serious problems branded them ‘indisciplined’ and admonished them for ‘bad behaviour’. R K Madhavan, child psychologist based out of Mumbai says, “The biggest challenge is not treating the child but identifying the problem first, which sadly is not happening.”

G Sree Devi, Academic Director, Jubilee Hills Public School, Hyderabad says, “In case of early detection it would take three years to bridge the learning gap with many accommodations, like enrolling them in our own Learning Resource Centre where IEP (Individual Educational Plans) are made. The students’ timetable is accommodated to fit in LRC classes. In severe cases parents are also asked to complement the school’s work with external remediation. When a student is identified in the higher classes, exemptions are sought from the CBSE in whatever subject the Educational Psychologist suggests.”

She further adds, “Once the learning gap is filled the child is empowered to work independently; the parents are told that he/she doesn’t need further help and is asked to stop coming to LRC, but they want to continue and we again have to counsel them that the child has become self-sufficient and does not need help anymore. Even then we see them sneaking back into the LRC as they form bonds there.”

Dr Geet Oberoi, Founder, Orkids Foundation, New Delhi says, “Parents who come to us are confused. The child is physically fine but finds difficulty in coping with reading, writing and doing math. In desperation parents end up blaming teachers.”

Every child is different and the teaching techniques used with one child may differ from the other, hence there is no average time. Early intervention is the best way to help the child fill the learning gap. ‘When parents get to know, they should act immediately.’ If the child has a learning gap of one year, it will take the child around eight months to fill the gap. Early intervention and the intensity of intervention are the most important factors that help the child cover the learning gap in less time.

Learning Disability, also known as Learning Disorder is an umbrella term used to talk about a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, and organization of use of verbal and non-verbal information. It is a neurological disorder that affects one’s ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements or direct attention.

Auditory processing disorder (inability to correctly perceive sound), dyscalculia (affects a person’s ability to understand numbers or even learn math facts), dysgraphia (affect’s a person’s fine motor skills), dyslexia (affects reading and processing skills) and Non Verbal Learning Disabilities are the types of Learning Disabilities. Specific Learning Disabilities or SLD is when these disabilities occur individually. If an individual shows symptoms of two or more specific LD, then it may be termed as a Learning disability.


I had the learning disability and was dropped out of school


Who is to blame? Are teachers responsible or is it the duty of the parent? No one can be blamed as one does not imagine the child to have problems. It takes experience and a keen eye and ear to identify children with learning disabilities and that is where the role of student counsellors comes in. Teachers in formal schools armed with a BEd degree are sadly not taught to identify such children. There is hardly any training given in BEd courses on identifying children with learning disabilities.

The CBSE in 2014, 2015 and 2017 directed affiliated schools to appoint Special Educators and it was mandatory in accordance with the Rule No.13.11 of Affiliation Bye-Laws of Board. However, the board observed that many affiliated schools were still not adhering to the provision. In many schools, the management does not feel it necessary; the perception is that it is an additional burden in way of salary. Raghunath Kolluri, a senior teacher based out of Belgaum says, “There is a misconception that counsellors do not have much work.” He goes on to stress the point with an analogy, “It is akin to most people who feel that they would never get BP, heart attack or diabetes and go on living and realize the problem when it gets out of hand.”


Learning disability is not a disease but only a disability

LD can only be diagnosed in formal education

The simple fact is learning disability can only be diagnosed when the child starts formal education and if teachers are not equipped to identify them, these children suffer for no fault of theirs.

The most common characteristics seen in a child with any learning disability are need for constant step-by-step guidance for tasks, have poor memory of spoken or written material, boredom and carelessness, disinterest in school or reluctance to go to school, withdrawal in class, aggression toward peers or adults, clowning around, inappropriate joking, cannot remember skills and facts over time.

As mentioned earlier, learning disability is a hidden disability. If the child is failing subjects, the only two factors that contribute are simple lack of interest or developmental delay causing learning disability. In the former case, the child can catch up with his peers if given additional tutoring in the specific subject.

The simple way of identifying learning disability in students is to recognize the difference between the inherent potential and the academic performance of the child. It means that a student will be able to mostly do everything else at age or grade appropriate level but when it comes to ‘literacy skills’ of spelling, reading and arithmetic, the student will have a significant block and this below average or poor performance cannot be explained by any other factor.

Preschool age Ages 5-9 Ages 10-13
Problem in pronouncing words

Trouble finding the right word

Difficulty in rhyming

Trouble in learning the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, days of the week

Difficulty in following directions or learning routines

Difficulty in controlling crayons, pencils, and scissors, or coloring within the lines

Difficulty with buttons, zippers, snaps, learning to tie shoes

Trouble in learning the connection between letters and sounds

Unable to blend sounds to make words

Confusion in basic words while reading

Slow to learn new skills

Consistently misspells words and makes frequent errors

Trouble in learning basic math concepts

Difficulty in telling time and remembering sequences

Difficulty with reading comprehension or math skills

Trouble with open-ended test questions and word problems

Dislikes reading and writing & avoids reading aloud

Poor handwriting

Poor organizational skills such as (bedroom, homework, desk is messy and disorganized)

Trouble following classroom discussions & expressing thoughts aloud

Spells the same word differently in a single document


T
he signs to look for to identify learning disability are:
  •  Oral expression
  •  Listening Comprehension
  •  Written expression
  •  Basic reading skills
  •  Reading Comprehension
  •  Mathematics calculation
  •  Mathematics problem solving

When these characteristics are observed in a child, the child is supposed to be taken to a child psychologist or a LD specialist. The ideal assessment for LD is a long process requiring several sessions with a qualified educational psychologist. Apart from administering a series of tests, the psychologist also gathers relevant information from the parents and school records. All the data gathering and test conducting is done only with the consent of the parents and all the intervention programs are planned only with the parent’s involvement.

Besides teaching the child at schools and special learning institutions, parents can use strategies like, hands-on-learning, a form of learning where the child is taught based on making him experience certain things; play-based-learning, where child is taught using play activities to teach cognitive skills; group learning, which is the most effective form of learning where the child learns with other children of his age or positive reinforcement where the child is motivated to learn something and in return, is given something that he/she has been asking for or likes.

In the observations from the recent years, it is noticed that children have associative problems. Later in life, children with learning disorders grow up to have enhanced anxiety, panic attacks and there are chances that the child might go into depression.

Hiring special educators is a must and it is the only way out. Learning Disability can be both physically and mentally exhausting for the child. Disinterest in going to school, throwing temper tantrums and getting angry with little things can be the outcomes of underlying situations faced by the child like low self-esteem, being or feeling rejected by peers or being bullied. Segregation from the peer group can result in lower self-image and looking down on oneself.


Many Schools ask parents to get the special child out of their school


G Balasubramanian
Afshan Jabeen

G Balasubramanian, Former CBSE (Academic) Director confirmed that he had sent a circular to all the schools directing them to appoint a counsellor on a regular basis. Subsequent to his departure, the Board had issued directions to schools regarding the same but even today a majority of the CBSE schools in the country do not have student counsellors. Scenario in State Board schools is even more atrocious. However, the Army Public Schools are an exception. Speaking to Brainfeed, Col S P Singh from Army Welfare Education Society (AWES) shares, “From the very beginning, Army Schools have been directed to appoint school counsellors in their respective institutions. 99% schools under AWES are having full-time counsellors. There might be a possibility of 1% schools which have no counsellors, but it is compulsory to abide by the provision.”


I had sent circular directing schools to appoint counsellor on a regular basis


In conversation with Brainfeed, RCI Clinical Psychologist and SIS Dyslexia Therapist, Afshan Jabeen says, “School counsellors play a very important role in creating synergy amongst parents, teachers’ management and students. The counsellor will help to create awareness and identify any form of LD in school. Once it is done, the counsellor will guide the parents in seeking professional help in getting a psycho-educational assessment and subsequently for receiving the remedial intervention to bridge the learning gaps. It has to be noted that many a time the learning problems if not addressed in time, get aggravated into emotional and behavioural problems.”

Many parents lose crucial time in denying the problem, thereby delaying the intervention process. Total acceptance will lead to the next step i.e., to go for a psycho-educational assessment. The counsellor should be careful in guiding parents to an RCI licensed Clinical Psychologist. An accurate and professionally done assessment report will identify cognitive, academic and behavioural issues of the child. Based on this report the intervention plan will be created. The counsellor should also explain to the parents that the intervention IEP would not focus on school subjects but the underlying weak core skills.

“The whole process is an uphill task. The biggest hurdle in reaching out and helping students with Special Education Needs are the parents. They are not aware that Learning disability is not a disease but only a disability. As soon as we talk about the need, most parents become defensive and react aggressively. They refuse to accept because they are convinced that the school is branding their child to be mentally retarded. The first step is convincing the parents to get a formal assessment done and getting the consent signed. This itself, takes so many meetings.

The second step after the parent is convinced to get the assessment done is seeking exemptions for secondary students. Most parents are not willing to take exemption in Mathematics and Science as they feel that getting an Engineering seat is very easy and if the child somehow passes Engineering the child is in the path to a good life. They do not understand that the child has a problem in the particular subject but has strengths in other subjects.

With some other parents it is enrolling in the LRC. They want to send the child for tuitions and help them cope. They do not understand that the tuition teacher is not a special educator and is not trained with the strategies required to help students with special needs,” G Sree Devi added.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, recognize Learning Disability as one of the 21 disabilities. Concessions will be given to the child at school level, at higher education level, at employment level and so on. “There is legislation but there is no execution and implementation. Though CBSE provides benefits to children with Learning Disabilities, there are many schools that don’t provide special education, fail the students or ask the parents to get the child out of their school,” added Dr Geet Oberoi.


Number of children with disabilities appearing for exams has significantly increased from 2016

Cover Story


CBSE is extending several exemptions/concessions to spastic, visually impaired, physically handicapped, dyslexic, autistic and candidates with disabilities as defined in the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 that have been circulated to the schools and hosted on the website of the Board, from time to time. The board also provides flexibility to the candidates with the option of studying one compulsory language as against two. This language should be in consonance with the overall spirit of the Three Language Formula prescribed by the Board. Besides one language, any four of the following subjects can be offered: Mathematics , Science, Social Science, another language, Music, Painting, Home Science, Foundation of Information Technology, Commerce (Elements of Business) & Commerce (Elements of Book Keeping And Accountancy), E –Typewriting (English), E-Typewriting(Hindi), Introduction to Computer Technology, Retail (NSQF) and Information Technology (NSQF).

This crucial and significant act should be reflected not only in BEd curriculum but also in robust imparting of this component so that the trainee teachers understand and recognize its significance. This will make every BEd teacher to act as an agent of change, encourage early assessment and sustain the intervention.

The United States of America is light-years ahead of India in terms of resources and understanding of the disability. It is a rich country and everything there is taken care by the government. The government there also takes care and pays the special education required by every child. The teacher-child ratio there is very less compared to that of India and special educator has more time to spend with the child.


Sometimes, learning problems get aggravated into emotional and behavioural problems


V Nandakumar IRS

“I was dropped out of the school. I was disheartened; I was isolated from my school where I grew up. I did not have any friend then to whom I could go and talk to. I was losing my age group. I was deprived of the school environment. Every day, I used to have dreams of going to school,” says V Nandakumar IRS, Joint Commissioner, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, who was made to drop out of school in class VI due to his Learning Disability but rose up as All India Topper in UPSC Civil Service Exam in 2004. A child with Learning Disability doesn’t learn and perceive things like other children. It only makes them different and they can achieve success. They only need to be noticed. In time.

 

Notice me, I need help

Adhere to Zero Reject Policy

VRP Sheilaja Rao
In conversation with Brainfeed, VRP Sheilaja Rao, HOD (Retired) – Dept of Special Education, National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disability (NIEPID), Secunderabad stresses on adopting Open Door Policy to enroll and retain children with Learning Disability in schools.
Why should LD be identified at an early age?

Child acquires most of the personal and social habits before the age of six. Child’s 60% of intellectual development is attained by the age of four and 80% by the age of six. So, early identification and educational support, prevents secondary effects of any disability caused due to developmental limitations. This helps build sound and firm foundation in child’s later years of development and learning.

Please suggest some solutions for fostering such children.

The first step is to re-orient regular school systems to facilitate admission for children with disabilities. This calls for adopting “Open Door Policy of Admission in Pre-Schools” adhering to “zero reject policy”.
Second aspect relates to training of teachers. Regular teachers would require three kinds of support:

  •  Adequate guidelines to identify indicators for educational risks in pre-schoolers and primary school students.
  •  In-service training on management of special needs children.
  •  Support in form of resource teacher, to appropriately plan or adapt educational curriculum to suit child’s special educational needs.

Another aspect is to modify the existing curriculum in pre-schools without compromising the quality of education and competency level to be achieved by all children in a given class. The issue of peer group support is a significant one for children in inclusive set-up. This is because peer group constitute a significant part of the learning environment of children with special needs in regular schools.

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