by Dr Rudolf Stockling -
Yousuf’s (name changed) entry to year six spelled disaster for him and his family. “He was a really good boy till he was in year four,” his mother says. “He always finished his work on time, and there had never been a complaint from his teachers.” When Yousuf reached year five, things started changing. “He would not complete his notes, he would not do his homework, and he began to hate reading.” Yousuf’s parents could not understand this sudden change in him. They put it down to growing up, bad company and indifferent teachers, and waited for the year to end.
Year six, however, turned out to be worse than they could imagine. Notes in red from teachers said that Yousuf was turning out to be a handful at school – not interested in studies, indifferent at best and distractive at worst. Aggression and rebellion hallmarked his behavior at home. And through all that, Yousuf’s literature reader remained firmly unopened.
It was when his distressed mother took the help of a home tutor that the first suggestion of a possible learning difficulty cropped up – the tutor wondered if Yousuf had issues with reading and writing, which was affecting his behavior in school and outside. The family got him assessed for learning disabilities, and that marked a new beginning for Yousuf.
Education has evolved, and the focus is now on developing skills, rather than increasing the volume of information. However, to a large group of students, acquisition of certain skills will remain the biggest challenge of their lives. Despite the fact that technology has made a better level of awareness possible, ‘Specific Learning Difficulties’ still remain among some of the last to be detected in a person.
A Learning Disability can be broadly defined as a neurological condition that interferes with a person’s ability to store, process, or produce information. Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, reason and also affect a person’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills and emotional maturity (Defining Learning Disabilities: Learning Disabilities Association of America). According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “The hallmark sign of a learning disability is a distinct and unexplained gap between a person’s level of expected achievement and their performance.”
“Learning Disabilities (LD) was a term coined in the late sixties or seventies by Dr. Samuel Kirk, and it was mainly meant to make the distinction between students who had a difficulty learning some things but not others – a difficulty in learning to read, write, spell or do math, that is not commensurate with overall ability,” says Prof. Nancy Cushen White, the Literacy Intervention Consultant and Case Manager at Lexicon Reading Center, Dubai. Lexicon Reading Center is a one-of-its-kind institution that aims to enable children with LD to reach their academic potential.
“The term sets apart children who have difficulties in picking up specific skills from those with intellectual disabilities or developmental issues due to physical, emotional or psychological reasons,” says Prof Cushen White, explaining the need for a separate label.
“This is a group of children who look like they should not be having any trouble; they don’t have trouble in all areas, but they seem to be having a really hard time learning certain things. It was, and continues to be, important that these children’s abilities get as much attention as their disabilities,” Prof White explains the need for a separate label called ‘Specific Learning Disabilities’.
“And there are some gifted children out there with learning disabilities, impossible as it seems. They are called 2E, or Twice Exceptional – one exceptionality is their intellectual giftedness, and the other is their difficulty in learning.” A school for gifted children in the San Francisco Bay Area, Prof White says, has its share of students with learning disabilities.
“According to statistics, almost 50 per cent of all children with any disability, including physical disability, will have a specific learning disability, meaning they will have difficulties in a particular learning area, not all areas. And approximately 80 percent of children with specific learning disabilities will have disability in language and reading area,” says Prof. Cushen White, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of education, with reading difficulties as her special area of focus.
“That doesn’t mean that they won’t have disabilities in math and written expression – but reading is the primary area of difficulty.”
The three prime areas of Specific Learning Disabilities are Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. Dyslexia, or language processing disorder, is a neurological disorder that causes the brain to process and interpret information differently, even when a child has normal vision and intelligence. Dysgraphia, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia, however, is separate from Dyspraxia, which is a disorder that affects motor skill development. While Dyspraxia may co-exist with other LDs, it is not an LD in itself.
Read more at Learning disabilities: Awareness and acceptance are key.
[Via Gulf News]