Suneha has been facing an extremely difficult time for the last five years owing to her academic underachievement. Now in fifth class, her grades have been falling steadily. Her parents and teachers feel a lot of resentment and anger towards her.
According to them she is a very brilliant and sharp child but at the same time very careless only when it comes to studies. She often makes silly errors in spellings while writing down the words and jumbles up simple calculations in mathematics. The parents have been adopting several strict measures to deal with Suneha’s carelessness. At school as well she often gets scolded for the silly mistakes. Her teachers reported that she does not pay sufficient attention though she has a good ability and if she tried harder she would get it.
Suneha shared that no one understands her difficulty. She has tried extremely hard to correct her mistakes but is unable to do so. She feels it is beyond her control. With the mounting pressure and anger on her, Suneha feels low and unwanted. She feels that no one understands her feelings and loves her.
Children in her class often call her stupid and keep away from her. She largely keeps to herself and does not share these feelings with anyone. An I.Q. assessment was done where it was found that Suneha’s I.Q. is indeed above average. Following this further tests were done and it was discovered that she had a specific learning disability, a condition that no one had diagnosed or understood.
Specific learning disability is an inherent difficulty in cognitive processing that leads to a poor grasp of academic skills since the initial stages of childhood. The child has an average or above average intelligence but despite good schooling and opportunities to acquire academic skills is unable to do so. These children are not abnormal or dull but they have a very different way of seeing, hearing and comprehending an input which affects the way they process sensory information. These children do not lack motivation, as they cannot help this condition on their own no matter what they do. It is important to acknowledge that they need professional help.
Throughout their schooling, these children achieve little when compared with the level of their intelligence. Parents and teachers often confuse this condition with simple carelessness and lack of motivation and this colors their interactions with the child. As they find the child otherwise as normal and quite intelligent, they feel that the child can help this condition. But, the fact is that no matter how relentlessly the child may try, this is a condition they can’t remedy without professional help and guidance. The difficulties can be in the following areas:
Reading: Since the beginning of schooling, the child displays difficulty in reciting and recognizing the alphabets. The child reads extremely slowly and the reading is characterized by omissions, substitutions, distortions and reversals. They may also face a difficulty in memorizing and recalling the material they read and are unable to draw conclusions from a text such as story. At school these children usually perform extremely poorly in the ‘unseen passages’ that test comprehension.
Spelling: There is impairment in spellings while speaking or writing. The child also makes other errors while writing such as grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors. The handwriting may be poor and difficult to understand.
Mathematics: The child is unable to understand and acquire basic mathematical skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They have difficulty with numerical signs and symbols and find it challenging to even do basic mathematical calculations. Some children are unable to learn and remember the multiplication tables.
Resultant Self-Concept: Due to the above impairments there is a huge impact on the self-concept of the child especially in our country as academic achievement is often considered mandatory. Children with learning disabilities experience deep shame over not being able to do what other children are easily capable of. These children lose their self-confidence as despite trying hard, they are seldom able to rectify their mistakes. Some of them feel that they are no good and can never do anything worthwhile. Harsh and critical comments from parents, friends and teachers make them feel unloved and rejected. In a way, all these factors seem to have an adverse and long-lasting impact on their personality well into adulthood.
Not much is known about the causes of these disabilities however current research evidence highlights that they arise from an interaction of multiple factors. Medical complications and diseases during pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood are associated with these disorders. There are some differences in brain structure and activity observed in children with specific learning disabilities. Imbalances have been found in production of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine in brain of these children. Information processing deficits are observed in these children at the stages of input, integration, storage and output.
Children who grow up to display learning disabilities at school need to be identified as early as possible so that appropriate management can be started effectively. It has been observed that these children show a marked delay in speech and language development, motor coordination, reasoning and day-to-day social interaction.
If not diagnosed and addressed in childhood, the learning disability persists in adulthood as well. Adults with this problem continue to face challenges in reading, writing, spellings and mathematics. Due to a long history of academic underachievement and consequent social stigma these people suffer from low self-esteem. Psychologically they feel that they are defective and are often scared that if other people get to know of this they will be rejected. This fear affects their patterns of intimacy in adult relationships and they may feel extremely lonely and depressed. Despite accomplishments in other fields, these people feel like a loser at the core of their self.
In case your child suffers from any of the listed symptoms, psychological tests of intelligence and specific learning disability need to be administered to diagnose and understand the problem. Learning disability is diagnosed when the academic achievement, as assessed by standardized psychological tests is substantially below what is expected for the child’s chronological age, measured intelligence and age-appropriate education. Also, these learning difficulties significantly effect academic achievement and day-to-day activities that require reading, mathematical or writing skills. Treatment needs to be designed for each child individually depending upon the correct diagnosis and it often includes:
Parental Counseling: A detailed description of diagnosis is provided and child’s strengths and limitations are identified. Many parents report feeling stressed, depressed or angry due to the child’s poor academic performance and they are helped in dealing with these intense emotions. Areas where the child has a great potential are identified and parents are guided how to encourage the child towards fulfilling these potentialities. This is done primarily to improve the self-confidence of the child contributing to the development of a positive self-concept. As a parent you need to give your child love and support and instill hope.
Educational Procedures: A multi-sensory approach is adopted for enhancing the areas of strength and addressing areas of weakness. Children are taught special techniques so that they can acquire, retain and synthesize the academic inputs in a better manner.
Psychotherapy: Due to academic underachievement and consequent social pressure and stigma, the child may suffer from several emotional difficulties and these need to be worked through in a one-to-one psychotherapy. The child is encouraged to express these emotions in an atmosphere of warmth, trust and acceptance and taught specific techniques to deal with them.
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