Author: Sandhya Basu
We all know the concept of Learning Disorders from the previous blog on ‘Few Common Learning Challenges.’ There, we learnt about:
- The specific learning disorders and their symptoms
- The different types of learning disorders like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysphasia, etc.
- Causes and treatment options for learning disorders; and most importantly
- Do’s and Don’ts when interacting with a child affected by a learning difficulty
Thus, as caregivers, we know the essence of overcoming difficulties through love, positive reinforcement, compassion, and assurance. We are also aware of the professional assistance provided to these children.
In his blog, we will dive deeper. We will learn a few common indicators that help in recognizing the symptoms of learning disorders. We will also get to know how learning disorders are diagnosed in professional settings and how we can support a child diagnosed with a learning disorder in these COVID times. However, before we proceed, let us first examine the historical background of learning disorders.
During the initial years of research, the learning disability was often interwoven with behavioral difficulties and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Ophthalmologists during that era referred to reading problems as ‘word blindness.’ It was a researcher called Orton in 1928 who started using the term ‘dyslexia’ to refer to those struggling to read and spell secluded words. Another gentleman in 1963, known as Kirk, used the term ‘learning disabilities’ to represent children with academic skills problems. Lastly, Doehring, in 1978, eliminated the importance of IQ and re-defined the concept of learning disorders.
Now, let us explore the symptoms. Children often have difficulties reading, writing, doing arithmetic operations, or learning new things, especially at the early stages of life. These issues do not direct at learning disorders; in fact, such problems are entirely natural and are faced by many children. A child with a learning disability usually has related signs that continue over a period of time. Such signs include prolonged reading or writing difficulties, solving mathematical equations, attentional problems (unable to concentrate on one particular activity for long), and directional and coordination issues. Children affected by learning disorders also exhibit behavioral tendencies like immature speaking styles, unsatisfactory school responses, difficulties in listening, problems in understanding various concepts, and challenges in adjusting to new things in life. It is important to note that these signs are not adequate to determine that a child has a learning disability.
A comprehensive evaluation is required for the diagnosis of a learning disorder. The evaluation process consists of a detailed medical examination that includes neurological testing to identify or eliminate the probable sources of the child’s difficulties. In such cases, causes are usually associated with developmental disorders, intellectual disabilities, and brain diseases. The evaluation also includes exploring the child’s developmental, social, and school performances. Family history is also taken into account and is considered an essential aspect of the evaluation procedure.
Intervention at an early stage is required so that the child does not face any difficulties in later years. A child who suffers from the simple addition of numbers will definitely face problems in performing calculus in higher classes. If learning difficulties are not treated well in advance, then they often manifest as frustrations, emotional challenges, and self-esteem issues when the child grows up.
Learning disabilities are usually identified when the child starts going to a school. Educators use a procedure called ‘right to intervention’ (RTI). This process consists of specialized testing that constitutes the following steps:
- Monitoring the child’s activities closely to identify the likely learning difficulties
- Educational support for the identified learning difficulties at various levels
- Progressing the child from one level of assistance to the next based on his or her improvements
- Developing an individualized educational plan
- Creating a benchmark to measure the child’s progress
Additionally, school psychologists play a keen role in identifying children with learning disorders and treating them, as they are trained in psychology and education. They also assist parents and teachers in formulating the educational plans that enhance learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a new world of lockdowns and isolation, creating challenging situations, especially to those affected by psychological disorders. How can we, as caregivers, take care of children diagnosed with learning difficulties, especially in such trying times? First, we need to emphasize that learning disorder does not entail intelligence problems. The focus here is not on the treatment of learning disorders but on providing academic, emotional, and social support to the children affected by it. This can be done in the following ways:
- Focus on the child’s strengths: The child should not be confined to his or her learning disabilities and limitations. The caregivers should concentrate on the child’s unique abilities and strengths. Lockdowns can be ideally used to engage in creative activities. The new digital platforms and courses have opened a whole new world of opportunities.
- Your role as an educator: Constant encouragement and support are crucial in promoting learning among children. As caregivers, we need to know what the child’s keen interests are and how they can be improved. Special educators can also be contacted for a reference. An ideal learning environment can be fostered when we know how and what the child learns the best.
- Alter the lifestyle: A healthy mind comes with a healthy lifestyle. Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercises help in enhancing concentration levels in children. Children, in most cases, benefit from having a regular timetable. It not only incorporates discipline in life, but also helps in organizing and maintaining regular work schedules.
- Seek professional help: Recognizing and acknowledging increased stress levels and frustrations in both you and the child is an important step. It is advisable to consult a mental health professional to alleviate stressful conditions and adopt healthy coping mechanisms.
It’s true that children affected by learning disorders have difficulties in their academic domains, but does this difficulty last a lifetime? Not always. With the right remedial approach, along with encouragement, motivation, and unconditional positive regard from the caregiver’s side, such children can even conquer the world!
“Dyslexia is not a pigeonhole to say you can’t do anything. It is an opportunity and a possibility to learn differently. You have magical brains; they just process differently. Don’t feel like you should be held back by it.”
~ Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice Elizabeth Mary of York
- How to support children with learning disabilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, June 23). Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/how-to-support-children-special-needs-6470363/
- Diagnosing a Learning Disability. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/learning-disabilities/Pages/Diagnosing-a-Learning-Disability.aspx
- Learning disorders: Know the signs, how to help. (2019, March 12). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/learning-disorders/art-20046105