Early Intervention to Help Overcome

Learning Disabilities

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you the threshold of your mind.” - Kahlil Gibran

Education today faces the dichotomy of having to equip an individual with intellectual and professional skills amidst increasing competition, while taking care not to be ensnared in the technological changes revolutionizing critical thinking and creativity. Exposed to hi-tech gadgets from birth, children are better informed from exposure to the media and the environment, the negative side being restlessness, reduced interest in academic learning and poor social interaction. “Problematic” children (Post) are more in today’s classrooms, increasing complexities in behaviors (Gray) of children are observed, often, attributed to disturbed family backgrounds. (Evers) What is the role of teachers in dealing with techno-savvy, culturally challenged children? What IQ, EQ and SQ do teachers require in tackling “noncompliant” children? (Child Study) In my opinion, the recipe is a varied proportion with each set of ‘new’ students.

For this paper, I would like to focus on one specific problem - Dyslexia!

In dictionary parlance, Dyslexia is a learning disability (LD) involving difficulties in acquiring and processing language that is typically manifested by a lack of proficiency in reading, spelling, and writing. Branded “lazy or dumb,” children with LD are smart as their peers, their brains are simply wired differently; this underlines the dissimilarity in the way they receive and process information. (Stuff4 Educators) I was introduced to “Dyslexia” when I did a short term course to hone my teaching skills. As a Primary teacher (teaching English, Math and Vernacular), my creative instinct and passion for teaching helped me identify disabilities in students even prior to doing the course. The summer practicum course helped me appreciate better “multiple intelligences” and “remedial teaching.”

What are these terms? How do they help the learner? In a class, one child understands with visuals, another relies on his auditory skills, while a third may learn through Play Way method. (Kinesthetics) A tactile learner sensitive to external stimuli may be in their midst. (I have taught such learners!) Howard Gardner has identified seven different intelligences - children “learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways…” Remedial education is designed for slow learners to rise up to the desired class level by diagnosing the area of difficulty and focusing on skills. (HKU) Bridging (mediating) helps learners who lack the ability to ‘see the wood for the trees;’ they require guidance to extract general principles from concrete experience and be taught to apply the study skills. How can these techniques help a teacher in mainstream schools? The teacher’s intelligence and discrimination coupled with technological aids that support learning is an effective approach for children. “Students with LD often experience greater success when they are allowed to use their abilities (strengths) to work around their disabilities (challenges)” (Kristin)

Here is the case of Prakash, (not his real name, Harry Potter look alike) student with LD, who is currently pursuing Grade XI, “A Level” at a renowned school in Chennai. I diagnosed his learning disability when he was in Grade I, (I was his private tutor for Vernacular) though I pursued the course when he was in Grade III. He had difficulty in spellings, ‘bad’ hand writing and issues while solving mathematical word problems. Non-acceptance – “too early to judge” was the first parental reaction, although educated and returned from overseas. Around Grade III, his behavior changed to aggression and hyperactivity. The very next year, the parents were pressurized by the school to “pull out.”

They visited a Clinical psychologist, who confirmed Prakash’s dyslexic symptoms; remedial teaching was advised. Subsequently, he was admitted into a newly commenced “mainstream” school which had only five-six children in the class. Elsewhere, the class average in many Indian schools number between 35-60 students. (In my opinion, this is one of the reasons for teachers missing out early signs of disability.) Prakash had the option of choosing five subjects with an exemption to vernacular. (Though he stopped lessons with me, I kept in touch to ascertain his progress.) Providentially, the school had special educators and he was in right hands. A happy go lucky teenager now, his learning trajectory has shown an upward trend; timely intervention a blessing! A “tinkerer,” (Coyle) Prakash is a computer whiz, interested in learning by doing! ** Tests are still boring, but he has learnt to grit and bear. He is fully aware that he has to pass out of school with decent results in order to pursue his dream of higher studies in the Science Stream.

In India, responsiveness about LD gathered momentum, after a film “Taare Zamin Par” was released. Recognizing the need for a favorable school environment for diverse learners from different religious, cultural and economic backgrounds of the Indian Society, guidelines have been provided by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), New Delhi, India – “ mainstream children with learning disabilities in order that they learn in an environment where teacher motivation and peer interaction would help them overcome disabilities, empower them to study and face life’s challenges better.” (Veera). Despite this, educators working in private and public schools, particularly in the rural and semi-urban areas are still unaware of dyslexia, slow learners, ESL and the like. Firstly, teachers need to be educated to recognize these symptoms, since early intervention is proven to be crucial. (Shilpa, another LD child came to me, after she underwent a harrowing experience, due to late diagnosis. After remedial help, she went to a State Board School where the syllabus was easier.) Poor language skill (Schwarz) is a handicap faced by several youngsters, particularly those with learning disability.

To empower ‘dyslexic’ students, concern and commitment is required in the day to day functioning. Some days would leave the teacher doubting her credentials! Apt diagnosis, assessment tools, remedial sessions, continuous monitoring and teacher encouragement coupled with parental support instills confidence in these youngsters to work on their “mistakes” (Coyle) and improve, albeit at a snail’s pace. “Something else that seems to make a real difference is the practice of scaffolding. Start out with heavily teacher-mediated instruction -- explicit instruction – then as students begin to acquire the skill, moving down the continuum to more student-mediated instruction.”(LDA)

Talking about dyslexia in the global scenario, several celebrities, scientists and innovators were dyslexics in childhood. Considering an example, actor Tom Cruise was labeled dyslexic when he was seven. He describes how hard it was at school. “I’d try to concentrate on what I was reading, then I’d get to the end of the page and have very little memory of anything I’d read.” (Pamela) Likewise, Bobby Fischer, Chess Grandmaster at 16? “He’d had nine years of intensive study.” (Colvin) And he is thought to have been dyslexic (Scotsman)

Teaching children appears simple, yet is complex. Each child is unique, with different learning styles, strengths and weaknesses. Notwithstanding disabilities, recognizing them is the primary step towards strategic learning. Nothing shameful to hide! (Parents have to understand this first.) Dyslexics like Prakash and Shilpa (teaching them was a good learning experience) have several strengths- oral skills, comprehension, spatial awareness and artistic abilities. By highlighting their specific strengths, they could become talented and skilled in that area. I recall a play in my children’s school textbook- “Teacher Teacher,” (Ellisson Carroll) in which two methods of teaching and learning was elucidated. The first person Hamilton Cade, a conventional teacher, teaches using “flash cards” and “pictures” while the other person, “Handyman” Carter teaches thirteen year old Freddie, a slow learner in “fun filled ways” and proves successful. A positive mindset and encouraging attitude of parents and teachers can go a long way in fostering child education and growth. In conclusion, I wish to state that “a smile of encouragement at the right moment may act like sunlight on a closed-up flower; it may be the turning point for a struggling life.” (Unknown)


These are the concluding lines of my Project. “In order to learn, education must be student-centered and student-driven. Research shows that “students retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, 90% of what they say and do.” (Wikiversity) And that is what the visual depicts –Learning by doing! This can help them latch onto a rewarding career trajectory, work their way through the stumbling blocks and become an Ansel Adams, Bresson……. (Meyer)

Abbreviations used:IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient), SQ (Spiritual Quotient), LD (Learning Disability), CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education)


Tables and Additional References for General Reading

Common Types of Learning Disabilities
Dyslexia Difficulty reading Problems reading, writing, spelling, speaking
Dyscalculia Difficulty with math Problems doing math problems, understanding time, using money
Dysgraphia Difficulty with writing Problems with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas
Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder) Difficulty with fine motor skills Problems with hand–eye coordination, balance, manual dexterity
Dysphasia/Aphasia Difficulty with language Problems understanding spoken language, poor reading comprehension
Auditory Processing Disorder Difficulty hearing differences between sounds Problems with reading, comprehension, language
Visual Processing Disorder Difficulty interpreting visual information Problems with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, pictures

Bridging is based on Kolb’s learning cycle, which is not as simple as it looks and is often misunderstood. It is used to describe the development of a specific skill, such as serving at tennis, or writing and essay.

The idea is that we learn by Doing, then Reviewing or reflecting on what we did: for example what went well, what badly, and why. The result of this reflection is to Learn general principles which help us to understand the original action and how it should be carried out. The next step is to Apply these general principles with the aim of doing a better job. In effect the learner plans an experiment with the aim of doing it better next time. They then carry out this experiment and Do it again though doing it differently and hopefully better of course. The cycle then continues.


More by :  Hema Ravi

Top | Education

Views: 3555      Comments: 1

Comment From today's Hindu:

What exactly is dyslexia? Simply put, it’s the inability to connect letters with sounds and put those sounds in the right order. Reading depends on accurate, consistent sound processing and ordering — even if, while you’re reading, those sounds are heard only inside your brain. This new understanding of the sound/reading connection means some kids can ease their reading woes with auditory therapy. The therapy involves listening to sounds, syllables, words and sentences (no reading), then trying to identify differences in pitch and accurately identify the meaning of a word or phrase by choosing a picture that represents it. This can rewire the brain so that sound is processed more accurately, and that improves reading.

Early indications of dyslexia include: difficulty repeating a list of numbers or words, an inability to rhyme words or enjoy hearing rhymes, confusing up/down and over/under, or misstating colors’ names.

If you suspect your child has processing problems, get a diagnosis and begin auditory therapy before he or she starts trying to read. Remember, dyslexia needn’t keep your child from enjoying school or success as an adult.

Hema Ravi
16-Jun-2013 04:41 AM

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