Dealing With Learning Difficulties in Childerns
Different Types and Their Causes
In today's environment of intense competition in all walks of life, most parents are victims of over-anxiety about the scholastic abilities of their children. Some of them find it hard to accept that their child is anything short of extraordinarily brilliant. It, however, needs to be realized by all parents that children vary in their learning ability and that this skill is not dependent on the level of intelligence alone. As many as one in eight children experience some degree of difficulty in learning at school.
Some children do not do well because of lack of self-confidence. In some cases parents and teachers have unrealistic expectations, with the result that the child's performance is always considered poor even though he may be doing reasonably well. This puts the child under constant pressure and he may react by becoming apathetic or aggressive. On the other hand, an exceptionally intelligent child may find his school to be too simple and boring and thus lose interest in studies. Such a child may be wrongly labeled as a poor learner by an inexperienced teacher.
A child with mild deafness or defective vision may not be able to fully grasp what is being taught, resulting in poor performance. A few perform poorly due to lack of continuity in their studies, either because of ill health or on account of frequent changes of school. Domestic problems and parental disharmony may also adversely affect a child's school performance.
A very small number (5%) of school children suffer from a deficient functioning of the nervous system. These functional disorders are responsible for causing certain specific learning difficulties in different children. They are often associated with scholastic under-achievement, behavior difficulties and problems of social adjustment.
Attention disorders constitute a major problem among this group of children. Children with attention deficit disorder are unable to concentrate on any subject and get easily distracted. They are generally restless, overactive, talkative, and often complain of being bored. They are also often very impulsive and can be disturbingly aggressive and disruptive at school and at home.
Some children may have problems with their memory, a few with their ability to recognize shapes of written letters or words while others may find difficulty in understanding or expressing their feelings. A few may be lacking in sophisticated thinking and problem solving skills. A combination of these deficiencies results in a child having difficulty in reading, spelling, writing and mathematics. Older children may experience particular problems in the study of sciences or learning foreign languages.
A very few children are able to read and spell much less well than their general level of ability would suggest. This specific reading difficulty is known as 'dyslexia'. In rare cases a child may have true subnormal intelligence due to improper brain development or malfunctioning of a part of the brain.
What Should Parents do?
If your child is having some .learning difficulties at school, you should first discuss it with his teacher. An intelligent, perceptive teacher will tell you about your child's real weaknesses and strengths. You’re sharing with him your own assessment, doubts and fears as well as your domestic problems, if any, would be of great help. It is desirable to make sure that the child is not suffering from unrecognized mild deafness or defective vision. If the learning problem in your child persists, he would need careful assessment.
After the initial examination by a pediatrician, his problems would require to be evaluated in detail by a team of experts, including the pediatrician, an educational psychologist and a clinical psychologist. The facilities for such a group evaluation are available at Child Guidance Centers and at some schools. The child would go through a physical and neurological examination as well as detailed development screening with the help of specially prepared questionnaires and test kits. Such evaluations generally include tests for his level of intelligence (IQ)-
The educational psychologist would assess how a child learns as well as his level of ability.
He will determine the range of skills of which a child is capable, his response to a challenge, differences between his verbal and non-verbal abilities and the child's mental attitude.
After the basic problems in the child have been identified, steps are taken to help him through a combination of different strategies- The first and most important step is for the child, the parents and the school teachers to accept and recognize the existence and nature of the child's problems, so that these can be handled in an appropriate manner with a positive attitude. The team of professionals helping him to overcome his difficulties may subsequently also include a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a neurologist and a social worker.
Assessment of Intelligence
General intelligence includes a child's ability to reason, his speed of learning, memory and perception of similarities and differences. Intelligence is, however, not a stationary, innate function but is deeply influenced by environment, psychosocial factors and the child's ability to properly receive and interpret stimuli from the environment.
Several intelligence tests (like Stanford-Binet, Wechsler, NCERT) have been devised to measure a wide range of abilities, including language development, drawing, special concepts, number, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, memory, hand skills, etc. On the basis of the standardized intelligence scale, the test conducted on a particular child enables the examiner to establish his mental age. The mental: age of a child, when compared with his chronological age: (actual age in years) and expressed as a percentage gives his intelligence quotient (IO).
If a child is of average ability, his IQ will fall between 85 and 115. One should, however, be very careful in attaching too much significance to an IQ, finding. For example, since language ability plays a very important part in all IQ tests, a mildly deaf child or a child from a linguistically poor background may not score well. He may thus be wrongly designated as a child with a low IQ.
Despite such limitations, including the difficulties of designing appropriate tests for children with widely different environmental backgrounds, the IQ test is a fairly reasonable; screening test. However, it is necessary to use tests which are appropriate for a child's age and environmental background and to repeat them at suitable intervals.