The biggest challenge that the parent of a learningdisabled child faces is initial acceptance. It can be tough to understand and accept that your child has a learning disorder. You may worry about your child’s future and his ability to keep up with his peers and to cope with what the world throws at him. Perhaps you are worried that he will be labelled ‘slow’ and suffer from low self-esteem. What you would do well to understand is that your child is just as smart as any other child; he has above-average intelligence and only needs a little bit of extra help to allow him to maximise his potential. He just needs to be taught using an approach that is different from one normally used in classrooms, and one that is tailored to suit his unique learning style. Think Taare Zameen Par!
So how can a parent recognise if a child has a learning disorder? While the symptoms of learning disorders differ depending on the kind of disability the child suffers from, in general, such disorders are characterised by the inability to ‘learn’ in the conventional manner. So the child may have severe problems and be slow to grasp skills in areas such as reading and writing, mathematics, concepts, etc. He may also suffer from a lack of co-ordination, have poor motor skills and have difficulty following instructions. Children with learning disabilities often have attention-deficit disorders as well.
Shilpa*, a housewife in Coimbatore, has a son with a learning disorder. She first realised that her son was ‘different’ when she started noticing that at the age of four, he was behaving differently and was much slower to achieve the milestones that his older sister did when she was the same age.
The first steps a parent must take
Special educator Bharathy Sivasankaranathan who is also the Principal of Srihari Vikasam, a school in Chennai for children with special needs, recommends that if you suspect that your child may have a learning disorder, take him to a neuro-developmental paediatrician or a psychologist to be evaluated. The evaluation will take a couple of hours and your child will be asked to complete various tasks using toys and educational materials. It is easier to intervene and help the child if the issue is identified at a very young age — say four to six years.
Once a learning disability is confirmed, a special educator usually takes over. The special educator identifies the gaps in the child’s learning and assesses how far behind he is when compared to his peer group. A plan will then be created to help the child catch up. This plan aims to make the child independent, and involves strategies that will help him overcome the disability or to bypass it, and to move ahead with learning.