Definition of Learning Disabilities by American Psychological Association (APA). – “A condition with a neurological basis, marked by substantial deficits in acquiring certain scholastic or academic skills. Particularly those associated with written or expressive language. “
A significant percentage of children fail to cope with ‘learning at school’. A survey conducted in Bangalore reveals that 20 to 25 per cent of school children have problems with learning at school. In rural areas, this figure is still higher.
These children identify by variety of labels such as dyslexic, slow learner, learning disabled, perceptually disordered, educationally handicapped, minimally brain damaged and many more.
The causes for their learning problems are varied. For some children, it could be purely due to external factors, while for some due to internal factors.
In fact, for others it could be a mixture of both.
Factors of Learning Disabilities
Internal factors contributing to learning problems
- Birth trauma
- Oxygen Deprivation
- Infectious Diseases
- Drug Intoxication
- Congenital Defects
- Delay in Maturation of Central Nervous System
- Confused Laterality
- Biochemical Imbalances
When the learning problems are due to biological factors, they manifest right from the early development of the child. If the academic problems are of recent origin, we can suspect the role of external factors.
Some children face learning problems due to biological factors. Broadly grouped into four categories.
Group 1B: These children have problems with their general abilities; are low achievers in studies compared to average students. Slow learners.
Group 2B: These children predominantly have problems with attention. They are restless and some are hyperactive characterized by constant motion.
Group 3B: These children show problems with visual and auditory perceptions. They may read or write ‘b’ as ‘d’. Some also manifest soft neurological signs such as difficulty in motor coordination or clumsy behavior.
Group 4B: These children are quite intelligent but have specific problems in spelling or writing or arithmetic.
Assessment of the child
Information about assessment of children with learning problems provides a basis for remediation. Assessment information is of two types:
- General information -this includes case history material, general abilities of the child, observational data, etc. This gives an overall picture of the chiild and suggests a beginning point for remediation.
- Specific information – the results of direct measurement of the child’s performance in language, arithmetic and other areas that provides the basis for further instruction.
General abilities have to be assessed in order to state whether the child functions at a lower or higher level for its age. It cannot be obtained only on the basis of academic records.
A child may be intelligent, but due to lack of motivation or other factors performs poorly at school. Some of the other ways of judging a
child’s general ability are as follows:
i) Asking the parents regarding the general capacity of the child in areas other than academics, compared to children of his/her age, for example. on
developmental tasks such as child of his/her age are able to follow directions for solving puzzles. This child, however, needs to be instructed several times and still may not be able to solve the puzzle.
ii) Get information regarding the child’s following instructions, ability to go out and buy things, counting, understanding television programs and compare that information with the abilities in these areas with other children of his/her age.
iii) Question parents regarding the child’s eating habits, general cleanliness, ability to take care of his/her belongings whether organized or careless, etc.
A child who is poor in general abilities will be dull in all the areas. In case of doubt, the child could be referred to a psychologist for assessment of intellectual abilities.
Once we have the background data and information about the general ability of the child, assessment can be focused on specific areas.
Level-I tests can be used as screening instruments for children in 5-7 years age group.
Level-II tests can be used as screening instruments tests for children in 8 – 12 years age-group.
Once, a newly appointed teacher tried to teach the Adivasi children nursery rhymes and found that in spite of repeated attempts they could not learn. Then, she gave them a standardized intelligence test and found their scores indicating retardation.
The following day, she took them out in the woods for a picnic. To her surprise, she found that the very same children could at will identify twenty different kinds of snakes. Moreover, say which were poisonous and non-poisonous. Further, they went on to identify thirty different kinds of trees, distinguish edible and non-edible fruits and in fact, climb trees.
Then, the teacher told herself that yesterday I thought that these children were retarded, but today I feel that I am retarded.
The incident here shows that the cultural context of the child has to be kept in mind before deciding that the child is retarded.
Types of Learning Disabilities
- Speech and Language
- Temporal Relationships
- Auditory and Visual Perception
- Quantitative Reasoning and Computational Skills
- Motor Skills
Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) –
Symptoms of Learning Disabilities
Following are the symptoms of learning disabilities diagnosed in Level – I.
Speech and Language
- Speaks with marked lack of fluency
- Mis-articulates (mispronounces) many words (may use ‘Ph’ for ‘S’).
- Lacks ability to describe persons, places and things clearly.
- Fails to identify an object from its verbal description.
- Doesn’t comprehend simple sentences.
- Cannot tell a story in sequence.
- Absent minded, forgets important events.
- Confuses seasons, months, years, days after the age at which most children learn these concepts.
- Cannot remember alphabets or nursery rhymes in sequence.
Auditory and Visual Perception
- Loses place frequently when copying.
- Unable to discriminate differences in size, shape or color.
- Has difficulty in drawing simple geometric shapes like square or a circle.
- Has difficulty in recognizing common objects when a part is missing.
- Gets confused with words indicating position-up, down, above or right and left.
- Doesn’t discriminate changes in pitch, loudness, etc.
- Reverses the letter – ‘b’ for ‘d’, p,q, jumbles words while spelling.
- Difficulty in joining the corners or angles
Quantitative Reasoning and Computational Skills
- Difficulty with concepts like more-less, longer-smaller, heavier-lighter.
- Doesn’t understand one to one correspondence. Examples: teacher-student, pen-ink, pencil-sharpener, etc.
- Has marked difficulty in learning basic number facts
- Unable to balance on one foot
- Has an unsteady and awkward gait
- Unable to throw and catch a ball
- Unable to hold a pencil properly
In Level – II Tests, these aspects are studies –
- Color cancellation test
- Number cancellation test
- Word list
- Paragraphs for oral reading
- Language skills
- Free writing
Remedies for Learning Disabilities
After the assessment, it is important to plan and carry out remedial work. The first & important implication of assessment is the recognition of individual patterns of learning and individual areas of difficulty.
- Eliminate possible health and sensory factors as causes
- Observe the methods through which a child learns best
- Integrate Type I information with the teaching strategy
- Formulate appropriate goals for every week
- Plan specific strategies to obtain the goal
- Provide ample opportunities for practice
- Build good relationship with the child
- Keep a chart of child’s progress and reward in form of positive reinforcement