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Why Should Learning Disabilities Stop Students From Being The Best?

Nov 01, 2021

Let me tell you all a story. There was this little kid who lived in a small town in Tarhara, Nepal. Let us call him Happy. Happy was a, well, happy kid. He lived with his mom and his grandparents. His father was away for work. Happy and his folks lived in a fish farm which also had a fair number of other animals like goats, sheep, cows, etc. Most of these animals, Happy, would outrun. Or maybe they let Happy win because they were all his friends. 

Happy was a fast learner too. Happy’s grandfather taught him new words every day and he could beat adults at ‘Dictionary’ when he was just 3. Seeing this, Happy’s optimistic neighbour, Mrs. Thapa decided to take him to school. Within a year Happy had his ABCs figured out. Shortly, Happy would be introduced to Mathematics. 

It’s not that Happy didn’t like mathematics. In fact, he could perform basic calculations mentally with surprising ease for a 5-year-old. However, as soon as the numbers got inked on a piece of paper, for Happy, 5 + 4 was sometimes 20, while at other times it could be a 9, or even a 1. 

Happy couldn’t tell the difference between a ‘+’ and a ‘/’, or even a ‘-’. His understanding of a multiplication ‘X’ was slightly better. So one would say. However, he had a patient and determined teacher. After a couple of years of having to write [5 minus 4] instead of a [5 - 4], which his teacher happily did, Happy had figured the signs out. Most kids, however, aren’t as lucky. 

The Tale of Learning Disabilities 

Did you know that close to 8 percent of the world’s population has some kind of learning disorder? Among such, Dyslexia (the inability to read) affects over 15 percent of children. That makes students with LD (Learning Disorder) six times likely to drop out of school. Not only that, close to 5 percent of college students too have a learning disorder: most commonly ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 

What’s particularly scary is the fact that over 90 percent of children with LD end up paying for ‘additional’ assistance when it comes to learning. For instance, for someone with Dyslexia, guided reading strips are rarely available in schools themselves. Many schools do not see the need to invest. Most schools aren't aware that their kids need help!

Now think about Nepal for a moment. We can’t even ensure that all kids get to be at school. We can’t ensure the availability of books on time. When do we, then, talk about supporting students with learning disabilities? 

Punishment Over Support

A 10-year-old was diagnosed with ADHD last week. Let us call him Troublemaker because that’s what teachers thought of him. Troublemaker has been an energetic kid ever since he was 4-years-old. He couldn’t stay still or keep quiet even if his life depended on it. Naturally, he was constantly thrown out of classes or made to stand up on the desks for his peers’ amusement. “Punishment”, the teachers thought, would fix Troublemaker up. 

Troublemaker couldn’t even sit through examinations at school. He’d answer the first page, or sometimes the second page, on the question paper and then stop altogether. 

An important piece of information - all his answers on that 1st page and occasional 2nd pages were correct! 

Teachers thought Troublemaker was being naughty. They called his parents and said, “he needs to repeat this year”. All of Troublemaker’s friends were promoted and he was left behind. This took a toll on Troublemaker and he suddenly became quiet. “The quietest kid in school”, some would say. Now his teachers had a problem with Troublemaker being quiet. They rang his parents again and said “he doesn’t participate in class, this is not acceptable”. His father, a middle-class man, being completely unaware of his child’s struggle, called up a Military school in Pithoragarh, Uttrakhand in India. Troublemaker’s fate would soon be lost, however, his concerned mother decided to get help.

Troublemaker has since been on medication and has been improving every other day. He did so well in school that he was promoted back to his friends’ class mid-year. He’s now receiving adequate support from his teachers, his family, and his peers too! 10-year-olds are surprisingly more ‘understanding’ than adults are when it comes to supporting someone who’s struggling. Thus, Troublemaker was saved, and now he’s Happy too; number two. 

How Can We Support Someone With an LD

Here are some things you can try to do if you feel like a child is struggling to learn. 

  1. Break the class down into segments and teach in instalments instead of unpacking everything at once
  2. Make sure you always provide detailed feedback to the students
  3. Use media alternatives to text. Examples - Videos, Pictures, Diagrams, Interactive Modules, Games, etc.
  4. Provide options for practice such as MCQs. However, but eliminate the fear of ‘failure’ by making sure students know that even if they do unwell, it won’t matter
  5. Ask questions, be empathetic, let students know you’re there for them. Most teachers in Nepal rely on the fear of physical punishment. Don’t be one of those, be a friend that students can trust
  6. If nothing seems to be working, consider seeking professional help as significant LDs need proper treatment at a psychiatrist’s

Some Resources You Can Use to Help Kids With LD

Here’s a list of some resources that will assist you in ensuring that children receive all the support they can get. 

For Listening

  • LiPS - Helps with comprehension and spelling for students who lack phonetics awareness. 
  • Understanding Questions Out Loud - Helps retain attention while listening with over 5000 lessons. 
  • Earobics - Trains one to listen effectively.

For Memory

  • Memory Challange! - A powerful program to develop and test visual memory skills.
  • BrainHQ - Think of it as a workout for the brain as one would work out their muscles.
  • Brain Builder - A tool that helps with visual sequencing. 

For Writing

  • Grammar Fitness - Powerful tool to help make sense of grammar. The interactive exercises, explanations, and progress monitoring create a favourable setting for students to make sense of grammar concepts. Even the hard ones!

For Reading

  • Learning Fundamentals - Assists in learning to read, understand, and recall. Also familiarizes students with common words and trains them to recognize words by just looking at them.
  • Reading A-Z - Full of flashcards and other vocabulary tools. 

The End of the Line?

Even though it feels like we’ve talked so much, we have barely scratched the surface of learning disabilities. There is a lot more to it than it seems. One should realize that they might not be well-equipped to deal with students with LD. It is okay to seek help — both for students with LD and for oneself for understanding LDs. We must see that learning disorders are much more common than we realize. Some suggest that every teacher who deals with 100 students or more every day, will encounter at least 3 students with moderate to severe learning disorders in their careers. This data may or may not be true but let us ask ourselves this: are we prepared and equipped to help when they do arrive? Even if it’s just one kid? Are they already here and have we already slapped the ‘troublemaker’ label on their heads?

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