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LEARNING DISABILITY

- Dr. Vivek Sharma

Mohit a 10 year old boy is a slow communicator. He uses a lot of gestures when talking and tries to avoid verbal communication. Cannot recall the names of objects, relate events or characteristics in a story. Is unable to answer questions based on a lesson that is read out to him. His responses are limited to three or four words.
Anjana cannot recognize simple 3 letter words. She omits vowels, reverses whole words (window as wodin) and confuses sounds. Wild guessing when reading and pays no attention to punctuation.
Anjali cannot complete the work in time. Makes several erasures, while copying sentences from the blackboard. Writing is almost illegible and no punctuation is used. Writing one page makes her feel tired and complains of fatigue. Her comprehension and oral responses exceed her written performance.
Nine-year old Harmeet confuses addition symbol with multiplication sign. Counts on her fingers. Borrows twice from the same digit. Forgets what step she is using. Cannot tell the time accurately.
Such problems are faced by us as teachers & parents very frequently and we react by getting irritated and scolding the child. Due to our ignorance we are unable to find the cause of the problem and are more an addition to the intensity of the problem. To the conceptual difficulties that students face we are as psychological deterrents towards the clarity of concepts. Is all this just lack of readiness as we perceive on the part of the children or lack of effort from us as teachers or something more than that. A look at almost newly coined word which is used as a cause of learning problems is an answer to all the above questions. The term is Learning Disability.
Learning Disability exhibits disorders in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. These disorders are manifested in considerable problem in listening, thinking, talking, reading, writing, spelling or arithmetic.

4 important dimensions of this disability
• Considerable problem in reading, writing, spoken language.
• Free from visual, hearing, motor, mental and emotional handicaps.
• Difference in ability and achievement.
• Adequate facilities, interests and motivation.

A look at different types of learning difficulties will give us a comprehensive view of this problem being faced by some of the children.
Dyslexia :
The term is used synonymously with Learning Disability. But Dyslexia is basically a reading disability. It is inability to read which indicates that there is something wrong with the child.
The important characteristics of this disability are cumulative. The characteristics can be used as identification indicators also.
• Slow rate of oral and silent reading.
• Inability to answer questions about what is read showing lack of comprehension.
• Inability to state the main topic of a simple paragraph or story.
• Lack of skill in using tools to locate information and such as index and table of the contents.
• Inability to follow simple printed instructions.
• Reading word by word.
• Lack of expression in oral reading
• Excessive lip movement in silent reading
• Vocalization in silent reading
• Lack of interest in reading
• Excessive physical activity while reading such as squirming
• Mispronunciation of words ---- gross mispronunciation showing lack of phonetic ability, minor mispronunciation due to failure to discriminate beginnings and endings, showing inability to attack unfamiliar words.
• Omission of letters
• Substitution of words / letters
• Insertion of words / letters
• Reversal of whole words due to difficulty in sequential memory
• Repetition of words / groups when reading orally
• Excessive number of regressive eye movements
• Excessive eye fixation

These characteristics can be seen first in accordance with letter identification, word recognition, sentences and then paragraphs.

• Dysgraphia :
It is a form of learning disability in which child exhibits extremely poor handwriting or the inability to perform motor movements required for handwriting.
The most important indicators of Dysgraphia are :
• Death grip on the pencil
• Incorrect pencil grip
• Awkward positioning of the body, bending too close • the paper
• Symptoms of premature muscle fatigue
• Avoidance of writing tasks
• Sparse written output inappropriate to a child's age, reading ability, verbal ability.
• Numerous eye fixations from far to near point during a copying task.
• Excessive number of erasures
• Frequent referral to an alphabet chart to check the formation of letters.
• Confusions in directional orientation such as mirror writing and reversals.
• Poor use of space as observed inc crawling or cramped writing, inadequate space between letters and    words, inappropriate letter size relationships, and inability to stay within head and base lines.
• Poor letter connections and illegible letters
• Inaccuracies such as omissions, perseverations, lack of punctuation, line skipping
• Slow motor speed.
• Hesitation and difficulty in generating letters in a noncopying writing task, particularly capital letters
• Difficulty in keeping up with dictation tasks due to a breakdown in the integration process.

If many of these characteristics are observed, the teacher should collect handwriting samples using a series of structured tasks.

• Dyscalculia :
Dyscalculia is an arithmetic disability. It refers to difficulty in reading or writing isolated or a series of numerals, reading and writing numbers whose names are not written the way they are spoken and doing computational operations.
Following indicators are used as identification guidelines for a child suffering from dyscalculia :
• Problem in differentiating between sizes, shapes and quantities.
• Inability to do counting
• Inability to understand place value
• Difficulty with fundamental operations of addition, substraction, multiplication and division.
• No concept of fractions
• Difficulty in telling time
• No problem solving skills

What are the signs and symptoms that help one recognize whether a child is learning disabled or simply careless and inattentive?
Based on the frequency of occurrence the following ten characteristics have been identified as widely prevalent in individuals with learning disability.

1. Disorder of attention and hyperactivity.
Short attention span and lack of concentration have been found to be the most obvious qualities in LD's. But inattentiveness may be for difference reasons. LD's are inferior in selective attention and they cannot sustain attention or maintain attention till the task is completed.
Though hyperactivity is associated with learning disabled child very strongly but still the relationship is not clearly substantiated. The maximum number of following characteristics should be present for at least six months :
# fidgeting with hand or feet squirming in the seat
# difficulty remaining seated when required to do so
# easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
# difficulty awaiting turns in games or group situations
# blurts out answers even before the question has been completed
# difficulty following through on instructions from others
# difficulty in sustaining attention
# often shifting from one activity to another
# difficulty in playing quietly
# talk excessively
# interrupt or intrude on others
# does not seem to listen to what is being said
# loosing things necessary for tasks or activities
# engage in threatening activities without thinking about considerable possible consequences

2. Memory Disorders
Persons with learning disability are generally characterized by inefficient memory systems. The following characteristics are clearly observed in LD children :
# Difficulty in recalling visual material, specially the written word.
# Unable to use strategies for verbal rehearsal.
# Poor on tasks requiring auditory information.

3. Academic Characteristics
There is a little doubt that in the area of academic learning, children with learning disability are low achievers. They have problems in specific area of reading, writing and mathematics.

4. Social and Interpersonal Characteristics
Learning disabled children have poor social skills and are considered unattractive by their peers. Diffidence is another important characteristic of learning disabled children.
They fail to read the social cues and may misinterpret the reactions of other people. They lack role taking skills and find it difficult to adopt another's point of view. But not all learning disabled individuals have a problem, and grow up to be perfectly well-adapted adults.

5. Perceptual motor problems
Perception is the cognitive ability to receive and make sense of incoming stimuli. LD students suffer from perceptual deficit. The problems that such children observe are :
- Inability to concentrate on what is relevant and what is irrelevant.
- Inability to see things from another's perspective.
- bad eye-hand coordination due to which children face difficulty in tasks like buttoning, lacing, cutting, pasting, writing and also copying from the blackboard.

6. Auditory perception deficits
A LD child may have nothing wrong with hearing but still be unable to interpret what is heard. The child faces problem in
- Auditory discrimination, which is the ability to point similarities and differences between two sounds.
- Auditory blending, is the ability to blend or combine sounds to form words. (difficulty with blends like bl, sp, ch, gh, th)
- Difficulty in recalling correct sequence of letters in a word or words in a sentence.

7 Haptic perception.
A child explores the world around him by touching and manipulating objects and absorbing information pertaining to texture, pain, temperature, pressure and geometric features. Learning Disabled children have problem with kinesthia which includes bodily movement, coordination, body image, direction and spatial orientation. A child may be unable to write because he doesn't know how to move his hand and he cannot produce the up/down strokes required for writing.

8. Motor Deficiencies
Motor deficiencies include gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills include activities such as walking, jumping, catching and so on. Teachers have observed many learning disabled children to be clumsy and awkward on the playground and unable to perform simple physical exercises such as toe-touching.
Fine motor skills are basic prerequisite for any kind of academic learning and they include activities involving eye and hand movements such as tracing, needlework, bead stringing, lacing, coloring or writing. Deficits in fine motor skills are usually associated with learning disability.

 
 
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