What to do if your child has a learning disability

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I was a volunteer teaching assistant back in 2014. As a teaching assistant, i was assigned classes four, five and six. This being a public school as you can imagine, there were many challenges that the students and teachers faced. Teachers were few and students were more than they could handle at a time. In every class that I was assigned to, I noticed that there were a number of students who had problems understanding what was being taught.

In the year 2010, Uwezo Kenya released a report stating that four out of 100 children could not read a Class Two story. In the year 2012, the organisation released a report Uwezo 3 where they found out that a third of children in Class Three cannot read a Class Two story. Part of the reason for these shocking results had to do with learning disabilities.

An online magazine, Children’s Advocate, defines a learning disability (LD) as a disorder that affects people’s ability to interpret what they see or hear, or how they link information together in the brain.The levels range from mild which can be worked on with an attentive teacher to severe which requires the learner to attend a special school. At least 10% of school-age children have LD.

According to HelpGuide.Org, the most common learning disabilities in classrooms are dyslexia,dyscalculia,ADHD and autism. Dyslexia is a disability in reading. Symptoms include, trouble with written and word recognition and understanding words and ideas. Learners struggle with reading speeds and fluency and do not grasp vocabulary easily.

Dyscalculia is a brain-based condition that makes it hard to make sense of numbers and math concepts. Some kids with dyscalculia can’t grasp basic number concepts. They work hard to learn and memorize basic number facts. They may know what to do in math class but don’t understand why they’re doing it. In other words, they miss the logic behind it.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD ) and Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD) are becoming fairly common in the classroom. Students with this disorder display unique symptoms that can cover both extremes.Learners can be inattentive but not hyperactive or impulsive. They can also be hyperactive and impulsive but also be able to pay attention. The most common and recognizable form of ADD/ADHD is an inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive learner.
Autism is a developmental disability that is characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non verbal communication. Children with autism will often show symptoms at between 2-3 years of age. Some of the symptoms that may be displayed in the classroom include anxiety driven behavior (fidgeting, pacing, clicking pens, mumbling, appears to be in flight or fight mode at all times), they take forever to complete a task as everything else catches their attention and the learner doesn’t concentrate on work as they are unfocused, disorganized and use time poorly.

Most times the children have to go through tests to determine what disability or disorder that they have. In Kenya this can be done at the Kenya Institute for Special Education. After a proper assessment has been done the parent can decide to either take their child to a special school, hire a tutor for the child or have the child learn in a specialized unit in the regular school. The most important thing is for parents and teachers to work closely together and give regular reports of the child’s progress in both environments.

Since the larger part of a child’s day is mostly spent in school, teachers play a huge part in a child’s learning. A teacher who teaches a special needs child needs to find out his or her abilities and inabilities, change or simplify lessons to fit the student’s ability level. They should also explain instructions in several ways to make sure the student understands and set up special ways to test the student. The student needs time to work at his or her own pace and the teacher needs to use lots of repetition and practice in addition to intensive reading programs and workbooks.

In Nairobi there is the Grangeville School and Gibson School that have dedicated teachers that cater specifically to students with learning disabilities. The Autism Society of Kenya oversees a highly-structured educational program that incorporates intensive Integration Therapy for children with Autism at City Primary School, and intends to do the same in all other programs they initiate.

For the parents, ensure to always praise your child for what he or she does well. Give your child opportunities to develop those talents. Read out loud to your child every day and also have your child read out loud to you. Do learning activities with your children. Look for good, research-based, intensive reading programs, such as Lindamood-Bell and Read Naturally. Learn more about learning disabilities, as the more you know, the more you can help out your child. Join parent groups for support, as it is always easier to go through the journey knowing you are not alone. Every one can learn it is just the method that differs.

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