Unlocking students’ potential from learning disabilities

Written By : Source: Ministry of Education . This column wishes to discuss some ‘Learning Disabilities’ children may have that hinder their learning. Many children suffer ridicule and embarrassment from
27 May 2011 12:00

image Written By : Source: Ministry of Education . This column wishes to discuss some ‘Learning Disabilities’ children may have that hinder their learning.
Many children suffer ridicule and embarrassment from teachers and their peers for their learning difficulties. Many could not understand a thing because they have problems with their sight, their hearing, reading and speaking mechanism.
Unfortunately many adults today did not complete their education because their learning disabilities were undetected early and were forced out of the school system and labelled as failures.
With the increase and improvement in knowledge, understanding of the problems and technology, this column wishes to create awareness and discussion among parents and teachers that should any of their children have difficulty in reading, writing, speaking and listening further assistance is necessary.
Sources for Information collected for this article are mainly from the internet and the education officer responsible for Special Education with the Ministry of Education.

Learning Disability is a Neurological Disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive process; and store information. Disabilities are unobvious and unnoticeable by parents, teachers and even physicians.
However a child with learning disability maybe easily detected if he/she is easily distracted; never completes a task; inability to sit or stand still; low tolerance rate/short temperament; blurts out; impulsive and often acts without any consideration of consequences; talks incessantly and may be withdran because of low esteem.
Other observed features may show that the child has very short memory; his/her attention on a task vary from 30 per cent-60 per cent; has poor phonic development with an inability to learn symbols and recall associated sounds quickly; and is easily bored without interest to participate in learning.

Learning Disabilities
Basically there are four areas a child maybe having problems in. These are:
u Dyslexia- reading disability in which the brain is unable to process graphic symbols
u Dyscalculia- Disability in grasping mathematic concepts and solving mathematical problems.
u Dysgraphia- Difficulty in writing. When the child’s written work is messy, he/she is a dysgraphia case
u Dysorthographia- This is a difficulty in spelling where the child finds phonic a problem.
The characteristics of dyslexia have been identified mainly from research in languages with alphabetic writing systems, primarily English.
However, many of these characteristic may be transferable to other types of writing systems.
Listening, speech and language
Some shared symptoms of the speech/hearing deficits and dyslexia:
u Confusion with before/after, right/left, and so on
u Difficulty learning the alphabet
u Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems
u Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
u Difficulty with hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
u Difficulty distinguishing different sounds in words (auditory discrimination)
u Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters
u Difficulty associating individual words with their correct meanings
u Difficulty with time keeping and concept of time
u Confusion with combinations of words
u Difficulty in organisation skills
The identification of these factors results from the study of patterns across many clinical observations of dyslexic children.
Dyslexia is about having problems with the visual notation of speech, which in most languages of European origin are problems with alphabet writing systems which have a phonetic construction.
Experience of speech acquisition delays, and speech and language problems can be because of problems processing and decoding auditory input prior to reproducing their own version of speech, and may be observed as stuttering, cluttering or hesitant speech.
There are a range of neurological issues in Speech and Language Pathology which can later cause problems accessing the visual notation of speech, dyslexic problems.
Examples of these issues can be problems speaking in full sentences, problems correctly articulating Rs and Ls as well as Ms and Ns, mixing up sounds in multi-syllabic words (ex: aminal for animal, bisghetti for spaghetti, hekalopter for helicopter, hangaberg for hamburger, ageen for magazine, etc.), problems of immature speech “wed and gween” instead of “red and green”.
Some of these speech-related problems can be caused by auditory processing disorder issues.
This can create a neurological auditory barrier to developing good phonological awareness skills, as a result some may develop alternative skills which are based on recognising alphabetic words by their visual shape or Whole language and developing Logographic cues.

Reading and spelling
u Spelling errors – Because of difficulty learning letter-sound correspondences, individuals with dyslexia might tend to misspell words, or leave vowels out of words.
u Letter order – People with dyslexia may also reverse the order of two letters especially when the final, incorrect, word looks similar to the intended word (e.g., spelling “dose” instead of “does”).
u Letter addition/subtraction – People with dyslexia may perceive a word with letters added, subtracted, or repeated. This can lead to confusion between two words containing most of the same letters.
u Highly phoneticised spelling – People with dyslexia also commonly spell words inconsistently, but in a highly phonetic form such as writing “shud” for “should”. Dyslexic individuals also typically have difficulty distinguishing among homophones such as “their” and “there”.
u Vocabulary – Having a small written vocabulary, even if they have a large spoken vocabulary.

Writing and motor skills
Because of literacy problems, an individual with dyslexia may have difficulty with handwriting. This can involve slower writing speed than average, poor handwriting characterised by irregularly formed letters, or inability to write straight on a blank paper with no guideline. Some studies have also reported gross motor difficulties in dyslexia, including motor skills disorder.

Causes of learning disabilities
These are some identified causes of learning disabilities.
Studies conducted revealed that maternal use of cigarettes, alcohol or drugs during pregnancy lead to learning disability. Also it could develop from any complications related to pregnancy or delivery or premature birth.
Problems occurring after birth such as post-birth trauma, high fever are contributing factors as well.
The problem can develop through ear infections in infants and toddlers or simply inherited.
Children suffering from these difficulties are reflecting how their brains sort out and process data received and send back.
There is no need for alarm because these difficulties are treatable when detected early.

People with dyslexia
The world has produced famous people who had learning disabilities such as King George VI (father of Queen Elizabeth II); Leonardo da Vinci the famous artist who painted the Mona Lisa; Alexander Graham Bell who discovered the telephone; Louis Pasteur who discovered the vaccination of pencillin; Albert Einstein the brilliant scientists who discovered relativity; Churchill the wartime Prime Minister of England. In our time there is Tom Cruise the Hollywood actor and Richard Branson the British baron known for his Virgin group of companies.
This shows children suffering from learning disabilities are normal with deficiencies that could be corrected.

Assessment approaches
These are some assessment approaches advised to be taken when a parent or teacher identifies some of the characteristics mentioned earlier.
First, you may need to further observe the child to ascertain which area is dysfunctional and take note of his/her behaviour.
The child is then interviewed for further information and then tests in the areas deemed problematic for more information. Clinical tests are advised for physicians assessments and reports.
Once learning disability is confirmed then appropriate intervention strategies need to be put in place to help unlock the potential of the students concerned.
Multi sensory teaching is one of the best strategies that can be used with LD students and children.
Students are actively involved in learning not only by hearing and listening but by actually touching and doing the activities.

Multisensory teaching
Multisensory teaching is simultaneously visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile to enhance memory and learning.
Links are consistently made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.
“Dyslexic students need a different approach to learning language from that employed in most classrooms.
“They need to be taught, slowly and thoroughly, the basic elements of their language– the sounds and the letters which represent them — and how to put these together and take them apart.
“They have to have lots of practice in having their writing hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together for the conscious organisation and retention of their learning.” (Rawson, 2000)
Teachers who use this approach teach children to link the sounds of the letters with the written symbol.
Children also link the sound and symbol with how it feels to form the letter or letters.
As students learn a new letter or pattern (such as s or th), they carefully trace, copy, and write the letter(s) while saying the corresponding sound.
The sound may be made by the teacher and the letter name(s) given by the student. Students then read and spell words, phrases, and sentences using these patterns.
Teachers and their students rely on all three pathways for learning rather than focusing on a “sight-word” or memory method, a “tracing method,” or a “phonetic method” alone (The International Dyslexia Association; http://www.interdys.org)
There is a growing body of evidence supporting multisensory teaching.
Current research, much of it supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), converges on the efficacy of explicit structured language teaching for children with dyslexia.
Young children in structured, sequential, multisensory intervention programmes, who were also trained in phonemic awareness, made significant gains in decoding skills.
These multisensory approaches used direct, explicit teaching of letter-sound relationships, syllable patterns, and meaning word parts. Studies in clinical settings showed similar results for a wide range of ages and abilities (ibid).

Parents and teachers of learning disability children need not alarmed if children show symptoms of learning disability.
What teachers and parents see are just the externals, the children’s potentials are unlocked up somewhere. For teachers, you need to find the right strategy.
Literally speaking to unlock anything that is locked we need to find the right key.
For students with learning disabilities, a lot of strategies in teaching can be used but only one of those strategies will help unlock the potential that student has.
It is important for teachers and parents to focus on the child holistically. Do not focus on the disability.
Identify the strengths that he/she has and work on those strengths. Only then will that child or students potential can be unlocked.

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