Steven has difficulty reading. Every time he knows that he will be asked to read loud in class, he develops a stomachache.
Despite her teacher’s urgings, Maria has problems writing legibly. It takes her hours to complete her homework.
Noah reads the same school assignments repeatedly. Still, he forgets the material and struggle with his grades.
Steven, Maria, and Noah suffer from learning disabilities, the most common of which involve reading disabilities. Dyslexics, for example, often confuse letters that have a similar appearance. Other learning disabilities are dysgraphia [a disorder that affects handwriting] and dyscalculia [difficulty with math skills]. Yet, most of those with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence.
Symptoms of learning disabilities include delayed language skills, trouble rhyming words, habitual mispronunciation, persistent baby talk, difficulty in learning letters and numbers, inability to sound out letters in simple words, confusion involving words that sound alike, and difficulty following instructions. Learning disabilities are often accompanied by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], which is characterized by hyperactivity, impulse behavior, and an inability to concentrate.
HELPING YOUR CHILD TO COPE
What can you do if your child seems to have a learning disability? First, have his hearing and vision tested to rule out those causes. Then obtain a medical evaluation. If your child is learning-disabled, he will need your emotional support. Remember, a learning disability is not related to a child’s intelligence.
Take advantage of any special program your child’s school might have, such as tutoring. Enlist his teacher’s cooperation. Perhaps your child could be allowed to sit at the front of the classroom and have more time to complete his assignments. His teacher could give him both written and oral instructions and let him take exams orally. As learning-disabled children are often forgetful and disorganized, a second set of textbooks could be provided for use at home. A computer with a spell-checker could be made available for use in class or for homework.
Have short daily reading sessions. It is best for a dyslexic child to read aloud so that you, the parent, have an opportunity to offer feedback and correction. First read aloud yourself, having your child follow along. Next, read the same text aloud together. Then have your child read it by himself. Have him use a ruler under each line as he reads, and a highlighter on difficulty words. This exercise may take only 15 minutes a day.
Math skills can be taught in practical ways, such as when measuring quantities in recipes, using a ruler in carpentry, or going shopping. Graph paper and diagrams may be of help in doing math problems. For handwriting difficulties, try wide-ruled paper and thick pencils. Magnetic letters arranged on a metallic surface may help your child to spell.
There are also useful strategies for dealing with ADHD. Before speaking to a child with an attention disorder, make eye contact. Provide a quiet area for homework, and allow your child to take frequent breaks. Channel his hyperactivity by assigning chores that involve being active, such as walking the dog.
SUCCESS IS POSSIBLE
Build on your child’s strengths, encouraging any ability or talent that he may have. Praise and reward any accomplishment, however small. Break projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks so that he can experience the pride of succeeding. Use pictures or diagrams of the steps he must take in order to complete a project.
In the end, mastering basic reading, writing, and math skills is important for a youth. Be assured that given the proper motivation and assistance, your child can learn –he may just do it differently from others and take a little longer.
Children can be very adept at taking “picture notes” while listening attentively.
A LEARNING DISABILITY BECOMES AN ASSET
“When I looked at words on a page, they were merely a jumbled mess of squiggly lines. They may just as well have been in a foreign language. Words did not mean anything to me until someone else read them aloud. Teachers thought I was lazy or disrespectful or that I was not trying or not listening to lessons.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I was listening and trying very hard, but I was just not able to grasp the concept of reading and writing. Other subjects, such as math, were not difficult for me. As a child, I quickly learned to focus on things like sports, trade skills, art, and anything that involved using my hands, as long as it was not related to reading and writing.
“Later on, I chose to work with my hands, so I became a tradesman. So instead of viewing this disability as a weakness, I view it as an asset”.
I have a learning disability –dyslexia. This condition, which affects my father, my mother, and my three younger brothers, has made it difficult for me to read my native Danish, and school proved to be a real struggle. Nevertheless, I have received much help and encouragement, especially from my family.
WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
The word “dyslexia” comes from Greek and means “poor speech.” A life-long condition, dyslexia is a language-related disability that especially involves reading. People who have dyslexia tend to have difficulty making the connection between letters and the sounds those letters represent. Specific symptoms, however, may differ from person to person.
WHAT CAUSES DYSLEXIA?
The exact causes remain unclear, although heredity is a factor. While studies indicate abnormal brain development and function, dyslexia is not linked to general intelligence or lack of the desire to learn. In fact, sufferers are often gifted in areas not requiring strong language skills.
HOW IS DYSLEXIA TREATED?
Early identification of the condition is important. Effective training in language skills involves using several senses, especially hearing, seeing, and touching. So that they can progress at their own pace, many students need one-on-one assistance. They may also need help with emotional issues resulting from difficulty in school. With good tutoring and hard work, students with dyslexia can learn to read and write well.