Before reading further, please note that the information presented here is based on my personal experiences. It is by no means conclusive and if you feel that your child exhibits one or more of these warning signs, it does not mean that he/she suffers from a learning disability! Thank you.
When Kiran mooted the idea of a month dedicated to learning difficulties in children, I was one of the earliest supporters of the idea. All my life I’ve seen my brother struggle with his studies and like my mother, I think some early sensitisation would have done our family a world of good.
Dada and I were born into a family of very high academic achievers. Given our lineage on both sides, there were high expectations, especially from him, the first grandchild on both sides. As a toddler he was attractive, confident, charming and intelligent. When he went to school the family fondly waited for the perfect results he would bring home.
As the school years went on, my parents saw a curious thing. My brother was really quick to learn and he showed an almost photographic memory, but he failed his tests, every one of them. His school books came home blank, his teachers kept complaining about his lack of interest.
My parents and the entire extended family couldn’t figure the problem out. He was not stupid by a long chalk but his teachers were talking of a child they couldn’t recognise.
He is nearing thirty now and the doctors are no closer to giving a name to his problems than they were when he was a young child in school. One thing we’ve all come to terms with however, is that what he had was a form of examination anxiety, where he couldn’t perform under pressure, and also did not understand/appreciate the compulsion of performing under such pressure.
What can you do with such a child?
You can try to work out his motivations, what will work as sufficient incentive for him.
You can reduce your expectations, so any achievement seems worthy of celebration. This is not easy when you know what your child is capable of, but it may be the kindest thing you’ll ever do for him, when you can wholeheartedly celebrate each achievement, recognizing not just the brainwork that went into it but also the effort of personality, of the hard work it took him to do something that made no real sense to him.
You can take him to a doctor you trust and then get his opinion ratified by a couple more and then sit down and try to figure out where these opinions clash or agree with what your own knowledge of your child tells you. You can work out, from all these opinions, a pathway of teaching, perhaps aided by medication, that may work for your child.
The biggest mistake schools/society makes is in labeling these children as intellectually backward. Many children with learning difficulties have far higher IQs (without being Einstein, mind you) than the average Sue. My brother, for instance, can do most things better than I can if he wants to – but I’m more consistent with what I do.
If you are dealing with a child to whom studies make no sense, then, given the current educational scenario, it is still up to the parents to bring the world of studies alive to their child. To work out parallel ways of teaching. Cee has some useful ideas. You can find more on the other posts which will featured in a roundup by Boo soon.
You will need to reinforce every lesson taught in school, to re-teach it until it’s ingrained in your child and even then you cannot depend on him to show that learning when he needs to. Hardest of all, you will need to constantly buttress your child’s self-confidence. His teachers will look down on him and his classmates will mock him and he will wonder what’s wrong with him.
It is important for both parents to understand what the problem is. To work on it together. Many fathers prefer to live on in denial. It is vital that all interested people – the people who make up such a child’s world – understand that this is a problem that can be worked around, that this is not an indication of some sub-human abnormality. That your child is still the wonderful person you think he is.
It is when you disown this unpalatable part of your child that you open the doorway to other developmental, psychological problems. Problems your child may not have had to start with.
I wanted to write a coherent, bulletin-style post, stuff that’s easy to remember and pin up if necessary. Instead, I found myself writing down this long and rambling memory. I won’t change it though. This is my post as a survivor, of what we did, of things we later learnt we should have done and things we continue to wish we had done. If your child has learning problems, mild or severe, your path ahead will be rocky. But you can be assured from me that it’s walkable and worth the walk.