Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Examining Disability


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.


Aathira said...

Reading this post, I felt scared about how much a child's future s determined by what others expect of them.

I pray and hope that I shall have the endurance to see through my child in whatever she/he requires.

SBora said...

excellent post Sue..i am finally delurking.

living in the US, i am all too familiar with child development issues. you nailed it when you wrote-buttress your child's self confidence. Positive reinforcemnet is absolutely necessary to harness the child's capabilities. and I am going to add patience to this.

this is such a needed dedication- thank you!

sumana001 said...

S, thanks for writing this.
It's not just a learning "disability" (where only one kind of "ability" is a given) but the other narrative of success - only one possible kind of success - that scares me.
All the best to your brother.

D said...

My sister works with special children and in her initial years as a special educator she tried to approach schools in the city to introduce a screening mechanism for children to identify their disabilities. It's appalling to note that schools were actually against the idea and preferred to continue with a system that undermines the abilities of a child who may have a learning disability.

Anonymous said...

Ur brother Narayan Roy, was my senior in school. I know nothing about his academic background but as far as my memory goes, I played with him few times in the lunch breaks and still remember how good he was at word building and couldn't forget his creativity with the clay models. U r very much true, he has greater IQ levels than any of us and I can say, there would come a time when everyone would bite their tongues for their wrong conclusions on Narayan Roy.

Amrita said...

Hi Sue,
really liked this post. I think one of the problems today is the 'herd' mentality. Everyone has to follow and those that don't are labeled. It becomes difficult to understand those that don't behave and learn like the majority.
I admire people that have the courage to recognise the difference and that take the time out to work with it rather than around it.


Mama - Mia said...

i dont know why this post had me in tears... yess elf confidence and patience seem to be the keys.

Subhashree said...

Wonderful post, Sue. Such a touching story, story of courage and survival. I had goosebumps reading it.

choxbox said...

Nice post Sue.

Once again beating drums and blowing trumpets for the Montessori method - it works well for all children. What do you think - we once discussed something about it, didnt we?

Sue said...

Aathira -- If you do the best you can, you'll be doing fine, don't worry.

SBora -- You're welcome although really, it's Kiran who needs thanking.

Sumana -- True. It's up to our generation to change the definition of success.

D -- I know what you mean. And that makes it so much more difficult to convince the parents too, that their child needs some extra help. I hope it's easier and the defition of success as Sumana said, less rigid when our kids grow up.

Brundha -- :) Thank you. I hope he goes through the comments when he reads the post.

Amrita -- See, I haven't had any choice but to recognise different ways of being. My mother and I speculate that we're rather rigid people by nature forced to be extremely tolerant because of the circumstances we find ourselves in. So yes, I don;t judge people who have problems like these because almost without exception they've turned out to be smarter than me! *sighs deeply*

Abha -- Because we are mothers of young sons and we don't know what their futures will hold? Hugs, babe. I'm sure whatever else Cubby does, he'll always do you proud.

Subha -- Wasn't easy writing it but I'm glad I did.

Chox -- I agree. And Dada is the reason why I was so open to the idea, I'll admit. Conventional schooling worked for me, but there's so much beyond it, no? Seems a shame not to explore all that fun.

Lattu said...

Well, there are a lot of things still not understood about this 'disease'. It isn't really a disease. It is based on the capacity of the individual brain. Just like the Random Access Memory (RAM) of a computer device. The only difference between the homo sapien brain and the computer brain is this: the human brain can store photographic records taking up trillions of bytes whereas the computer brain can take store upto a few million bytes of information at a time... That's all

Anonymous said...

excellent post. Very heartfelt too. As a mom of a child with a language disability I can identify with the "disown this part" of your child bit.

Its hard for parents to accept that their kids are less than perfect. But really - they *are* perfect - they just aren't what the parents expected them to be.

Honestly Sue, I think the issue isn't with the child at all. Its wih this undue importance we place on academics and tie everything - from social status to emotional maturity - to scores at school. Its very difficult to be anything but a conformist in that sort of society.

Gosh this turned into a ramble. I don't know what the solution to this problem is. All we can do as parents is our best. *sigh*