Your child with learning disabilities may be battling dyslexia
Lthough he is a university teacher, the word “dyslexia” was strange to Mr. ben arikpo until 2011 when he travelled to the united States of america with his son. arikpo travelled to the us because he thought he could get a better opportunity to help his son overcome his learning challenges. Since his son started primary school, he had always come home with poor results. unlike other children in school, arikpo’s son could not recognise letters of the alphabet, and as a result, he could not pass his examinations.
When his son’s teachers complained that the little boy could neither identify letters nor hear clearly, he bought glasses and hearing aids for him. but there was no improvement in his performance in school.
he initially blamed his son’s primary school teachers for his poor performance, but the teachers defended themselves by describing his son as a “slow learner.”
arikpo said, “They gave me a more annoying description of my son’s learning disabilities. after a while, I realised I was just wasting my time and money. In 2011, I went on a vacation in the us. It was in the us that I kept telling people about my plight and that I came with my son to find a solution to his problem.
“One of my sisters-in-law directed me to a centre where children are trained in cognitive skills. It was after the assessment that I discovered that my son had dyslexia. It was there I heard the word dyslexia for the first time. At the time, I was teaching at the university of Calabar. Imagine a lecturer who did not know what dyslexia means. I got to understand that dyslexia is one of many learning difficulties whereby a child finds it difficult to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols. Out of seven cognitive skills he was tested on, my son had weaknesses in all of them.”
according to the encyclopedia on early Childhood Development, learning disabilities, also called LDS, are problems affecting a child’s ability to receive process, analyse or store information.
The problems make it difficult for a child to read, write, spell or solve maths problems. Common learning disabilities are dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dysorthographia, auditory processing disorders, visual perception dysfunctions, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and other language processing difficulties.
awareness about LDS is only starting to increase in most african countries, especially Nigeria. There is still a lot of stigma associated with LD, mainly due to lack of understanding among teachers and parents.
experts said many children who have LDS are given derogatory names such as “slow learner” and “dullard” because they assimilate information in a different way from the conventional methods used in schools.
One of those championing the cause of children with learning disabilities in Nigerian schools is a medical doctor, Dr. Simbo Davidson.
She said, “Children with learning disabilities are spanked by teachers for failing their sums because the teachers have low or no awareness on LDS and how to help such children. Teachers erroneously believe that such children need to be spanked to do well or that they need to study harder. This is wrong.’’
arikpo is one of the fortunate parents of such children. Immediately after his son was diagnosed, he was able to enrol him in a brain-training programme which greatly assisted in ensuring remarkable improvement in his reading skills.
He stated, “After five months into the programme, I began to see improvement in my child’s performance. One day, he was watching a yoruba movie and I asked him how he managed to understand it. he told me he was reading the subtitles.
“Since reading was his greatest challenge, I became curious. I told him to read one of the subtitles to me and he was able to pronounce the words. While driving, I observed he would read all the contents of the billboards along the road aloud. His confidence improved as well. his grades moved from D and F to b and C and a couple of as.
“Later, he made as and bs and no F. That was in the ninth month. That was how I knew that dyslexia does not mean a child is not intelligent. Their brains only process information in a different way and this is what our system has yet to understand.”
Learning disorders are a major problem in Nigeria because most children with the conditions are not diagnosed and treated early. The issue is due to the fact that symptoms of learning disabilities are usually manifested only when such children begin school usually at age five.
The story of a researcher in rivers State, Mrs. Ijeoma ben, demonstrates these findings. Ijeoma told that she didn’t know her child had dyslexia until he got to primary school.
ben said, “When he was in primary one, I discovered he was not doing well in school. I introduced him to extramural classes, but that didn’t solve the problem. While he was about the age of two, I knew that he was a pretty smart child. My son would slot a CD in the player and fast-forward it to track six because I use the track for a dance. I wondered how he could do that at that age.
“but he was not doing well in school because he could not read. It was when he was about to take the entrance examination into secondary school that I became very worried. Then, he was not only struggling to read, he wasn’t also interested in reading. because he could not read, it affected his studies.
“I took him to a centre where an assessment was made and the result showed that he’s dyslexic. he was about 10. I wished he was diagnosed earlier. he would have gone farther academically.”
She added that her son’s performance later improved after the diagnosis and subsequent treatments.
Children believed to have learning disabilities go through series of tests to identify their problems. While arikpo and ben were able to get their children diagnosed and treated, not many parents in Nigeria can afford the cost. because the test kits are expensive and not locally sourced, only rich parents can put their children through the tests. Ijeoma said one of the tests cost her $100 which is about N36,000. In the first few months of enrolling her son in a brain training programme, she spent about N150,000.
even though children with learning disabilities are described as “slow learners” or “dullards,” current researches have shown that many of them have a high intelligent quotient. Davidson shared the story of a child he named adeola (not real name) to justify this.
adeola’s inability to do well in school caused a feud between her parents’ in-laws. The child became a victim of stigma because of the disorder. Davidson, however, said after adeola sat for the assessment, he did very well and qualified as a gifted pupil.
“gifted pupils have high intelligent quotients like adeola but also have learning difficulties; so, people mislabel them as (Nigerian word for a dullard). adeola’s score was 78.3 per cent. he is a very clever child,” Davidson stressed.
experts explained that most parents of children with learning difficulties were not well informed about how to provide the necessary care and support for them, thus turning them to dropouts and delinquents.
Speaking with another parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her child, who is struggling with dysgraphia, was advised to withdraw from a private school she was in.
“Children like my daughter are not accepted into schools in Nigeria. Many are now dropouts because the low-income parents can’t take them abroad where schools understand what to do. The test is expensive and many parents can’t afford it,” she stated.
after his son’s performance improved, arikpo said he met other parents whose children were struggling with similar condition but couldn’t help them get the necessary education.
he noted that the development led him to create a foundation to help such parents access care for their children.
The university lecturer added, “Learning disorders are bigger than we know in Nigeria. The government is not doing anything about the plight of these children because it also doesn’t know about it.
“at a national conference last year, which our foundation organised, we invited some officials of the Federal Ministry of education to educate them about learning disabilities in Nigeria. They told me they had never heard of dyslexia before.
“The National Policy on education covers disabilities. but unfortunately, government officials only think disabilities are all about physical disabilities. We need to keep talking about it till our government understands it well enough to do something about it.”
arikpo urged the state and federal ministries of education to initiate a policy that would accommodate the training of teachers on how to identify and help children with learning disorders. The expert said it was annoying that teachers had low awareness about the condition.
“a situation where the teachers ridicule the children is unacceptable. One of such children derogatorily called a “slow learner” wanted to commit suicide because of the disparaging comments from teachers,” he stressed.
Speaking on the problem, an educational psychologist, aghaye Kess, decried the low attention on kids with learning disabilities in primary schools in the country, noting that the schools also lacked enough educational psychologists.
according to Kess, since most teachers in public schools have low awareness about the condition, they resort to spanking the children when they don’t do well in schools.
Kess stated, “The child tends to develop fear as a result of constant beating and that impedes learning and creativity. The fear makes the child feel indifferent about the teacher and also afraid to attempt questions.
“Lack of confidence is caused by caning the child. Fear, as discussed above, snowballs into lack of confidence, which affects the child’s personality and learning ability. Spanking impairs the bond between the teacher and child.”
Kess, who called for the creation of better learning environment for such children, added that special education teachers should be introduced to schools permanently to assess the children, administer innovative techniques and follow-up efficiently.
The psychologist, who said learning disorder shouldn’t be termed as a disease or spiritual problem, noted that it was vital for experts to give parents adequate feedback after assessing their kids to enhance better results.