Your child with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties may be bat­tling dyslexia

TOLUWANI ENIOLA

The Punch - - EDUCATION -

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.

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