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Learning difficulties – dyslexia

By P Samaras, Ed Psychologist

WHAT ARE LEARNING DISABILITIES?

A learning disability is the inability of a person to successfully comply with the educational procedures involved with learning how to write, and the use of writing, learning how to read, the acquisition of rational thought, and mathematical skills.

WHAT IS ATTENTION DEFICIT?

Attention Deficit is a neurological, developmental, and usually hereditary, problem. Children with Attention Deficit have limited ability to concentrate, their attention is easily distracted, and they are often take a long time to, or do not finish what they have started. They appear absent-minded and careless.

WHAT IS HYPERACTIVITY?

Hyperactivity is excessive verbal or kinetic activity (chatter, and unnecessary movement of arms, legs, body). Hyperactive children are characterised by their continuous change of interest from one activity to another, usually irrelevant to the previous activity.

WHAT IS IMPULSIVITY?

Lack of patience is characterised as impulsivity. The child acts before thinking, answers before the question is finished, cannot wait his turn, and is unpredictable.

CHARACTERISTICS OF ATTENTION DEFICIT-HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)
• limited ability to concentrate (carelessness)
• attention is easily distracted
• taking a long time to finish something, or not finishing what they have started
• appearing absent-minded and careless
• characterised by verbal or kinetic hyperactivity
• acting before thinking
• making last minute decisions, because they lack a sense of time
• problems with social behaviour (difficulty with friendships, teasers, provocative)

WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, and known as a special learning disability. It has a biological cause, is usually hereditary, and often co-exists with attention deficit, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Due to this, the process of learning how to read and write is delayed or impeded in children, who have all the potential and skills for these tasks, i.e. who have average or higher intelligence, have no problems with hearing and vision, have adequate education, and a good family environment. The common characteristic of these children is the unequal distribution of individual skills and an irregular model of behaviour. For example, the child has a satisfactory or very good level of skills in certain sectors, and an unjustifiably low level in others. This picture troubles parents and teachers, and leads to pointless interpretations and characterisations.

The PROS and CONS of Dyslexia, in brief

CONS
Difficulty with

• written words
• reading
• spelling
• arithmetic
• organisation
• memory-memorisation
• space-time
• understanding
• foreign languages
• discipline & rules

PROS
Superiority in

• quick perception
• cleverness
• ability to combine
• fertile imagination
• resourcefulness
• inclination to computers
• inclination to mechanical engineering
• reasoning
• insight
• humour

DO NOT FORGET

The exceptional cleverness that characterises the dyslexic pupil is a trap for the parent, as well as for the teacher. They cannot imagine that “he is incapable..”, and they are almost certain that he doesn’t try. In addition, the child himself manages to “hide” skillfully, and disguise his deficit, but knows that something is not right when he sees less clever classmates performing better in lessons. Thus, the more intelligent he is, the more stupid he feels.

The conflicting picture of himself causes confusion, anxiety, and insecurity, and so he performs on a lesser level than his mental ability allows him to.

Children with mild or severe learning and/or behavioural disabilities constitute about 1/6 of the population of children. They are capable of studies on all levels, if there is recognition and diagnosis and treatment during the early years of their school life. They can be helped and trained by a specialist, and are psychologically supported by their environment, before failure at school ruins their self-esteem, causing them secondary psychological problems.

There is no such thing as a lazy or indifferent child, or a child who does not want to succeed. What does exist is ignorance of the particularities of these children, both by parents and teachers. Unlimited acceptance of learning disabilities in children can dramatically help their performance in a wide range of skills. On the contrary, negative criticism, comparison, excessive pressure, and pressure to excel, negatively affect both the performance and the behaviour of children. Laziness and indifference are actually the defence mechanisms of children with learning disabilities, when they are pressurised beyond their limits and capacities.

THE ROLE OF THE PARENTS

Voice your concerns in time. Don’t wait for the child to “catch up” by himself. Do not resort to private lessons early on, because private lessons don’t teach the child how to learn, but the following day’s lessons do. Help the teacher to describe the picture of the child in the classroom, ask for his opinion, and look for the causes.

THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER

The informed nursery, primary, or secondary school teacher is likely to detect a learning disability in a child from his performance in school subjects, as well as from his behaviour in, and out of the classroom. Therefore, he can help parents seek the opinion of an Educational-School Psychologist. The sooner the diagnosis is made, and treatment is begun, the better the result will be for the child himself, the group, and the family.

THE ROLE OF THE EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST

He/She makes an exact diagnosis, and justifies it. Reassures the parents and the child, and explains to them that all children learn in particular personal ways. Children with learning disabilities process the information they receive differently, that’s why they need special education for a period of time. These children are clever, and they can be very successful in school and in life, if they follow specific learning strategies, which are individualised and adjusted to their particularities.
The aim is for the child to initially improve, and then overcome his learning and behavioural disabilities, by utilising all his capacities. Collaboration between the psychologist, parents, and teachers is absolutely necessary.  In this way, improvement in the quality of life of the child himself, of the family, as well as avoidance of secondary problems, which could follow him for the rest of his life, will be achieved.

Basic guidelines for children with learning disabilities
• They should sit next to a quiet and patient child in the front row of the class, away from the window.
• At home, they should study quietly, in a room without multi-colored objects on the walls, away from noisy places.
• It helps if they study as early as possible with few-minute breaks.
• Repetition of homework the following morning is necessary
• Kinetic games / outings to the playground
• They should play with children of their own age.
• Rules at home and at school should be observed.
• You don’t help by shouting all the time
• Parents should spend quality time with children.
• They should be continuously encouraged
• Mistakes should not be exaggerated and stressed
• Effort should be appreciated and rewarded, regardless of the result

Panagiotis Samaras
Mphil, PgDip, BSc Hons
Educational Psychologist
Email: SamarasEdPsy@yahoo.com

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