8 February 2013

Nigeria: Helping Children With Learning Disabilities

Some children have difficulty in understanding new or complex information, learning new things in any area of their life, not just in school, and coping on their own. They may also try very hard to follow instructions and concentrate, both in the home and at school but are still unable to master them.

According to Lesley Campbell from the learning disability charity, Mencap, "a learning disability means that it's harder for your child to learn, understand and communicate than it is for other children."

A learning disability can be mild, moderate or severe. Children with a mild learning disability can talk easily and look after themselves, but take a bit longer than usual to learn new skills. Others may not be able to communicate at all, and may need other people to help them to do daily tasks like bathing or getting dressed, or have more than one disability. Some children with learning disabilities are also hyperactive; easily distracted, unable to sit still, and have a short attention span

Learning disabilities are believed to be caused by a difficulty with the nervous system that affects receiving, processing, or communicating information. They may also run in families. The consequences of learning disabilities such as the child experiencing frustration as a result of repeated failure, low self esteem and other emotional problems can be lessened with early intervention.

The signals that your child may have a learning disabilities includes when he or she has; problems understanding and following instructions; has difficulty remembering what someone just told him or her; difficulty understanding time like confusion in using today, yesterday or tomorrow; easily loses or misplaces homework, schoolbooks, or other items; fails to master reading, spelling, writing, or math skills, thus fails ;difficulty distinguishing right from left; difficulty identifying words or a tendency to reverse letters, words, or numbers. For example, confusing 34 with 43, 25 with 52 etc and lacks coordination in walking, sports, or small activities such as holding a pencil or tying his or her shoelace, among others.

Ways to help a child with learning disabilities:

- Understand and observe the child. To help a child with learning disability, first understand the child's learning problems and consider how they will affect his or her communication, effect on play, independence, self help skill and willingness to accept discipline.

- See an expert. You need to take the child to a health expert like a psychologist or psychiatrist for evaluation. An expert needs to evaluate all the problems affecting the child to ascertain if he or she does have a learning disability. He can do this together with you the parents and the school. The expert may recommend special education or special schools if need be. He could also recommend individual or family psychotherapy or medication depending on the case.

- Perseverance. As a parent when your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, remember that it is not the end of the world. It may be frustrating at times, but by remaining calm and reasonable, yet firm, you can make a big difference for your child. You need to teach him or her how to deal with those obstacles without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed. Don't let the tests, school system , and endless paperwork distracts you from what's really important--giving your child plenty of emotional and moral support

- Strengthen the child's confidence. Focus on his or her gifts and talents. Your child's life--and schedule--shouldn't revolve around the learning disability. Nurture the activities where he or she excels, and make plenty of time for them. Your child is not defined by his or her learning disability. A learning disability represents one area of weakness, but there are many more areas of strengths.

A 20-year study that followed children with learning disabilities into adulthood identified self-awareness and self-confidence as one of the "life success" attributes. According to the study, for children with learning disabilities, self-awareness that is knowledge about strengths, weaknesses, and special talents and self-confidence are very important. Struggles in the classroom can cause children to doubt their abilities and question their strengths. Other attributes include the ability to set goals, being proactive, strong support systems, the ability to handle stress by the child himself to overcome challenges, and recognizing stress in your child as a parent.

Educational involvement - Take an active role in the education of your child. Give him all the support and tools necessary for his education. Some special schools may be expensive but it is worth the try to help your child especially if he is recommended to attend one.

Exercise - Encourage the learning disabled to exercise. Let him move out and play. Regular exercise is good for both the body and the mind. It makes a big difference in mental clarity , mood and energy.

Diet - A healthy, nutrient rich diet will aid your child's growth and development. A diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein will help boost mental focus. Be sure your child starts the day with a good breakfast and doesn't go more than 4 hours between meals or snacks. This will help keep his or her energy levels stable.

Sleep - Ensure the child gets enough sleep. Children needs more sleep than adults. Learning disability or not, your child is going to have trouble learning if he or she is not well rested.

These psychologists, Gina Kemp, Melinda Smith, and Jeanne Segal, also gave the following additional tips in helping a child with learning disabilities ;

Recognize the limitations of the school system

Parents sometimes make the mistake of investing all of their time and energy into the school as the primary solution for their child's learning disability. It is better to recognize that the school situation for your child will probably never be perfect. Too many regulations and limited funding mean that the services and accommodations your child receives may not be exactly what you envision for them, and this will probably cause you frustration, anger and stress.

Try to recognize that the school will be only one part of the solution for your child and leave some of the stress behind. Your attitude of support, encouragement and optimism will have the most lasting impact on your child.

Identify how your child learns best

Everyone--learning disability or not--has their own unique learning style. Some people learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing. You can help a child with a learning disability by identifying his or her primary learning style.

Is your child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner? Once you've figured out how he or she learns best, you can take steps to make sure that type of learning is reinforced in the classroom and during home study.

Think life success, rather than school success

Success means different things to different people, but your hopes and dreams for your child probably extend beyond good report cards. Maybe you hope that your child's future includes a fulfilling job and satisfying relationships, for example, or a happy family and a sense of contentment.

The point is that success in life--rather than just school success--depends, not on academics, but on things like a healthy sense of self, the willingness to ask for and accept help, the determination to keep trying in spite of challenges, the ability to form healthy relationships with others, and other qualities that aren't as easy to quantify as grades.

Nwielua, a Health Information Officer and Clinical Psychologist contributed this piece from Abuja.

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