Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning Difficulties: The Misunderstood Child

“He’s naughty;


Fidgety and cannot sit still for even a minute;

Refuses to study or do his homework;

Has trouble learning to read or focus;

Always losing his homework or his things at school;

Clumsy and poor at sports;

In short, he’s driving me up the wall”

Sounds familiar? These are the common complaints of many modern day parents, many of whom feel ashamed and embarrassed when their children cannot behave in public or even sit still in school. Most of the time, they simply term their children as ‘super-naughty’ and leave it as such.

Then other problems begin to creep in. Initially bright, curious and active, the child starts becoming more bad-tempered, disruptive and reclusive. He might even start screaming, throwing or breaking things.

His school-work suffers and his confidence level dips when you have to treat him like a little boy, scolding, hitting and locking him in his room.

What went wrong? At a Kidzgrow workshop held recently, Parenting2u discovered there is more to learning difficulties (LD) that meets the eye. And the best part is –there is help.

The interactive workshop, conducted by Programme Consultant Sai Herng San, began with an explanation of learning difficulties. Despite the negative aspects mentioned in the beginning of this article, most parents may not be aware that children with LD are usually highly intelligent.

Problems arise when the LD is not being recognized and addressed. When that happens, the child starts to develop other problems such as speech and language disorders, poor coordination and poor academic abilities later in life.

Sai explains that LD is actually a disorder that affects a person’s ability to interpret what they see, hear or link information from different parts of the brain. That simply means they have problem listening, paying attention and making sense of what they see/learn.

LD can range from mild to severe. It’s also more common than you think: worldwide, 1 out of 8 children have some form of LD.

To drive her point across, Sai tried some exercises on us. Displaying a paragraph on the slideshow, she instructed us to read it out loud. Every few seconds, the lights dimmed and shadowed the text, hampering our reading. That was to demonstrate what children with auditory attention experience- the frustration of a mind that seems to work like a dysfunctional light-bulb.

Then there was the hearing exercise where certain words that sound similar (eg dad, glad, bad, sad) were spoken in sentences. At the end of the exercise, we could not figure out what the sentences meant, because it made no sense when the words were used incorrectly or in the wrong context.

Another exercise was where sentences were read out loud while we copied them, yet at certain points, the voice of the narrator would soften and go quiet, only to continue on as though nothing had happened. Naturally, we could not decipher what the message was, a problem Sai referred to as Auditory Figure-ground.

At the end of the workshop, we were exhausted. And that was just a short glimpse of the daily struggles of a child with LD.

These are the kind of problems your child could be facing, without you knowing it, because he doesn’t know that there’s something wrong and so he doesn’t tell you about it.

In other words, he’s not naughty, slow or stupid- he just has a learning difficulty. The most common forms of LD are:

Dyslexia: Difficulty processing language

Symptoms: Problems reading, writing, spelling, speaking

Dyscalculia: Difficulty with math

Symptoms: Problems doing math, understanding time, using money

Dysgraphia: Difficulty with writing

Symptoms: Problems with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas

Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder): Difficulty with fine motor skills

Symptoms: Problems with hand-eye coordination, balance, manual dexterity

Auditory Processing Disorder: Difficulty hearing differences between sounds

Symptoms: Problems with reading, comprehension, language

Visual Processing Disorder: Difficulty interpreting visual information

Symptoms: Problems with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, pictures

Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are not grouped under LD, but they also contribute to learning challenges. Children with ADHD often have trouble staying focused, taking instructions, completing homework and sitting still, while autistic children have trouble making friends, reading body language, communicating and making eye contact.

At Kidzgrow, children are first given a Learning Skills Evaluation (LSE), a set of comprehensive psychological and neuroscience tests to evaluate your child’s underlying strengths and weaknesses in terms of attention, visual, auditory and motor skills.

Appropriate programmes are then custom-made for your child to improve their fundamental learning skills.

The concept used is known as Neuroplasticity, where the brain is ‘re-wired’ at the part that is malfunctioning so that it becomes normal. Sai describes it as increasing the ‘Brain fitness’ to make it work better.

Make no mistake, though- Kidzgrow is not a tuition centre as they don’t teach academic subjects or examination techniques. Their research-based programmes such as Play Attention (for children 6 years and below), A-VAMS (for children 4 years and above), Revamp (for children 3 years and below) and Fast ForWord (for children 5 years and below) develop and equip children with the necessary learning skills to overcome problems with reading, listening, writing or math or short attention span.

The average programme lasts between two to three months, with severe cases requiring a longer period to work. Classes are conducted every month at their premises in Penang and Kuala Lumpur. For more details, please

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