Understanding Learning Disabilities

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Adult Kenyans are all familiar with our former education system (844). A curriculum that was exam-oriented and failure was always associated with laziness or disinterest in a particular subject. What followed was punishment, and if the teacher lacked patience, there would be hurling of insults. Unfortunately, this is the case for most learners who experience hasty dismissal by their tutors without a keen look into what could be the problem. Unknown to the instructors, the child may be having a learning disorder.

Learning disability is the inability to receive and process information in a ‘typical’ manner hence the inability to learn as quickly as the unaffected individual.  Genetic or neurobiological factors that alter brain functioning affect one or more cognitive processes related to learning are the causes. Those affected have average or above-average intelligence. Regrettably, it cannot be cured but is manageable with appropriate support and intervention.

In Kenya, learning disorders are not well known but are very common. According to a 2010 report released by Uwezo, 25% of children can not read a standard two story. Further, a 2012 report by the same Uwezo recorded that a third of children in class three had difficulties reading a class two story partly due to learning disabilities.

The common disorders include:

  1. Dyslexia- characterized by slow reading speed, poor comprehension, omission of words and letters, and words reversal
  2. Dysgraphia- displayed as difficulty in writing and distorted handwriting
  3. Dyscalculia- affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts

Before any diagnosis, there are several signs to look out for:

  1. Problem with grammar and some may not interpret what others are saying
  2. Poor coordination in tasks that require hand-eye coordination
  3. Easily distracted
  4. Trouble following directions
  5. Poor spelling
  6. Problems dealing with change in schedule or situations
  7. Difficulty reading or writing
  8. Difficulty remembering taught lessons

If your child presents any of the mentioned signs, assessment is the next bold step to take. In Kenya, the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) carries out the tests. Based on the results, the parent can choose what mode of learning they would adopt for their kids.  The caregiver has the option of taking the child to a regular school, hiring a tutor, or having the kid learn in a specialized unit in the ‘normal’ school.

As a parent, one can easily beat themselves up with guilty thoughts of what they could have done wrong, but that should not be the case. A learning disability does not limit your child’s success in other areas. It is advisable to work with the tutors to identify your kid’s abilities and inabilities and invest in their passions and interests. The likes of Richard Branson, JF Kennedy, Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Joy Kendi, who have excelled regardless of their learning disabilities should encourage you.

Hopefully, the current curriculum will benefit the affected learners as it is not exam-centered, and children are acquiring new skills. To aid in making the learning institutions better, teachers ought to be patient and keen with every learner they encounter. Instead of labeling the kid as dumb, change the narrative and motivate them to see themselves beyond their disability

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