Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dyslexia - Difficulty with Reading, Maths & Spelling

dyslexia LD testing

Difficulty with reading, spelling and maths is rampant among Indian students. Two recent reports have highlighted this academic underachievement. The academic infrastructure is definitely a major contributor. However, unrecognised dyslexia or other learning disability also needs to be considered by every concerned parent and enlightened teacher. We have already discussed the management of dyslexia. Here we underline the urgent need for action.

India ranked 72nd of 73 countries in a comparative international survey (PISA) of 15-year-old students. All students were assessed on the same test for knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. A sample of more than 5000 students from 200 Indian schools were assessed in this program. In none of these categories did more than 17% of Indian students scored above baseline levels as compared to 81% of students from OECD countries (US, UK, Australia etc).

15-year-olds scoring above baseline 

Test India China OECD avg
Reading 11-17 % 95.3% 81%
Mathematics 12-15% 94.5% 75%
Science 11-16% 96.3% 82%

The Annual Status of Education Report (2010) paints an equally dismal picture.
Reading ability
  • Only half the students in Class 5 can read the Class 2 text
  • Only a third of Class 1 children can recognise numbers 1-9
  • Only a third of Class 3 students can do subtraction in two digits
  • Only a third of Class 5 students can do simple division
  • A third of Class 8 students could not use a calender

This may be a scathing indictment of our education system, but it also reflects the presence of unrecognised Learning Disorder in our students. Learning Disorder affects 5-10% of students worldwide. Learning Disorder manifests in varying combinations and severity of difficulty with reading, spelling and arithmetic.

If your child has difficulty reading, spelling or in mathematics
  • Have them assessed for dyslexia or other learning disability
  • The earlier remedial teaching is instituted the more likely the child is to benefit
  • Identification of dyslexia or learning disability entitles your child to waivers at the 10th and 12th board exams.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) of 2009 lays down the duties of government, local authorities and parents; the responsibilities of schools and teachers; and the norms for schools. These norms include the number of teachers, buildings, minimum teaching hours, teaching aids, library, and recreational equipment. However, the teaching to be done is not mentioned and nor is it monitored. Rote learning is emphasised. Students fail to acquire basic reading, writing and calculation skills that are required to continue learning as adults.

Don't just wait for the government 
Act NOW to secure your child's place in a global future

  1. ASER 2010 - Rural. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural)Date of publication: January 14, 2011
  2. Maurice Walker. PISA 2009 Plus Results: Performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science for 10 additional participants. ACER Press. Victoria. 2011.  ISBN: 978-1-74286-067-1
  3. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Learning Disability - academic underachievement

learning disorder
Impaired spelling and arithmetic in Standard 3 boy with Learning Disorder

Learning Disorder (LD) is characterised by impaired acquisition of academic skills. This impairment in scholastic skills is not due to intellectual disability, physical disorders, emotional disturbances, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

There is a gap between ability and application. The child may know what is asked, is able to explain it verbally, but is unable to put it down in writing. Learning Disorder could affect any of the three scholastic Rs – Reading, wRiting or aRithmetic.

Types of Learning Disability

  1. Dyslexia – is the commonest learning disability (80%). It is marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and understand written words.
  2. Dyscalculia – problems with doing math, understanding time, using money.
  3. Dysgraphia – problems with handwriting, spelling.
  4. Dyspraxia – problems with hand-eye coordination and balance, difficulties with fine motor skills.

Signs and Symptoms

Most children with a Learning Disability are not diagnosed until they are in Standard 2-3 or 7-8 years of age. Remarks like ‘can do better’ or ‘handwriting needs to improve’ are often the first warning signs to appear in the report card. Many of these children would have been the stars of their nursery or kindergarten class. The transition to assessment of written output in primary school is what unmasks the disorder. The aware teacher is able to help the parents understand and put the parents on the path to remedial teaching.

Parents should watch out for

  • Reading may be slow or there is repeated rereading or skipping of an entire section. In the lower classes the child learns to memorise and reproduce entire chapters. Later the child is unable to hold the increasing amounts of material in memory, grades plummet, and confused parents are left searching for answers.
  • Problems in copying from the blackboard or a book. This is a frequent complaint of the teacher. Classwork is left incomplete. The child tries to copy from their partner and is punished for distracting the class.
  • Poor handwriting or drawing – their exercise books are messy, with frequent scratching out and erasing. This is especially so when the child writes on blank paper. It is also a reason why the child performs poorly in exams – they just cannot write quickly enough. They run out of time before they reach the last few questions.
  • Other signs in more severe conditions
    • Reversing numbers and letters while reading or writing - For example, confusing ‘b’ and ‘d’
    • Mixing the order of letters or numbers. Writing ‘twon’ instead of ‘town’.
    • Skipping letters in spelling. The child says ‘grass’ but writes ‘gas’.
    • Forgetting words they know well.
    • Weakness in mathematics.

Conquering Learning Disorder

  • Approach a centre undertaking diagnosis of learning disabilities.
  • A complete history of the child’s birth, milestones, health and academic record
  • Physical exam to exclude problems related to vision and hearing
  • Psychometry - to demonstrate specific academic problems that are not associated intellectual disability
  • Psychiatric assessment - to address associated anxiety, phobias and depression that arise out of repeated academic failures.
  • Psychiatric assessment - to exclude or address Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a common comorbidity. 15-40% of children with ADHD also have dyslexia.
  • Remedial teaching is essential to overcome learning problems 

Drug treatment for dyslexia?

There is a growing body of research to show that at least in children who have both ADHD and dyslexia there are significant improvements in reading ability with ADHD medication. These improvements in reading ability are not related merely to improvements in attention. The brain systems responsible for therapeutic improvement in children with ADHD + dyslexia are probably different from those in children with ADHD alone. The finding that selective areas of working memory can be enhanced by these medications is important, as poor working memory function appears to be a mental constraint on academic learning.

  1. Schulte-K├Ârne G. The Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Dyslexia. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010 Oct;107(41):718-26; quiz 27. Epub 2010 Oct 15
  2. Sumner CR, Gathercole S, Greenbaum M, Rubin R, Williams D, Hollandbeck M, Wietecha L. Atomoxetine for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children with ADHD and dyslexia. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2009 Dec 15;3:40..