Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Learning Disorders - The Struggle is Real Part 3

This is the 3rd of 3 posts I am writing about a Symposium “Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists (AFP), a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. In my first post I wrote about Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon’s presentation on “Our Journey with ASTEP”; and in my second about Mr. Karl Watson’s talk about what the MOE is doing to address the needs of students with learning disorders. In my final post I examine the nature of some of these disorders as explained by Ms. Georgia Rose and Dr. Susaye Rattigan.
Before these two speakers, AFP showed a second video in which they asked students on campus:
“Should children with learning difficulties be in special schools?” Several students opined that they should be. 
“How would you feel if your child were in a class with a child with a learning disorder?” Students expressed the opinion that the child with a learning disorder would take a disproportionate amount of the teacher’s time.
“What steps would you take if your child had a learning disorder?” Students said that they would try to get the best possible help for their child.
          Ms. Georgia Rose is the coordinator of Undergraduate Psychology Programmes at UWIWC. She specializes in learning disorders and works at Cornwall Regional Hospital. She has an MA from UWI and is interested in developmental disorders. She addressed the questions raised in the students’ video and gave examples from her own experience. She referred to DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The focus of this symposium was on learning disorders, namely dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty with writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers). However, these learning disorders don’t exist in isolation. A child who has difficulty learning to read is often labelled as ‘dunce’ by other children. He knows he’s not dunce in other respects, doesn’t know why he’s having this difficulty, but would prefer to be called ‘bad’ than ‘dunce’.
Andre, 15 year-old, grade 9, semi-literate (about grade 3), told Ms. Rose, “No matter how hard I try, I never seem to get it. Everything is a mess. Sometimes it look clear and another time me cannot mek it out … me rather be bad bwoy than dunce bwoy.” Hence, the learning disability gives rise to behavior problems. Parents are distressed when children are not learning and may punish them, even using corporal punishment.
The cause of learning disorders are thought to be abnormalities in the way the neurons connect to each other in the brain, or in the functioning of the chemicals in the brain. The result is that individuals have problems receiving, processing or communicating information in the same way as other children. The reasons for these abnormalities include biological, psychological and social conditions. Among the biological conditions are genetic causes, problems during pregnancy or birth, general medical conditions, seizures and nutrition. Psychological causes include exposure to early trauma; neglect; emotional, sexual and physical abuse. Social conditions include socioeconomic status and reduced access to interventions.

Statistics show that more boys than girls; and more children from the lower socioeconomic strata suffer from learning disabilities. Reading difficulty is the more prevalent disorder in the English speaking world. To me, this is not surprising, as so many rules of phonics cannot be applied. You pronounce ‘ough’ differently in each of the following words: dough, plough, through, rough and cough! Whereas in Spanish phonics can be relied on to decode words. The following idea was not mentioned in the Symposium, but it would probably help many Jamaican children to learn to read in Jamaican Creole, whose written form is entirely phonetic and whose grammar and syntax is familiar to the children.

Ms. Rose posed the questions, “Whose responsibility it is to provide education for children with learning disabilities? The public or private sector? Would we be prepared to pay more taxes for these children to be taught in special schools?” In regular schools, children with learning disabilities tend to be preyed upon, but it is more cost-effective to teach them in regular schools in pull-out classrooms for some of the time.
Labelling these children as disabled is unfortunate, as they are not unable, they are differently abled. Many dyslectics are gifted artists, singers (e.g. Harry Belafonte) and actors (e.g. Tom Cruise). Children’s author and book illustrator, Patricia Polacco, describes her own struggles with dyslexia in her book “Thank you, Mr. Falker” – the teacher who recognized her problem and helped her.  (It is known that 1 in 7 persons in the USA has some kind of learning disorder. ) Ms. Rose’s final appeal was that none of us should discriminate.

          Dr. Susaye Rattigan, a clinical psychologist, had an interactive session with us up and singing before she started her address. Her main theme was that we are all learn differently and that the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. She reminded us that the term ‘Learning Disability’ doesn’t include those who have learning problems resulting from visual, hearing or motor handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage. However, a detailed interview with a psychologist is necessary for a diagnosis. Whatever the reasons for children’s failure to learn at school, we should be moving towards an empathetic understanding of children’s problems.
     Dr. Rattigan recounted the story of Thomas Edison, who, on his last day of formal schooling, was given a note which read, “Your son is an idiot. Keep him at home.” His mother told him that the letter said that he was too brilliant to be taught at that school and that she should home-school him, which she did.
     Dr. Rattigan reminded us of the quote attributed to Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This was to illustrate the idea that a learning disability is not a disability but a different ability.
          A change in environment may be needed. She gave the example of a little girl brought to her because she couldn’t talk, which was hardly surprising since she was brought up by a deaf-mute grandmother and a mother who barely spoke. In spite of reservations, the girl’s mother followed Dr. Rattigan’s advice to send her to school. A year later, they couldn’t stop her talking! There is a natural inclination of us all to learn, but we aren’t meant to be alike. We should teach in the way that a child wants to learn, whether that is through books, art, movement or any other medium. We were challenged to try to see the world as a dyslexic child would. A question and answer session followed Dr. Rattigan’s address.
I would like to thank the Association of Future Psychologists for putting on this symposium and inviting me to attend. I apologize for  taking so long to complete the blogs, but better late than never!

1 comment:

pinkokaw said...

Excellent work Helen. Perfect coverage