Across the world, statistics show that up to 10% of the population are affected by Learning Disabilities (LD). In a country like India 13-14% of children are affected by Learning Disabilities. “Learning disabilities are not a prescription for failure. With the right kinds of instruction, guidance and support, there are no limits to what individuals with LD can achieve.” Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed. D. Director of LD Resources National Center for Learning Disabilities (Candace Cortiella, 2014) ( https://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf )
In India the number of children with LD is large, the resources are scarce and the problems are complex. Also other factors like lack of awareness, lack of knowledge and lack of trained special educators often lead to children not getting the necessary help and support. There are certain myths and assumptions people have about children with LD such as: they are less likely to attend regular school, be successful in life and have a good career.
It’s heartwarming to read about the Bombay High Court intervening and coming to the rescue of the children with LD. As per the news published on 30th June, 2015 in the Times of India
MUMBAI: The Bombay high court, in a recent order, has directed the school education department to identify the number of students who are detected with learning disability (LD) in Maharashtra in the age group of 8 to 15yrs.
The HC said, “The school education department of the state government shall submit a further report by August 15.” It had taken suo motu cognizance of a letter in April written by two mental
Health professionals – Dr. Harish Shetty and Dr. Sanghnaik Meshram following a student being told that there could be no writer during exams conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling. The Hc has also allowed other boards like the Maharashtra state board. ICSE, CBSE, IB and IGCSE to be made respondents..
One of the suggesting measures for Maharashtra, Vijaykar said, “These kids should have the option to appear for only two written papers and one performing skills. They may not be eligible for degree colleges but can be made eligible for Mumbai University’s Vocational Certificate Courses. The suggestion given is good and would be a positive move if implemented.
According to National Centre for Learning Disabilities “Learning disabilities arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function and affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information.”
Learning Disabilities may not necessarily be due to genetic factors, illness after birth or complications during pregnancy but may be due to consequences of insults to the developing brain before birth or during birth involving factors such as drug or alcohol use during pregnancy, oxygen deprivation and premature birth, prolonged labour, maternal malnutrition or low birth weight. Even post-natal events result in LD which include traumatic injuries, exposure to poisonous substance or severe nutritional deprivation. Some people fail to discover that LD are one of the reasons for their life long difficulties in the areas such as Math, reading, comprehension and written expression.
The common types of LD that impact areas of math, reading and written expression are as follows:
· Dyslexia – is associated with learning disability in reading. Children with Dyslexia have difficulties in reading and writing, speaking and spelling. They also face difficulties in talking fluently, their reading is slow compared to other children and are not able to notice the difference between similar sounding words. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability that is well recognized among children.
· Dyscalculia – is associated with learning disability in math. Children face difficulty in learning number, counting, mental math, solving math problems, using money, understanding time and measurements. Also characteristics of LD in math differ from child to child depending on the severity.
· Dysgraphia – is associated with learning disability in writing. Children find it hard to form letters, they have problems in handwriting, they cannot follow a straight line or a margin and are not able to organize their ideas and thought on paper. Some of children even face difficulty holding a pencil in their hand (Candace Cortiella, 2014)
( https://www.ncld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2014-State-of-LD.pdf )
Challenges faced by children with Learning Disability:
Children with learning disability face daunting challenges at different phases of life. Each new step or goal achieved by them is celebrated and considered a success on a daily basis. The parents of the children have concerns about their future, have conflicting feelings about where to get the right help and on the other hand some parents feel positive that they have the ability to cope up in life. Some parents say that their children have been bullied in school more than the normal children which makes them feel insecure, rejected and they end up losing confidence in themselves. Though they have their own strengths, But the bottom line not all the children with LD get the best support from their families.
Especially in India, the children who are born in poor families are often neglected or do not receive the care and attention that is essential for their development. This is also due to lack of awareness about learning disabilities that they do not understand the severity of the child’s problem. The negligence of LD in a child can cause problems in the later stage of life.
There are many misconceptions about learning disability among the public. Most of them think LD is treated with medication and mental health counseling which is an incorrect idea. The attitude of the public also has an impact on the child with learning disability. According to a study, up to one third of the people apprehend LD is caused due to the following reasons:
· More than 1/3 think it is the lack of guidance by parents or teachers in the early childhood can be a reason for LD.
· 21% think it is caused because of spending too much time watching television.
· 31% caused due to poor diet
· 24% think it’s because of too many vaccinations in the early childhood
All these misconceptions and challenges can be removed and made better with assistive technology.
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is used as an umbrella term for both assistive products and related services. Assistive products are also known as assistive devices. There are various definitions of assistive technology: two of them are presented here. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) defines assistive products and technology as any product, instrument, equipment or technology adapted or specially designed for improving the functioning of a person with a disability. Drawing from the ICF, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines assistive products more broadly as any product, especially produced or generally available, that is used by or for persons with disability: for participation; to protect, support, train, measure or substitute for body functions/structures and activities; or to prevent impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions. This includes devices, equipment, instruments and software. (Johan Borg, 2015)
Assistive Technology (AT) can help children with Learning Disabilities (LD) in many ways in boosting their confidence by making him or her self-reliant, it can also help compensate their skill deficit.
Assistive Technology aides to the following Problems in Children with LD:
· Listening: AT tools can help children in remembering and processing spoken language especially in class lectures
· Math: AT devices are designed to help children who have problem with aligning, organizing, computing and copying math problem on paper. Through visual and audio support children are able to calculate basic math problem.
· Organizing & Memory: AT tools help the child to stay organized, keep track of day to day activities, events and assignments etc.
· Reading: AT aides’ children having difficulty in reading by presenting text as speech, it facilitates decoding, comprehension and reading fluency.
· Writing: AT helps children to circumvent the physical task of writing and also helps in grammar, punctuation, word usage and spellings.