Tackling learning disability in a normal early childhood classroom scenario – A Teacher’s Outlook
Learning disabilities are neurologically based processing problems. They can have extensive influence on an individual’s life in organising, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention span. The disabilities are more likely to be encountered during the early school years as the symptoms can directly interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing or calculation. The aforementioned problems can become the root cause of a plethora of issues in the ensuing years which in turn will create a conundrum in the minds of the people around, especially the parents, out of concern for their loved ones.
Without getting into the technicalities or delving into the complexities of the learning disabilities, I would like to elucidate how a facilitator can become a ray of hope in a child’s turbulent life, contributed by the many obstacles and foremost being the stigma attached to it. Teachers are ordinary beings expected to have an extraordinary aura around them. They are expected to bear powers to transform and inspire, which may sound unrealistic, but the influence to emancipate by the teachers cannot be ruled out…emancipation from the myriad fears engulfing a young child’s mind.
A teacher lending a hand to a child with learning disability faces a challenging situation and it becomes a herculean task when in mainstream education with heterogeneous learners. We need to consider a normal classroom situation wherein the facilitator may not be equipped with special education techniques. She will have to use her instincts to be a shield for the vulnerable one showcasing empathy with oodles of warmth.
Exclusion is painful while inclusion is delightful…this is true especially when it comes to early childhood education when students are beginning to form ideas about the social roles and cultural norms. Let’s understand what accommodations can be made to have effective individualized support measures in environments that can maximize academic and social development in an inclusive setup, thereby giving all children a chance to thrive. I would like to outline several ways in which this important goal can be actualized.
1. Children can be nasty at times. They can act as tyrants toward the disability of a classmate by poking fun. This needs to be dealt with firmness by the facilitator. She should ensure that her students need to be educated and made aware of the situation with better understanding. She can promote the habit of giving and sharing in the classroom by sensitizing the students that they need to help each other out in life. The teacher needs to address the social environment in the class indicating friendships, antagonistic relationships and supportive connections. For example, destructive relationships can be dealt with an anti-bullying programme. Similarly, constructive connections might be established through a buddy system.
2. Rejection by classmates calls for grave concern as it can result in equally grave consequences like reticence, diffidence and secrecy in the demeanor of a child culminating into feelings of shame, resentment and frustration. To be excluded from a social group can bring about feelings of isolation and loneliness. Again the situation seeks the attention of a facilitator’s sagacity to discern. She has to ensure that the child becomes a conspicuous part of the class by involving him or her in all the activities. Entrusting him / her with responsibilities will help the child to be reckoned as an equal among all.
3. Incorporating a few daily routines will be beneficial for bringing forth a structured learning environment which is good for all the young students. Simple relaxation exercises involving the whole class can be planned to keep the concentration levels high. After a while you will realize that young students have amazing instincts to adapt. They will perceive the erratic behaviour of their classmate and will even accept it. The class will eventually understand when to keep mum and when to be vocal about their responses pertaining to the concerned child. Students should be encouraged to express spontaneous concern and at the same time should be deterred from manifesting sympathy. The improvement of the learning outcomes for all children after integrating students with learning disabilities into the mainstream education will be a great realization.
4. A facilitator needs to be a resource person with a flair for fishing out the best in children through keen observation. A creative teacher can create wonders by finding out the strengths, talents and abilities in her students. Once a list of strengths has been identified, the educator must develop learning strategies that will help the student succeed academically, behaviourally and socially. A child with learning disability can achieve improved concentration levels after joining dance, music, dramatics, robotics computers or sports. For instance, the famous Hollywood actor Keira Knightly was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at the age of six. According to Wikipedia she is still a slow reader and cannot read out loud. Knightly had noted that she was ‘single-minded about acting’ during her childhood. She accepts that the persistent support given to her by her parents and the pedagogies used had helped her immensely to get over the disabilities. Facilitators, instead of focusing on what children with disabilities lack, should pay attention to what they do well.
5. ‘Continuous Recording of Progress’ is an inevitable aspect of dealing with students with learning disabilities. Vigilance and keen observation are the two tools which will help the teacher carry out this process uninterrupted. It is necessary to record even the subtle changes or developments judiciously followed by an analysis report of the same. The report will give an insight into the weak and strong key areas and portray the action plan to be undertaken. Recording – Reporting – Follow-up will have to be considered to form a continuous circle for evaluation. The teacher has to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to experience and get inspired by the positive performances of their peers to rise to higher level of performance.
Every teacher should have a general understanding about the learning disabilities and its types which will help to identify them at an early stage and to take measures in an appropriate manner after taking the parents into confidence. Here the teacher should have lucidity about the criteria a child’s condition should meet in order to categorise it into a learning disability and counsel the parents if needed. Awareness about the concessions and provisions incorporated by the government for students with learning disabilities can be an added advantage which can benefit a facilitator to contribute towards improvising and planning to improve and enhance learning.
As educators we should know that young children are in a sensitive developmental period with regard to their proneness to learn from external stimuli. Thus, all children, including those with special needs can benefit greatly from an optimal learning environment that provides a variety of ways in which learning content is represented, engaged with and assessed. Students with disabilities challenge us to provide better ways to educate all children. If a teacher perceives the child with special needs to be an asset, her efforts will be greater and satiating. On the other hand if she considers the child to be a liability, it will only add to her burdens. She needs to be the refuge, to which the child can run to at times of predicament and get the assurance which will revive and help him / her to grow. Above all she should be a person with a zeal for not giving up on anybody, which indeed requires a lot of courage, patience and self-motivation.
I have worked with Living Media India Ltd. (India Today Group) before joining the teaching profession. I am a post graduate in commerce with a B.Ed. I have a diploma in Early Childhood Education from MMI, London. I have used my expertise to integrate different approaches to plan developmentally appropriate curriculum for early childhood education having a holistic and a child centered framework for schools across the country as per the requirement. I have conducted extensive training programmes for teachers where the teachers are prepared to cater for individual needs of the students and to counsel parents through healthy interaction and positive communication. I am associated with Doon Public School, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi for the last 15 years as a Proctor. I have organized eclectic activities and events for Pre Primary department. I have been actively involved in designing Abacus books for classes till primary level.