To his parents and teachers, Michael is a bright boy with a quick mind. BUT:
He cannot express himself well in writing. He fails his tests most of the time. He has difficulty reading even simple storybooks. Why? Maybe Michael is just lazy or careless. Or is he just being naughty and playful when it comes to schoolwork? Or maybe, just maybe, he could be DYSLEXIC.
What is a Learning Disability?
Children with a learning disability (LD) have “faulty wiring” in their brains. This does not mean they are stupid or have low IQ. In fact, they may be as smart as any other child. However, they have problems with common, everyday skills like reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and organising information, especially if they are being taught in the same way as other children.
These are NOT Learning Disabilities
– learning problems caused by physical disabilities such as blindness and deafness
– learning problems caused by intellectual disability (i.e. low IQ)
– emotional, cultural and financial problems within the family
– learning at a slower pace – the child may just need more time to bloom and catch up with others.
It is important for a child with learning difficulties to be identified early. From differentiating teaching methods and worksheet design, to developing a task list for the student, teachers can make adjustments to his learning environment to help him to cope.
– Mdm Hanisnah Kasmuri, Learning Needs Specialist
How to spot learning disabilities
Many children without LDs may show a few of these signs below, but such children would usually correct them on their own. If your child shows some of these signs at the same time, and over an extended period, do speak to your child’s preschool teacher, family doctor or contact an association such as the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (see details at the end of this article). They can help you to get in touch with learning professionals who can assess your child. Your child’s teacher may also alert you if they feel that your child needs to be assessed.
Pre-school level: Ages 3 – 4
* Starts talking later than other children
* Has a problem with pronouncing words
* Has poor vocabulary, knows few words
* Difficulty in rhyming words
* Finds it hard to learn numbers (1,2,3..), the alphabet (a, b, c..), days of
the week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday..)
* Very restless and easily distracted
* Does not mix well with other children
* Cannot follow directions or routines well
Kindergarten level onwards: 5 – 6 onwards
* Slow to connect letters and sounds
* Gets mixed up with basic words such as run, eat, want
* Often makes reading and spelling mistakes. Mistakes one letter for another, such as ‘b’ with ‘d’ and
‘m’ with ‘w’ * Mixes up number sequences and confuses maths signs (+, -, x, /, =)
* Slow to remember facts
* Slow to learn new skills, depends a lot on memory
* Impulsive and lacks planning ability
* Unstable gripping of pencil
* Poor physical coordination, “blur” about surroundings, gets into accidents easily
It is important for a child with an LD to be properly assessed, so that he or she can receive the learning support he needs. If the condition is not identified early, the child may grow up lacking in confidence and self-esteem, and may develop behavioural problems too. A learning disability stays with a person all his life; it is not a disease and so it cannot be cured. But there is much that can be done to help a child with LD manage the condition and achieve his or her potential.
Types of learning disabilities
Dyslexia is probably the one learning disability that most people have heard of. Other types of learning disabilities (see box) are also present in Singapore and may affect more children. Dyslexia includes problems with recognizing words, spelling, understanding what is being read, and a slow reading rate.
According to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, about 3% to 10% of Singaporeans may be dyslexic. This means there are about 3,000 to 4,000 children with dyslexia in kindergartens and pre-schools and another 20,000 at the primary and secondary levels.
Other learning disabilities:
Dyscalculia is a mathematical disability. This causes problems with solving maths problems and understanding maths concepts.
Dysgraphia is a writing disability. A person with dysgraphia has problems writing or writing correctly.
Dyspraxi is an auditory and visual processing disorder in a person with normal vision and hearing. A person with dyspraxia has difficulty understanding language.
Non-verbal learning disabilities are caused by a problem with the nervous system and originate from the right side of the brain. This affects a person’s ability to organize and evaluate things, and he tends to be clumsy and have poor eye-hand coordination.
When I first met him, he couldn’t even read the bird sing – although he had 5 years of formal education. He is not lazy, unmotivated or stupid, but severely dyslexic. After a year of specialised teaching, he passed his PSLE. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of early intervention for children with dyslexia.
– Ms Jeniyanti Yeo, Specialist Psychologist
Oh no! My child has a learning disability!
If your child has been assessed with a learning disability, your child may have something in common with people like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Lee Kuan Yew! Other than being famous, all of them are dyslexic. Despite this, they went on to achieve great things as adults in science, business and politics respectively. Some children with LDs may actually be more intelligent and creative than their peers. With the right learning methods and training, they can lead a normal life, excel in their studies and in their future careers.
Dyslexia Association of Singapore site
This site is a treasure trove of information on what dyslexia is, how to get your child assessed, and various other resources.
The MCYS and NCSS supported site lists many sites and resources on learning disability.
LD Online calls itself “The world’s leading website on learning disability and ADHD”, and looks like it.
Learning Disabilities Association of America http://www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/parents/early_childhood/index.asp
This website section focuses on how to detect learning disabilities during early childhood.