Are we identifying our school children who struggle with learning disabilities?

Children with learning disabilities constitute the largest and fastest growing population among those with developmental disabilities. The steep increase in prevalence occurs due to lack of early literacy skills and emphasis on rote learning in the educational curriculum. Dyslexia is the most common form of learning disability that affects 80% of children identified with a learning disability. A recent epidemiological study* indicates the prevalence rate of dyslexia to be around 9.87% among Indian school children. Children with a family history are at a higher risk to encounter it early in life.

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Dyslexia refers to a condition in which in spite of possessing adequate intelligence and undergoing a conventional classroom curriculum, children are unable to acquire skills related to reading, spelling, and writing.

If dyslexia is identified early, it can lead to appropriate learning support and improved outcomes in academic and professional life. However, if it remains undetected, then with each passing year, academic demands become complex and the child’s limitations prevent him/her from meeting academic expectations. These academic demands gradually take priority over extra-curricular activities leaving the child feeling distressed and helpless, resulting in low self-esteem, doubts about his/her abilities and isolation from peers. In some cases the child also becomes an object of ridicule by his/her peers. Early identification of dyslexia and timely support are not only effective but also cost-effective. This is because children can be helped before they fall too far behind, with a relatively short intervention programme.

What’s more important to note, as per a published Indian study**, a striking 22% improvement in scores can be found for those identified with dyslexia and receiving exam provisions. In India, such provisions have been available up to the university level in states such as Maharashtra, since 1996. In the West, such as in the UK, dyslexia has been legally recognised for many years in school, university or employment. In the UK, schools are legally required to identify children at the age of five and provide early support. This is the way forward for India as well and in all schools and higher educational institutions across the country, where hopefully, growing awareness of learning disabilities such as dyslexia will lead to support for children at an early age with such support continuing all the way to adulthood.

* Saviour, P., Padakannaya, P., Nishanimutt, S., & Ramachandra, N.B. (2009). Familial Patterns and Biological Markers of Dyslexia.International Journal of Human Genetics, 9 (1), 21-29.

** Kulkarni M, Karande S, Thadhani A, Maru H,Sholapurwala R. Educational Provisions and Learning Disability. Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 2006;73:789-93.

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