Einstein and Edison fought it, so can your child

Mar 12, 2013, 04:49 IST | Anjana Vaswani

An estimated 10 per cent of Indian children reportedly struggle with learning disabilities � that works out to a staggering 44 million, or an average of four kids per classroom. Designed to train these young minds, Brainteasers, a title packed with fun activities would have both, parents and kids, spot the difference

It’s the boy’s first year in school and what he learns right off is that his teacher has little patience for “hyperactive” students like him. Confusion is a crime here; questions are answered with whips and lashes. Aghast, the boy’s parents decide to home-school him, nourishing his mind with literature and history, reading to him until he’s able to read himself.

Children with Dyscalculia may find it hard to tell the time, mix up Math symbols or reverse numbers

By the time he is 10, the boy would not only have read all the science books his mother brought him, but he would have already set up a mini lab in his parents’ basement. At 12, what he’d earn by running errands would go towards the purchase of a second-hand printing press, which he’d use to publish a weekly newspaper, and by 30, he’d be a renowned inventor and the teacher who labelled him “dull,” would be reading about his achievements under the brilliance of an electrically-powered glass globule that he, Thomas Alva Edison, would have invented.

Children with Dysgraphia among other things, write in jumbled sentences though they speak coherently

Read between the lines
Edison was lucky. Most kids who are plagued with learning disabilities acquire the same labels he did, but in the absence of patient nurturing, most start to believe in it. They’re unable to comprehend why they are dubbed as lazy by all despite working as hard as anyone around them, why they get confused with their right and left hands when no one else seems to have this peculiar problem, why they are unable to recite a poem that all their classmates can, and why they are confused between words like, “mood,” and “doom,” or why symbols like +, x and - only = confusion.

(Left) Albert Einstein and (Right)Thomas Alva Edison were dubbed as slow learners and dull

Connect the dots
Brain Teasers, the new Tata McGraw-Hill publication spells it out. Though it’s essentially a puzzle/activity book for kids from seven to 10 years, introductory chapters include individual lists of the symptoms of Dyslexia (difficulty with words and vocabulary), Dyscalculia (difficulty with math) and Dysgraphia (difficulty with writing). According to the book, learning disabilities are often inherited traits, so your family history could hold a clue.  Listed among the symptoms for Dyslexia are problems with left-right orientation, a tendency to lose track of what one's reading on a page or to guess words from the first letter and a poor memory.

Manisha Mohan

Kids with Dysgraphia, the book says, may, among other things, write in jumbled sentences though they speak coherently, may tend to confuse mirror words and letters, like 2 and 5, p and q, or may have trouble blending the sound of double consonants like “GL” in “glass”. Children with Dyscalculia may find it hard to tell the time, mix up Math symbols or reverse numbers, reading “63” for instance, as “36” or they may count on their fingers. Understandably, mental math would prove particularly challenging for them.

Unscramble us
Detecting the condition is just the first step though. Often the problem is that even after diagnosis, most parents will graduate from denial to grief or guilt, rather than to do what’s required, which eminent Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist Dr Kersi Chavda says is to, “Engage a remedial educator”.

A page from Brain Teasers. Note the contrast in colour of text and pictures with that of the background, so that the font and image stand out

Drawing a distinction between kids suffering from LD and those afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Chavda explains, “ADD may warrant occupational therapy, sensory integration, behavioural modification or medication but kids with LD only require some extra tuition under the guidance of a remedial educator.” However, Chavda also says, “There’s a 60 per cent chance of comorbidity, i.e., the person may suffer from both conditions.”

Manisha Mohan, part of the TIS (Tata Interactive Systems) team that designed Brain Teasers, offers a few pointers for parents based on the brief she was given by the psychiatric experts. “It was crucial to contrast the colour of the text and pictures with that of the background so that the font and images would stand out; it was also important to keep pages clutter-free to minimise distraction.” So, clearing out those posters on her walls and ensuring her room is distraction-free would help your child focus. Mohan also believes the ability to adjust the font size and colour contrast on computer screens proves particularly handy for kids with such disabilities.

Brain Teasers, Tata Interactive Services, Rs 350; 
Log on to:  www.tis.co.in or 
Call:  Manisha Mohan at 9820239022 to order a copy of this title

What’s wrong with this picture?
Stressing on the need for early detection and timely remedial measures, Professor of Paediatrics and In-Charge, Learning Disability Clinic, KEM Hospital and Seth GS Medical College, Dr Sunil Karande says, “While the Right to Education Act has made it mandatory for schools to promote kids up to the Eight Grade, it should include a rider that makes it necessary for schools to investigate and point out why a child isn’t doing well.

Steven Spielberg

Experts must be consulted as soon as possible and appropriate measures taken in order to manage the condition. Otherwise, you're losing precious years, time in which remedial education could have helped the child cope with or overcome the difficulty.” Mohan, however, clarifies, “Though the symptoms may be visible earlier, it’s only by age of seven that you can conclusively tell if a child has a learning disability.”

John Lennon. PIC/AFP

Remedying a learning disability is no walk in the park. Neither was devising the perfect light bulb though. Thomas Edison tested over three thousand filaments before he found the one that ignited the spark. He just never gave up. “I have not failed,” he would say, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And then, there was light. 

Steven Spielberg
Leonardo da Vinci
Andy Warhol
Pablo Picasso
John Lennon
George Washington
Hans Christian Andersen
Agatha Christie
Ted Turner
Henry Ford
Walt Disney
Tommy Hilfiger 

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