Monday, 25 November 2013

Labeling as a concept evokes various reactions in Special Ed.
Different professionals have different points of view about labeling.
What should be understood is the goal of labeling.
Children may be described as dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, dyspraxic, etc. I feel that each one of these labels represent a cluster of symptoms or difficulties. If a person or a professional has a proper understanding of each of these conditions it is possible to set realistic educational goals and long term expectations.

It is no different from having a medical name for a group of symptoms such as typhoid, malaria etc. Treatment then becomes specific to the condition and the correct medication with the required dosage can be prescribed. The doctor's job is easier and any other health measures to be taken can also be suggested.

However, what should be clearly avoided is developing prejudices and stereotypes. Labeling should enhance empathy and acceptance rather than fear, ridicule or pessimism.

After all disability is something that can happen to any one.

Further any report must clearly state the diagnosis. This will help in obtaining any concessions that the individual is entitled to.

Children react in different ways to labeling. They need not always know the specific terms or technical words used in the reports. Parents and teachers should use their discretion and handle the situation with sensitivity. They should explain that the child is not responsible for his disability and that they are always available to him for any kind of support or help that he might require.  
Dyslexia is a difficulty with letter sound association. To the child, the written word or letter looks like a mere drawing, which is why some dyslexic children have a very neat cursive writing, though they may be unable to read the same content with similar ease.
These children have excellent photographic memory,and good visual transport. They are the ones who love to do any amount of copying.
However, this in no way means that they are simultaneously reading and learning the content.
They have to be taught letter sounds or phonics to enable them to read.
There are many teachers who wonder about the effectiveness of a deliberate phonic drill, followed by a blending drill, which teaches the child to put sounds together to form a word.
They also question the need to teach spelling rules when there are so many exceptions.
Syllable division patterns are also taught very rarely, because they may pose challenges to the teacher herself.

Quite often in the early stages of remediation phonics may cause confusion in the child.
But this does not mean that we can do away with the flash card drill.
Unless the child is able to connect sounds with a  letter, word or syllable, he will find it very difficult to achieve reading fluency.
He may be able to recognise high frequency words like with, two, away etc. but if he is unable to decode words based on their sounds, he will not have adequate word attack skills.

He will have problems at a higher grade. For example, proper nouns like Himalayas, or technical, subject specific words like triangle, photosynthesis etc. will be very difficult to decode.

We teachers have been able to read with a certain level of automaticity, without too much effort or strain.
But we have to make a mental shift and look at words just like our student would, and learn to teach him according to his needs.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

People generally tend to believe that Special Ed is all about giving and helping others. I have a different take on that. I feel that what we get out of working with special children is much ,much more.
I have learnt to live the attitude of gratitude.
I have also realised how minor glitches in the brain-body systems can have significant impact on the individual's learning and behaviour. I have learnt not to take anything for granted.
The spirit of the children and their ability to bounce back after frequent failures, their resilience, and cheerfulness has taught me to be accepting and optimistic.
Special children have "special" parents. Life is never the same again for many of them
These parents have taught me lessons of love and acceptance, and of flexibility.
Many of them are on a path of continuous learning to understand their child better.
There are those who have given up lucrative careers and have become trained special educators themselves, helping their own children and others as well.
I deeply appreciate and admire each one of you for your patience, strength and courage.
Each one of you have contributed to my personal growth and happiness.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

In the year 1990 I attended a workshop on dyslexia for the first time.
 This was hosted by the Alpha to Omega learning centre and conducted by Hazel Mckay from the Hornsby centre London. It was based on the Alpha to Omega phonic approach to teaching reading to children with dyslexia.
This was my first exposure to the theoretical aspects of dyslexia.
The definition of dyslexia as a reading difficulty, the co morbid conditions, etc. became clearer to me.
 I learnt about different kinds of reading errors, and the consequences of these reading difficulties.
The root cause of the reading difficulty is the inability in making the connection between a letter and its corresponding sound. It is not specific to any one particular language but affects the reading fluency and accuracy in all languages.
So, remediation begins with reading, specifically with teaching letter sound association.
I remember learning to do the FLASH CARD DRILL.
It was a novel experience.
It was very important to master the sounds correctly, since all the spelling rules that were to follow were based on these letter sounds.
We were a motivated group and I learnt a lot from my batch mates as well.
The most important learning for me was:
Dyslexia is a genuine disability that can cause severe problems in academic achievement
Remediation should be customised to suit the individual, since each child will have his own unique set of problems.
The teacher should have complete faith in the child's ability to learn and be always willing to adapt her teaching techniques to the student's needs.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

after a long break blogging again.
i distinctly remember my first meeting with Mrs.Lalitha Ramanujan, founder of Alpha to Omega learning center. This was in the year 1989. I had accompanied my classmate who was doing her M.Sc thesis on dyslexia. Back then it was a relatively less known condition. I became very interested and went back and met her the following year after completing my post graduation in Child Development. I started by observing her when she was teaching. All the nuances of one to one remedial tutoring, the body language, voice modulation, connecting with the learner, being relaxed and ensuring that the child is also relaxed were some of the things I learned from her.
 I realised that there is an art and a science to teaching. The science part includes the strategies, techniques, domain knowledge about learning disabilities, creating the individalised educational plan based on the assessment report etc,
 The art part includes subtler aspects such as establishing a rapport with the learner, ability to modify the lesson according to the child's learning style, ensuring that the child feels good about himself at the end of the session, and feels motivated to learn more.
 My biggest moments have been those when the child has revealed something about himself, his feelings, and figures out what will and what will not help him.This self awareness initiates and sustains learning.