• Learning disorders are on the rise admits Dr Adarsh Kohli, Department of Psychiatry at PGI, who is spearheading research and intervention on the subject. Also, these children are not lazy or dumb, says Dr Kohli who has a word of advice for parents

At first, Mamta Sharma (name changed to protect identity) thought her nine-year-old son was simply “naughty” and avoided doing homework on his own. Otherwise an active child who met growth milestones, he would buckle up at the thought of academics, especially Mathematics. “He would keep postponing his homework. At first we dismissed it as a phobia for the subject but realised something was not right when I would sit with him and make him understand,” says this Chandigarh-based homemaker. Sharma sought help from a counsellor who in turn referred her to a special educator. “I realised that learning disorders are common now and there is help at hand,” says the mother of two boys.

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Learning disorders is a now a common disorder which is being recognized in schools and being referred by teachers and parents alike. On an average, PGI’s Department of Psychiatry sees 25 children coming every month with various issues like difficulty to cope up with studies and failure to gain in academic skills. “While we have been working on identification and assessment of learning disorders for over a decade now, we realise the increasing need to educate parents, counsellors, special educators on identification of a disorder/disability and the intervention required,” says Dr Adarsh Kohli, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh. 

Dr Kohli who has worked extensively in the field of learning disorders, their identification, clinical assessment and techniques to help children, put together a seminar and workshop on learning disorders earlier this month. “Firstly we must realise that these children are not lazy or dumb. They are children who process information differently,” says Dr Kohli.

Through continued work in the subject, Dr Kohli and her team come across two kinds of parents – those who just want a disability certificate when child is in a senior class and don’t want to spend any effort to those parents who are willing to do what they can to help the child overcome the disability.

“Learning disorders interferes in acquisition of academic skills like speaking, listening, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning and organizing information. This disorder is not due to difficulties in hearing, vision and motor function, neither due to cultural, economic, or environmental disadvantage nor due to intellectual disabilities. These children do not make adequate progress and fail to keep up with their peers academically, are inconsistent in their ability to understand and complete schoolwork, may show scatter in their standardized test scores etc. These disorders may manifest as difficulty, as disorder or as disability,” explains Dr Kohli.

She further explains that if a child is not able to comprehend or has difficulty in understanding academics two classes junior to the one he/she is in, it can be sees an a learning disability. But, it is important not to jump the gun in making the analysis. “There needs to be a complete evaluation of intelligence, oral expression, written expression, listening comprehension, reading ability and comprehension, numerical ability consisting of calculations and reasoning to make a conclusion. Once identified, special educators should be able to carry out remedial education,” explains Dr Kohli.

Some common terms used for learning disorders:

-  Dyslexia (reading disorder) - right brain thinkers who may be more artistic and creative, becoming poets, actors, inventors and artists.

- Dysgraphia (writing disorder)

- Dyscalculia (mathematics disorder)

According to Dr Kohli, there have been many researches in the department in the field of learning disorders. “Brain functions of these children and how are they different from normal children in terms of intelligence, memory, executive functions and perceptual motor tasks,” she informs, adding the need for creating awareness and more special educators.

At the moment, PGI has a special Learning Disorder Clinic that can help with diagnosis and clinical intervention.