Clinical psychologist Maria Moochala speaks about working with children who suffer from learning and behavioural disabilities, including dyslexia and offers insight into dealing with such issues

Q: Are there any obvious signs or indicators that a child is dyslexic?

A: There are some obvious symptoms, but it is important that any diagnosis of learning disability should be made by a trained person, such as a clinical psychologist.

Learning disabilities might become apparent as early as pre-school, when children are two-and-a-half or three years old. But dyslexia may also go unnoticed in the early years, only to emerge later.

Q: Is there a “right age” at which dyslexic children should seek help?

A: As soon as a child is identified as struggling in the classroom, despite having an enriched environment and exposure, teachers should guide parents to get their child the right help. Therefore, the earliest that a child could start remedial treatment is around four years.

The sooner the intervention, the fewer struggles the child will have to deal with at school. For this reason, it is essential that educationists are well aware of the nature and kind of learning disabilities. If they are conscious of such ailments, they wouldn’t label a child ‘lazy’ or ‘not motivated’. Instead, they can help parents find the right institutions for their child.

The later a learning disability is identified in a child, the more difficult it gets to remediate the ailment. This does not imply that older children cannot be helped; it is just that the challenges are greater as a child gets older.

Q: What can parents do themselves to help children with dyslexia?

Dyslexia student
Photo: Stockvault

A: Children should feel loved and respected, irrespective of any difficulties they may have. This is absolutely essential to building a positive relationship between a child and their parents.

There are numerous things that parents can do when it comes to academic support. But to begin with, the first and foremost act is to acknowledge that their child has learning challenges that impact not only their learning ability, but other areas as well.

Dyslexic children might struggle with their organisational skills, following time, remembering instructions, etc. Therefore, parents should be honest when a child questions them about his or her challenges.

Moreover, some children may exhibit behaviours that both the parents and teachers find challenging. Parents, instead of blaming themselves or the kid, should try to understand the cause. Often this may not be easy and they should seek professional help in this regard.

I think it is crucial for parents to keep themselves abreast of their child’s challenges and difficulties by reading about learning disabilities and consulting professionals, including teachers.

Q: How common is dyslexia?

A: There has been increasing awareness about dyslexia, not only among parents, but also among educationists. Now, there are quite a few schools that go the distance to support children identified with specific learning challenges. Many schools now provide these children with the required modifications in teaching practices.

Q: Are dyslexic children hampered by their disability to progress in life?

A: Children with learning disability are bright, and therefore, have potential, like any other child, to follow their dreams. Each child is different, and therefore, selecting a career is not something that is planned or advised until a child has reached higher grades.

This article originally appeared in Images on Sunday, Dawn, on February 2, 2014.

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