Triveni Goswami Vernal
(Registered Special Educator CRR A64010)
The Hindi movie, Taare Zameen Par shed light, on the oft forgotten condition of Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. It was a turning point for a lot of people who had perhaps had an inkling about something not being right, but not having a word to describe what their child may have been undergoing in school. The movie brought the experiences of the child, to the fore. For many parents, it was like a penny, that had suddenly dropped and they realized how targeted intervention may have helped their child in the long run.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), of the American Psychiatric Association, “Specific learning disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders that are typically diagnosed in early school-aged children, although may not be recognized until adulthood. They are characterized by a persistent impairment in at least one of three major areas: reading, written expression, and/or math” (https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder).
“To be diagnosed with a specific learning disorder, a person must meet four criteria.
1. Have difficulties in at least one of the following areas for at least six months despite targeted help:
o Difficulty reading (e.g., inaccurate, slow and only with much effort).
o Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read.
o Difficulty with spelling.
o Difficulty with written expression (e.g., problems with grammar, punctuation or organization).
o Difficulty understanding number concepts, number facts or calculation.
o Difficulty with mathematical reasoning (e.g., applying math concepts or solving math problems).
2. Have academic skills that are substantially below what is expected for the child’s age and cause problems in school, work or everyday activities.
3. The difficulties start during school-age even if some people don’t experience significant problems until adulthood (when academic, work and day-to-day demands are greater).
4. Learning difficulties are not due to other conditions, such as intellectual disability, vision or hearing problems, a neurological condition (e.g., pediatric stroke), adverse conditions such as economic or environmental disadvantage, lack of instruction, or difficulties speaking/understanding the language” ((https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder)
Since Specific Learning Disorders (SLD) affect reading/spelling, handwriting and /or Math, there are three main types of SLDs:
I. DYSLEXIA: According to the Mayo Clinic, Dyslexia is a “learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called a reading disability, dyslexia is a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353552). It involves challenges with establishing the Sound-Symbol association, that forms the bedrock of both the ability to spell as well as read. Dyslexia is much more commonly known in India, these days, in comparison to the other two learning disorders.
II. DYSCALCULIA: Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects an individual’s ability to understand number-based information and mathematical operations.
The Dyslexia Association of the UK, has listed down some signs of Dyscalculia across various grades:
• Has trouble learning to count
• Struggles to connect a number to an object, such as knowing that “3” applies to groups of things like 3 cakes, 3 cars, or 3 friends
• Struggles to recognize patterns, like smallest to largest or tallest to shortest
• Has difficulty learning and recalling basic number facts such as number bonds, e.g. 6 + 4 = 10.
• Still uses fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies (like mental maths)
• Poor understanding of the signs +, -, xx and x or may confuse these mathematical symbols
• Struggles to recognise that 3 + 5 is the same as 5 + 3 or may not be able to solve 3 + 26 ‒ 26 without calculating
• Has trouble with place value, often putting numbers in the wrong column.
• May not understand maths language or be able to devise a plan to solve a maths problem.
• Finds it difficult to understand maths phrases like greater than and less than
• Has trouble keeping score in sports or games
• Has difficulty working out the total cost of items and can run out of money
• May avoid situations that require understanding numbers, like playing games that involve maths.
• Struggles to understand information on charts and graphs.
• Has trouble finding different approaches to the same maths problem, such as adding the length and width of a rectangle and doubling the answer to solve for the perimeter (rather than adding all the sides).
• Struggles to learn and understand reasoning methods and multi-step calculation procedures
• Has trouble measuring items like ingredients in a simple recipe or liquids in a bottle.
• Lacks confidence in activities that require understanding speed, distance and directions, and may get lost easily.
• Has trouble applying maths concepts to money, such as calculating the exact change
Typical symptoms include:
• difficulty counting backwards
• difficulty remembering ‘basic’ facts
• slow to perform calculations
• weak mental arithmetic skills
• a poor sense of numbers & estimation
• Difficulty in understanding place value
• Addition is often the default operation
• High levels of mathematics anxiety
(Source: Maths Explained in https://www.dyslexia.uk.net/specific-learning-difficulties/dyscalculia/the-signs-of-dyscalculia/)
III. DYSGRAPHIA: It refers to a neurological condition in which an individual has difficulties with writing, with respect to their peer group. Writing is a fairly complex task involving fine motor skills, gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, posture, balance etc.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The signs of Dysgraphia include—
• Difficulties writing in a straight line.
• Difficulties with holding and controlling a writing tool.
• Writing letters in reverse.
• Having trouble recalling how letters are formed.
• Having trouble knowing when to use lower or upper case letters.
• Struggling to form written sentences with correct grammar and punctuation.
• Omitting words from sentences.
• Incorrectly ordering words in sentences.
• Using verbs and pronouns incorrectly.
All three learning disorders do not have medical treatments for them, as yet. But targeted interventions can go a long way, in helping an individual manage their challenges related to reading/spelling, math and writing.
*Please Note: In the article, the word Disorders has been used instead of Disabilities as that is the term used by DSM-5.
**The author is Certified in Dyslexia Teacher Training, Learning Disorders, OG Phonics.
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.