Archive for January, 2008

Hi, going out of station – to Sringeri, to have Sri Sharadamba and Sri Gurugalu’s darshan. Will pray for all of you!

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The following is the letter to the TOI editor that mr vidyaranya bellur emailed, but unfortunately the letter was highly edited and published on 28/01/08. since he had emailed a copy to me, i thought of publishing it here unedited so that it might interest my readers and they may write their comments on this:




Your news item “Sweden to study belching cows TOI dt. 23-1-08” is not only hilarious but epitomizes height of senselessness on part of research funding agencies. Cows every where have been nurturing from time immemorial on naturally grown greens and have been yielding milk that is nourishing human kind ever since civilization. Also, it is a well known fact that cow dung is an excellent manure that enriches the soil solely because it’s herbivorous nature. We may recall here how processed meat & bone were fed to these poor herbivorous animals which resulted in spread of mad cow disease in Europe which in turn lead to the butchering of thousands of innocent cows.

Now we hear of this crazy research being carried out on these poor bovines’ belchings which is supposedly contributing to the emission of green house gases! Instead, I strongly suggest the funding may be diverted to measure the emissions under the pants of junk food eaters where the results would indicate the contribution of human methane levels that would far exceed those of bovines’ belching!

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,


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I have decided to conclude the post today, however lengthy or short it may become !

We have discussed the various LD markers and also the probable causes. OK, Once we have identified a child with these difficulties, what do we do?

The child needs an assessment by an Educational psychologist or a Special Educator who may administer various tests to find out the its abilities in the areas of reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic. It is important to rule out any hearing or vision problems before conducting these tests. It is also important to collect information about the family history/background to rule out any serious emotional disturbances. If the child is suspected to be experiencing serious emotional disturbances either at school or at home, those disturbances need to be addressed first before proceeding with the tests.

The tests may be standardized psychological tests where norms have been developed earlier so that our child’s performance may be compared to those norms and its degree of difficulty assessed. Or psychologists can develop their own tests based on the criteria that a child of that particular grade/age needs to be proficient with. Some curriculum based tests can also be administered to find out the child’s grade level. A child is said to be experiencing Learning Disability if its performance is below 2 grade levels.For example, if a child who is in 4th Grade is only able to read and write at 2nd Grade level or even less, he could be having LD. If the child is good in arithmetic but not in languages or if the child is good in languages and is poor in computing the numbers, it could be a case of Specific Learning Disability. These labels are used only to exchange information between professionals and to understand the remedial measures required for the child, but not to demoralize the child or the parent. Professionals need to be extremely sensitive to the feelings of the parents and the child. We need to validate their feelings of shock, disappointment, disillusionment, anger or denial, that they may express when they learn about this condition of their child. Professionals need to offer counselling to the parents to make them understand that their child despite the difficulties, can still be able to come up in life in one or the other area of skill. Even academics can improve to a great extent given one-on-one remedial teaching, depending on the degree of disability – it could be mild, moderate or severe. Earlier the problem identified, earlier the remedial measures could start and better would be the outcome. Parents’ acceptance of the issue is the most important factor in proceeding further to seek help for the child to overcome the difficulties.

Remedial classes can be arranged by the school itself or parents need to identify such facilities in their area and the child can attend the classes 2 or 3 or 4 times a week according to its learning needs. Many schools in Bangalore have Resource Centres now that cater to the learning needs of these students. Their specific problems are addressed in these classes unlike in a regular tuition class. Teachers at school can be requested to reduce the burden of home-work to these students so that extra time can be devoted to the learning needs of the child. Teachers can also be requested to give due credits to the oral expression of these students than to evaluate them based only on their written expression.

Many parents realize that their child is having severe problems only when the child reaches the high school. Suddenly the syllabus also increases, parental and teacher pressure increase and the boy or the girl becomes self-conscious of the difficulties that they are undergoing and the insults that they hear from all sides, that they can get into depression. Their frustrations mount and they may become aggressive. Added to this would be the turbulence of entering puberty and various confusions that ensue. Counselling can help them realize their strengths first and then the weaknesses and how to overcome these weaknesses. It is important to keep in touch with the school teacher too to understand the academic and non-academic behaviour of the child at school. The school teachers who handle the child need to be sensitized of the difficulties the student is facing and how they can cooperate with the professional and the parent to mitigate the problems and boost the confidence of the child.

NIMHANS and St.Johns Hospital are the two places where certificate of LD is issued that can be produced at the State or the Central Board of Education to avail concessions in Languages (the language of medium to continue and the other two languages can be dropped), or substitution of a subject with another(a student I know of selected Music instead of Maths in CBSE) or extra time to write in the exam (for slow writers) or even the services of a scribe(for the severely dysgraphic) can be sought.

The Central Government has also introduced National Institute of Open Schooling System (NIOS)  for 10th and 12th Grade level exams, the Certificates of which are considered on par with the Board Certificates, based on which the student can get admission into mainstream college later on. The advantage of NIOS system is that the student can choose 5 or 6 subjects of his choice from a variety of unconventional subject-combinations. The exams are held once in 6 months (April and October), the student is allowed to write exams in as many subjects as he is comfortable with, which he would have studied at his own pace. The student need to get registered in one of the approved institutions of NIOS syllabus, can attend regular school or schools that offer NIOS syllabus and pass the exams at his own pace.

In case of severely learning disabled students, it is very important to recognize their particular skills and start training them in any Vocation of their choice from the High school level itself. Many schools with NIOS syllabus also have in-house vocational training facilities. Parents need to understand that it is important to make the student self-reliant later on with a vocation learnt earlier, than force the student to pursue higher education when the interest and abilities of the student do not permit this.

To conclude the series of posts on Dyslexia or Learning Disability, that started with a mention of the movie Taare Zameen Par by Director and actor Aamir Khan and how the sensitive portrayal and treatment of the subject catch the heart strings of the movie goers, I would like to tell all the parents and teachers (and other readers) that it is of utmost importance to help any child build good emotional health first, then teach the child all the Life skills, like, communication, decision making, inter personal relationship, emotional management etc, and then give due attention to its academic health too. Recognize a child’s hidden potentials/talents, encourage the child to build on those potentials, acknowledge every desirable behaviour and every small achievement that the child scores, correct the undesirable behaviour with support and love and BE  THERE  EMOTIONALLY  WITH  YOUR  CHILD  ALWAYS – IN ITS SUCCESSES and MORE SO IN ITS FAILURES!

I would like to quote here (my favourite)  sensitive plea of a child to its parents –


Series Concluded

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I feel the thread of posts is getting very long and I am afraid I may be putting the reader’s interest off the thread by my elaborate explanations! I think I should conclude it soon.

One or two features that were left out in my earlier posts are included here. The fine motor problems in writing that I have mentioned in previous posts can be sensed much earlier by the indicators, like, lack of firm grip over the objects held in hand, unable to hold writing implements and make lines and circles, unable to tie the shoe lace, difficulty to colour within the boundary, buttoning the garments, difficulty to string beads etc.

These children may exhibit gross motor problems too. Their attainment of gross motor milestones might have been delayed. They would have taken longer months to turn around, creep and crawl, move forward on four limbs, sit upright, stand or walk. They may be clumsy in their running and jumping. They may find it difficult to hop on one leg or skip. They may find it difficult to throw ball at the target or catch the ball. Children hone all their gross motor skills while playing outdoors. But it is very unfortunate that instead of allowing children to play in the evenings, parents are packing them off to tuition classes during this precious hour in the evening!  

Some of these children would have experienced delays in speech acquirement and development. This later on leads to language processing difficulty. Speech problems like stammering, stuttering, articulation difficulties (saying ‘guh’ for ‘kuh’, ‘muh’ for ‘nuh’. ‘luh’ for ‘ruh’ etc). Children who suffer from constant colds and coughs and ear infections may later develop auditory perceptual difficulties.

I have explained most of the markers of dyslexia and I am sure you can now identify those features of dyslexia if you come across them in a child. But what are the causes of dyslexia???

Well, no single cause can explain the Learning Disability that many children experience. However, researchers say that many factors can be linked with this condition.

Genetic: Since LD is seems to run in families, it can be attributed to genes.

Bio-Chemical: Imbalances in chemical productioninside the brain (neuro transmitters)can lead to many problems like ADHD that inturn can lead to LD, or memory problems.

Accidents can lead to brain injuries that can damage certain neural pathways necessary for learning to take place.

Many children who have had epileptic seizures that went unattended or undiagnosed in the earlier stages can develop learning difficulties.

Smoking, alcohol drinking or drug habits of the pregnant mother can lead to developmental anomalies in the foetal brain, which may manifest later on as Learning difficulties. Pregnant mothers who have an addiction to alcohol can give birth to children with Foetal Alcoholic Syndrome or FAS. Excessive smoking can can cause accumulation of nicotine in the pregnant mother that can sometimes lead to mutation of the genes that cause various problems to the growing foetus. Many drugs that are ingested by the pregnant mother to treat infections can also cause distress to the developing brain.

Severe emotional disturbances and depression of the pregnant mothermay affect the developing foetus that may show up later on as LD. 

Problems during delivery of the child, like oxygen deprivation to the brain(anoxia) due to lack of or delayed birth cry that can damage the brain cells. A prolonged labour can cause fetal distressthat sometimes leads to LD.

Environmental causes, like, deprivation of a stimulating environment at critical stages of development of a child that prevents optimal brain functioning, excess of chemicals like mercury, arsenic and lead in the environment can damage a child’s brain.

Since many of these causes are human made, it is in our own hands to take preventive measures that can save children from this affliction.

……………….. to be concluded in the next post

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While constructing a sentence, children with LD may find it hard to structure their sentence grammatically. They commit errors with syntax. They can not string the words in the right order. They may write, “road goes on the car” instead of “car goes on the road”. Passive voice poses problem to them. The sentence “cat chases the rat” in passive voice may become “rat chases the cat”! “Rat is chased by the cat” would be too confusing to understand who is chasing whom! They struggle to express their ideas through writing or through speech. They may fumble for words or stop mid way in a sentence unable to understand how to proceed. Single line answers are easy to understand, but long answers are difficult to comprehend because of their confusion with sequencing of events/ideas. 

Some children who have above average intellectual levels may find writing task very difficult. Their thoughts would be running at such high speed that their writing pace can not match the speed of their thought flow! And many find the repetitive writing tasks very boring and meaningless. Hence a reluctance to write.

Teachers need to be sensitive to their reading and writing difficulties. They should not pick these children and force them to read out a passage from the text book aloud in front of their peers. Anxiety increases their confusion and makes them commit even more mistakes.

Spelling difficulty is once again due to the inability to order the letters in sequence. Some may be good in phonetics and they may spell the word as they hear the sound (auditory speller) – fone for phone, nife for knife, nite for night, lefant for elephant (more like the current day mobile SMS spellings). Some children write bizarre spellings – totally unconnected to the word. To learn spellings, the child should have good visual memory to visualize the whole word in his mind and reproduce it or he must have good phonetic skill to divide the word into different syllables and learn the spelling of each syllable and string it together. This method is called syllabication or syllabification. The word “difficult” can be segmented into dif-fi-cult, the word television into te-le-vi-sion,  construction into con-st-ruc-tion, mansion into man-sion.  Here again there can be confusion between “tion” or “sion” and this portion of the word they need to visually remember.

To learn the spellings, the child also needs to master the sound-letter association. After single letter sounds, child needs to learn consonant blends, like, ‘pl’, ‘br’, ‘sp’, ‘cr’, ‘spr’, ‘spl’, ‘str’, ‘thr’ etc, consonant digraphs, like, ‘ch’, ‘sh’, ‘wh’ (2 letters making single sound), vowel sounds and many other letter combinations.

Numbers once again may pose problems to many children. While writing they may mirror certain numbers like, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  and 9. They may read the number in reverse order, like, 23 as 32, 12 as 21 etc. Counting one-to-one will be difficult, concept of money can be hard to learn, Clock reading may become difficult. Temporal words like ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘some days ago’, ‘some days later ‘, ‘next month’, ‘last year’ etc would be difficult to conceive.

Simple addition and subtraction may be learnt easily, but graded sums would be difficult. The concept of ‘carry over’ in addition and ‘borrow’ in subtraction would be tough. Learning the multiplication table would be difficult as it requires sequencing ability and hence find multiplication sums difficult. So also the division sum.

Statement sums pose a big problem as the arithmetic language involved would be difficult to understand and they can not comprehend the different operations involved in the sum. Even if they were to understand the operations like addition and subtraction involved, they may get confused with the sequence of these operations.

……………….. to be continued

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Continuing the writing difficultiesthat many children with LD face, they have poor handwriting as their finer muscle controls are bad in the initial stages and by the time they gain control over the finger muscles, the pattern would have been set and children demotivated enough by all the insults that they keep hearing that they never make an attempt to write neatly. Or occasionally, when they have received positive strokes by the teacher at school or by parents at home, sudden motivation can make them write neatly on that day for which lot of effort goes in. But it is not sustained for long as their mood gets spoilt by other demotivating comments. Hence we see lot of inconsistency in their writing. If a child has very severe degree of difficulty to write, then the child is said to have dysgraphia.

Since these children have poor spatial ability, they can not understand how much space needs to be left between words in a sentence or how much space would be required to write a longer word at the end of a line. They try their best to fit in a long word at the end of the line by over writing or by going out of alignment, or by erasing the word number of times and somehow fitting in the word that they lose precious time doing all this acrobatics!  

It becomes difficult for them to make connectivity to the next letter while using cursive style of writing (joining handwriting). Most of us are taught cursive letters of alphabet in isolation and the beginning of the stroke is always at the bottom of the line. But many a times, inside a word, these letters have to be connected from the previous letter from atop. Ex: in a word beginning with ‘o’, say, ‘owl’ or ‘toy’, the child can connect well. But if ‘o’ were to come in-between, like in ‘bowl’ or ‘vowel’, connecting ‘o’ becomes difficult. Many cursive letters pose this problem when they are positioned between two letters and the stroke has to continue from top. This makes the handwriting look clumsy.

Their writing looks clumsy because of unevenly sized letters in a word or inconsistency in maintaining the size and shape of the letters. Because of their slow speed of writing, they are always lagging behind others while writing dictation or while copying from the black board. They are unable to comprehend the rules of punctuation and capitalization of letters.

When the teacher realizes these difficulties that a child is experiencing, she should not insist on neatness, but focus on the content of the writing. As long as the writing is intelligible, she can overlook the minor errors and appreciate the content and the effort the child has put to complete the task. But unfortunately, most of the teachers insensitively scratch out all the work that the child has done with a bold red ink mark and place a remark “rewrite”, “poor handwriting, re-do” or some even tare the page into pieces, taring the self-esteem of the child into shreds!

………….. to be continued

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In my last post I was discussing the various forms of Visual and Auditory perceptual difficulties that many children with LD face. And the link provided by Mr. John Heyas in his comment to Post 5 threw much more light upon visual perceptual difficulties. Here we may recall how the little fellow Ishaan Awasthi in the movie “Taare Zameen Par” perceives all the letters and numbers dancing on his page and flying away making it impossible for him to understand what was being asked in the question paper! How numbers and words get mirrored, all jumbled up and the best thing for him at that point of time to do was to go on a dream trip! Yes, many of these children sit day dreaming in the class room as they can not make any sense of the lesson being taught by the teacher! Isn’t the dream world more interesting and more motivating than the drab, repetitive lessons taught by an unenthusiastic teacher in the classroom?!

Children with reading difficulties also make errors in leaving out the prefixes and suffixes in words – they may read unlikely as likely, indifferent as different, or teaching as teach, survived as survive.

Children who have severe writing difficulties often show decline in their academic scores as they come to higher classes. Many parents say that their child was scoring very well in Kindergarten levels, but started showing difficulty to score marks as he came to 2nd and 3rd standard. It declines further by class 5 and is when most parents wake up to the fact that their child might be having some learning problems.

Writing is a fine motor activity,ie, it requires the finger muscles to be skillful to graspthe writing implement (crayons, chalk pieces, pencils, pen etc) and have control over writing. Writing with a pencil/pen, that too within the boundary of two or 4 lines is a very sophisticated action that is at the top of hierarchy of fine motor skills that is attained by the age of 6 or 7. But unfortunately, in India, children as young as 3 or 4 are taught to hold pencils and expected to write inside a book! Many of us may remember writing on a black slate all the class work till 2nd standard! This places undue pressure on a child who may be developmentally still lagging behind. It becomes a very big strain for the young child to continuously hold a pencil and write one full page of letters of the alphabet! Their finger muscles may start aching.

Added to this difficulty may be the establishment of handedness. By three years many children would have established their hand preference to do little tasks. But many are still shifting between the left and the right hands. It is wrong to force a child to use his/her right hand while the child may prefer the left hand. The left or right handedness depends upon the dominance of the left or the right hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain controls the movements of the right side of the body and vice versa. If a child prefers to use his left hand for most of the tasks, forcing a change in his /her handedness can lead to lot of confusion in the brain and may slowly lead to aversion to write. It is wise to leave the decision of using hands to the child itself. Teachers also need to be sensitive to this issue.

Writing poses difficulty initially to left handed childrenas our writing is from left to right. (Other than Urdu/Arabic language, are there any other languages that require writing from right to left? Readers please enlighten me) For a lefthander, the movement of hand from left to right is restricted, whereas for a rightv hander, movement is unrestricted from left to right. This restriction of movement poses difficulty to establish neat handwriting. Also, children using left hand to write do not get an immediate feedback of their written workas their left hand covers what is being written! Not so for a right hander. He/she has full view of what is being written and can even make suitable corrections then and there. All this difficulty makes many left handers take up hooked writing position of the hand so that the movement becomes easier from left to right and also a feedback is visible. But young children who pick up hooked hand position may tire soon as it is an unnatural position to hold for long for the young hand. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the difficulties a left handed child experiences while picking up writing skill. Their understanding and sensitivity can ease the pressure upon the child and can motivate a child to improve his/her writing skill. Otherwise, an insensitive handling of the issue by elders and insensitive teasing and insults by peers about the left handedness can leave an emotional scar in the child’s mind and can lead to low self-esteem and de-motivation!

Also, children require time till the age of 6 or 7 to gain control over the size of the letters that they are expected to write. It takes time for some children to gain the concept of configuration of various letters – the direction of the strokes and curves of letters. If they are forced to limit the size of the letters within certain boundary, they can not make a proper impression in their brain. This leads to confusion about various letters and numbers. These children need large spaces to practice writing, like on the floor or on the wall or on black boards where they need not limit the size of their letters and slowly they get the shapes of letters or numbers well ingrained in their brain. Then they can start reducing the size. In addition to just writing on a plain sheet of paper, children benefit by writing on rough surfaces like sand or a spread of rough powder of ‘rangoli’ where there is an additional input through tactile mode. Tracing with fingers the letter templates on a sand paper or tracing the stencils also provide better impression.

In our schools teachers insist on neat handwriting and cursive style (joining the letters) of writing by 2nd standard when the children would be about 7 years of age. Yes, many children would be able to write according to the teacher’s expectations. But those who fail to write are subjected to severe punishments and insults! This is what puts off many kids from writing and an insensitive treatment can lead to rebellion in them!

……………….. to be continued

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