Children with learning disorders are otherwise normal, experts affirm

Liz Khaemba, Clinical child psychologist and learning specialist

NAIROBI: We all remember how school worked for most of us; every weakness was punishable. Words like ‘six of the best’ still ring in our mind when we remember some teachers and also what failing in any test translated to.

Whether or not these techniques worked is up for debate especially as mental health practitioners continue to uncover Learning Disorders (LD) that show a child does not always fail because they are lazy.

Clinical Child Psychologist and Learning Specialist Liz Khaemba, says such learning disabilities make the learning process difficult because of the way the brain processes information.

“Children with LD are otherwise normal. They just have difficulty in learning specific skills and could have challenges in motor skills (walking, running, handwriting, coordination), language, reading, writing, auditory and visual-spatial processing,” she says.

Liz, who runs Transformative Learning Company, works with students between the ages of four and 25 with a focus on learning and behavioural difficulties.

The clinic, which has been in operation for the past five years, has partnered with over 20 schools in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to provide assessments and interventions.

Liz urges parents and teachers to, before labeling a child as lazy or disinterested, bring them for diagnosis in case the child is not keeping up with his/her peers. She says such a child could be suffering from dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia.

In dyslexia the child usually presents with slow reading speed, poor comprehension, omission of words and letter word reversal among other symptoms.

Dysgraphia means disturbance of or difficulty with writing and such a child will have poor organisation of written work, poor handwriting, spelling and grammar.

A child with dyscalculia will have difficulty in mathematical performance caused by impairment to those parts of the brain that are involved in mathematical processing.

The symptoms include difficulty grasping basic number concepts, difficulty reading and writing numbers, difficulty doing calculations and inability to comprehend word problems.

“To arrive at an accurate diagnosis, we carry out standardised assessments. Once we determine what the problem is, we then work with the child, teacher and parents to provide targeted interventions that work towards solving the specific challenges,” she says.

Some of these interventions include training teachers on the correct classroom strategies to use with the child and teaching parents about the disorder and highlighting proper parenting styles to boost the child’s confidence.

These efforts are then backed with in-clinic sessions and neuro-cognitive interventions. A parent, Christine Aluoch - mother to a seven-year-old boy who has been Liz’s patient, said the interventions have worked on her child who was diagnosed with dyslexia at six-years-old.

“He is now able to not only read better, but his spelling has also improved,” she said.

“I had given up hope on my daughter ever performing well in school,” said Jessica Wangui whose child was always getting into trouble in school, had poor attention and a bad recollection memory.

“Three months into the treatment and she has now moved 10 places and is in the average range with marked improvement each term. She is also more confident and less disruptive in class,” Jessica said.

Liz says most of her referrals come from paediatricians and teachers who are concerned about the child’s low performance in school as compared to her peers and reiterates: “Children with learning disabilities are neither lazy nor dumb and neither is theirs a disease that can be medicated,” she says.

So, next time you get a complaint that your child is slow, think twice before you pick up that rod.