Rights of the learning disabled

Every child has a different learning style and therefore teachers need to think of new and interesting ways to educate them. While general students need equal attention from teachers, students with special needs require extra attention. It is learning disabilities that are the vaguest and mystifying when compared to other major handicapping or disabling conditions, with the possible exception of emotional disturbances. It is still a great deal of debate as to what is meant by the term Learning Disability. It is so because the field is quite new and the group of persons whom we now call Learning Disabled is unusually diverse. With defining Learning Disabilities, the unaddressed stigma is also concerned. But what calls for even more concerning is the lack of proper methodology and competent pedagogues for such children and their parents.

The right to education is an essentiality for every child today. While we are trying to cater to all the children from illiterate, underprivileged, backward, and secluded strata of the society, we seldom contemplate about children with special mental aid, forgetting that the right to education is universal and will not be pertained successful until a single life suffers unlettered.

We live in a world full of diversity. We live in a world that embodies millions of lives and their thousand ways of living. A world-embracing people who are diverse in culture, belief, thought, expression, profession, action, and practice. Irrespective of how different people think from each other, the approach towards understanding a certain thing is the same. The inference might differ but the basic understanding is the same. One might perceive the apple to be unripe or the other might perceive it to be a green apple but an apple will be understood as an apple by both the individuals.

But some individuals cannot remember or understand the shape or color of fruit to identify it. The mental functioning of such individuals is different than others. Their brain isn’t able to recognize the correct approach to consider a question.
Such people require a different learning methodology and educators who are well versed with their abilities, skills and can fully comply with their distinctive needs. These individuals are certainly known as learning disabled.

What are learning disabilities and its type –
Learning disabilities are a branch of mental disabilities or impairments. Others being mental retardation and organic brain damage. Learning disabilities is a vast field. It encompasses three learning differences – reading disabilities, written language disabilities, and math disabilities. Each type includes several different disorders, vaguely categorized into intellectual disabilities and cognitive disabilities.

Cognitive disabilities are obstacles to learning. A person with this type of problem experiences difficulty in perceiving, recognizing, choosing, understanding, etc. It can be an inability to focus for any significant period. It might be a problem processing printed text or defective short-term memory. It could be problems with the idea of several quantities or imagining shapes. Something is in the way of the learner’s progress, in so many words. Cognitive disorders often begin subtly but progress until they significantly impede the affected individual’s quality of life.
There are some characteristics of having a cognitive disability, here are a few examples:

• Problems remembering
• Difficulty processing emergencies
• Problems processing information
• Problems accessing information

Intellectual disabilities are specific cognitive difficulties that create a low intelligence quotient (IQ) score and significant problems in the ways learners adapt to new situations, such as their ability to socialize or take a test. It’s harder for them to understand and apply new information that comes their way. People with intellectual disabilities are the group that in the past has been referred to as ”mentally retarded” or ”mentally challenged.” It affects the intellectual functioning as well as the adaptive behaviors of the individuals. Intellectual functioning refers to a person’s ability to plan, comprehend, and reason, while adaptive behavior refers to an individual’s ability to apply social and practical skills in everyday life.

Causes of mental dysfunctions
Learning disabilities are caused by something affecting the development of the brain. This may occur before birth (prenatally), during birth, or in early childhood. Learning disabilities can be caused by any one of a variety of factors, or by a combination. Sometimes the specific cause is not known. Possible causes include the following:

 An inherited condition, meaning that certain genes passed from the parents affected brain development, for example Fragile X.
 Chromosome abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome or Turner syndrome.
 Complications during birth resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain.
 A very premature birth.
 Genetic mutation
 Mother’s illness during pregnancy.
 The mother drinking during pregnancy, for example, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.
 A debilitating illness or injury in early childhood affecting brain development, for example a road traffic accident or child abuse.
 Contact with damaging material (like radiation).
 Neglect, and/or a lack of mental stimulation early in life.
 Some people with learning disabilities have additional physical disabilities and/or sensory impairments.

The Learning Disabled in India
Education for all still seems like an obscure dream for India. Hence education for the learning disabled is an even bigger quest. When compared to the West where the movement for the learning disabled started half a century ago, India is recent in recognizing learning disabilities. Following the footprints of the movement in the USA, India has adopted its definition for learning disabilities (or specific learning disabilities as known in the USA). According to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the USA, “Specific Learning Disability (SLD) means a disorder in one or more of the psychological process involved in understanding or in using languages, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who are having learning problems which are primarily the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.”

As per my observation –
• There is no adequate data for the incidence and prevalence of learning disabilities in India.
• Presently special schools are extremely few, considered exclusive for a few, that too in urban areas only.
• Only private organizations and NGOs conduct research and development in the field of learning disabilities. Latika Roy Memorial Foundation, Muskaan, Aarushi are some to name a few.
• There is no organization operating nationwide in India as the National Center for Learning Disabilities in the USA, Learning Disabilities Association in Canada, Society for the Intellectually Disabled in Singapore, British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Down’s syndrome Association and National Autistic Society in the UK.
• There is a large divide between the role of the health and education department in the recognition and treatment of learning disabilities.
• In India learning disabilities are viewed as a disorder from a medical or a psychological perspective, which results in a medical rehabilitation rather than a community-based rehabilitation.
• India is a diverse country with multiple languages and varied cultures and students often learn through a medium or a language than their mother tongue. This tends to become a bigger problem for children suffering from learning disabilities.
• The Indian educational system emphasizes on theory-based learning than application-oriented learning. This system is also vexed for the learning disables.
• Vocational training is not predominant in India and thus the unvarying educational system is taxing for children with special needs.

As per the newspaper Tribune report, about 15% of the school-going population is having dyslexia in India. A news article in Times of India states that dyslexia is the most common learning disability with nearly 35 million children suffering from it. A study conducted in 2014 at L.T.M.G Hospital, Sion in Mumbai reveals that a total number of 2,225 children visiting the hospital for certification of any kind of disability, 640 were diagnosed as having learning disabilities. These children belong from lower, middle, and upper-middle-class families. Studies conducted by Shree Chithira Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, Kerala in 1997 revealed that nearly 10% of the childhood population has developmental language disorders of one type or the other and 8-10% of the school population has a learning disability of one form or the other. The Institute for Communicative Cognitive Neurosciences (ICCONS) in Kerala has been conducting research programs in child language disorder and developing research and rehabilitation programs for learning disabilities. Screening for learning disabilities for classes I to VII in schools with follow up assessments by experts in 10 Panchayats in Kerala have revealed that 16% of these school children have a learning disability.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
The Rights of the Persons with Disability Bill was passed in 2016. It contains 19 disability conditions including learning disabilities such as autism, intellectual disability, mental illness, speech, and language disability, etc. The Bill allows the central government to notify any other conditions as a disability. The bill states learning disabilities as conditions wherein there is a problem in processing language, spoken or written that may manifest itself as a difficulty to comprehend, speak, read, spell, write, or do mathematical calculations and includes conditions such as perceptual disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.

But the bill only gives general guidelines to assess the extent of specified disability in a person.
1. The appropriate Government will designate persons having requisite qualifications and experience, as certifying authorities who will be competent to issue the certificate of disability
2. The appropriate Government will also notify the jurisdiction within which and the terms and conditions subject to which, the certifying authority shall perform its certification.
Having said that the bill does not mention anything about the diagnosis, assessment, and certification specific and tailored to each of the disabilities. The bill only mentions about detecting learning disabilities in children at the earliest and taking suitable pedagogical and other measures to overcome them. But due to lack of uniformity across the nation, due to the absence of an umbrella organization, the implementation varies from state to state. Only 5 states have taken measures for the identification and diagnosis of learning disabilities – Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi, and Goa.

The state board of these states recognizes certification of students with learning disabilities from specific hospitals provides special assistance to these students and offers financial benefits and allowances to the parents. Students are also given concessions such as the extra time during the examination, choice of subject, and exempt from the third language. The Central Boards of Education have also recognized the existence of these types of disorders and have mandated certain types of certification for students with LDs. The ICSE council may grant exemption from the study of a second language to a candidate with special difficulty, provided the severity of the disorder. Although such an exemption will be granted only on a recommendation sent by the head of the school and on the provision of the necessary documents certified by a competent authority approved by the State/Central Government and acceptable to the Council. School affiliation authorities have also taken major initiatives for the students with learning disabilities, such as –
• ICSE – (i) Extra time – 15 minutes/per hour or 25% of total time extra; (ii) Exemption from the second language: student need not take another subject in lieu; (iii) Use of the calculator in some cases for mathematics; (iv) Question paper will be read out to the student; and (v) Use of a writer, if required, as per the rules.

• CBSE – (i) Use of a writer as per the rules of the board; (ii) Additional 1 hour for each paper; and (iii) One compulsory language as against 2 in addition to any 4 of the following subjects: mathematics, science, social science, another language, music, painting, and home science.

• A recent circular from the Higher and Technical Education Board extends these provisions to technical institutions, non-agricultural and agricultural universities, effectively covering students in undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

However, this laudable initiative is negligible considering the magnitude of the learning disabled diagnosed and certified in India.

Future Agenda
Following are some measures that can be subsequently considered for proper medicaments towards the learning disabled in India –

1. Educating and Awarding parents –
Often parents are unable to identify the disability of the child at an early age. They dismiss it feeling that maybe it will happen eventually but it does not happen so.
Instead the problem and plight of the child increase. In this period, the child instead of being driven towards corrective learning is blatantly led towards greater disorientation.
If parents are made more aware of the different forms of learning disabilities, then they will be able to identify the special need of their child at the earliest age.

2. Special Education services – there is a well-recognized need to frame a solid and robust teaching pedagogy ad methodology to teach such children. In such learning, the modes and means devised by teachers are of greater significance than the syllabus to be taught in an academic year.

3. Well trained and skilled teachers – they are of utmost circumstantial significance to address these lacunae. The tutors must be brimming with ideas, innovation, and compassion because only then the specialty of these children can be appreciated, with lesser affliction towards monetary goals.

4. Job creation – once these children are taught there have employment opportunities for them. It is pivotal to make their life as undifferentiated from the children with no mental disabilities. In this society and the state, both have a role to play.

The State has taken a step towards encompassing the children who are mentally disabled. But there are several loose ends; it must thread to formulate peripheral learning for the same. The parents, the schools, the society, all have a role to play in this.

  • Author: Sanjali,
  • Intern at Lawportal
  • Email: sanjalidas10@gmail.com


Author: Sanjali,
Jagran Lakecity University/Student

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