ALL parents know the importance of early intervention. The earlier you spot the signs that something is not right with your child, the faster the experts and specialists can provide the help that he needs.
While disabilities are fairly easy to recognise, and learning disabilities also have signs, what happens if your child is just a slow learner, and there aren’t any distinguishing signs?
Jigna Doshi, principal at Safari Kid preschool and kindergarten, says there are signs and they can be spotted from as early as three years old.
The signs may not be as obvious as those of a child with dyslexia or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) but they would be noticeable to trained professionals.
Teacher Fiona Harris explains, “When you think about a slow learner, you compare them to their peers. So, you should know the developmental milestones that they should achieve as they grow.
“If it seems to be taking them a long time, compared to their peers, and if they haven’t reached a certain target, then we can probably agree that they are slow learners.”
She explains that a learning disorder would have certain characteristics like reversing 9 and 6 when writing or b and d, if the child has dyslexia.
If they don’t manage to write the right way or if they say the wrong word sometimes, that can show that it’s a learning issue.
However, if children are just generally slow in achieving the developmental milestones then they could be slow learners instead.
Jigna gives the example of a child at Safari Kid who didn’t speak for a long time. After talking to the parents about it, the teachers realised that at home, everyone was speaking for the child and he didn’t have a chance to speak.
“When we communicated that to the parents, they let him talk instead of completing his sentences for him and we then saw a huge change in him,” she says.
Teachers are in the best position to spot slow learners, not just because they see the children’s work daily but also because they have been trained to spot the signs.
Every week, Safari Kid teachers write reports on the children’s achievements or outstanding behaviour, and these are sent to the parents. In addition, assessments are done on each child three times a year.
“If the school notices anything amiss, it would be reported to the parents and it is then up to them to take the necessary action and get the relevant support.
“We can direct the parents to a specialist if needed. In some cases, we have children who come to school with shadow aids to help them in class,” says Jigna.
It helps that the children at Safari Kid are assessed when they register and then placed in classes that suit their level of development. This way teachers and parents can see if their child is on par with their peers.
“Every class has children of different ages. Developmentally, they’re probably around the same level. Parents see that this helps because their child gets to communicate with children of other ages and they have older peers who help teach them. They learn so much more this way.
“So, you will have a 2½ in the same class as a 5-year-old. Every level has goals they need to achieve. We have a report every Friday, every middle of term and end of term. When we see they are ready to move up, they’ve achieved the goals, then we put them in a different class.
“We have had kids who moved up three levels in two terms and then we’ve had kids who stayed in the same level for two terms,” says Jigna.
She adds that each child learns differently from the rest and some may need more creative ways to learn. Instead of using phonics, it might be more helpful to learn using sand to trace out the letters or by going into the garden to look for things that start with that sound.
“We tap the interest of the child in the right way. What works for one may not work for another,” she adds.
Safari Kid uses various methods to teach the children, including cards, writing, singing, and modelling clay.
“We teach holistically; we like to have all the senses involved. Class participation is important as well to build their confidence so they don’t just sit in class. We involve everybody in class,” explains Harris.
If parents are unsure but believe their child might be a slow learner, they can bring it up with the teachers. Alternatively, they can bring it up with their doctor who would go through the development stages with them and check the child’s progress.
If the doctor agrees that the child is a slow learner, he might recommend specialists for the child to see. It could be a psychologist, speech therapist or an occupational therapist, depending on which area the child is facing challenges.
Jigna recommends parents familiarise themselves with the developmental milestones so they can detect if their child is a bit slow. Do give the child a bit of time though because nothing happens like clockwork, especially when it comes to children’s development.
“I know someone who didn’t do anything when their child didn’t speak until she was five. Their older child was normal and spoke well but the younger one didn’t pick it up until she was five. The dad thought, that’s okay, she’ll pick it up when she wants. But the mum said, no, something is wrong,” she says. The child wasn’t a slow learner. It turns out the child was on the autism spectrum.
Harris points out that usually the parents will have a gut feeling that something isn’t right.
Jigna adds that parents should accept the facts.
“I see many parents who are in denial and say nothing is wrong with their child.
“They should realise that early intervention always helps. The few children that we have had, with the early help, they’ve come a very long way, versus them getting help at the age of seven when they go to school. That’s when they would be labelled by teachers,” says Jigna.