When learning is a challenge

2008-05-22 00:00

Mental impairment in its mild form is a challenge that teachers and parents can identify while a child is still in primary school. Identification of the characteristics is important because it helps teachers and parents to work co-operatively and deal with the problem during its initial stages of manifestation.

The following are some of the general and specific problems that mentally disabled children face during their learning pro-cess.

• They have difficulty with reading and basic mathematical calculations.

• Some can be hyperactive, which may severely interfere with their concentration.

• They have poor oral communication skills and may be very re-served when it comes to social interaction at home and at school.

• They show little curiosity about the environment. They cannot relate what they learn to their surroundings.

• They consistently and continuously experience low academic achievement.

• They may manifest clumsy and unco-ordinated psychomotor skills.

• They have difficulty with under- taking multiple instructions.

• They may mispronounce words, “three” instead of “there”.

• They may refuse to read. This problem emanates from their inability to read.

• They make substitutions that distort the meaning of a word, “mather” instead of “mother”, “maker” instead of “makes”.

• They make additions to words which may result in the syntactic construction of the sentence losing its intended meaning, “collecting” instead of “collect”.

• They tend to omit certain letters in words. They write “coretions” instead of “corrections”.

• Letter reversal is another problem. The child may write a “d” instead of a “b”, or a “p” instead of a “q”.

• The child may transpose letters, writing “felt” instead of “left”, “saw” instead of “was” and “vier” instead of “river”.

• They have problems with ab-stract words and processes. Words that describe abstract pro-cesses such as “photosynthesis”, “respiration” or “transpiration” can pose enormous challenges.

• They have poor memory of common words that are used on a regular basis.

• They tend to confuse different consonants in the alphabet be-cause of poor memory of the alphabet. They use whichever order of the alphabet they remember.

• They disguise their inability to spell with consciously untidy handwriting.

• They read so slowly that the process becomes tiresome. They read word for word, struggling with each of them.

• They read without expression. They may ignore punctuation marks.

• They do not enjoy being read to, but enjoy looking at pictures.

• They rarely use or insert capital letters and punctuation marks.

• They avoid classroom writing activities as much as possible.

• They have difficulty in writing on plain paper.

• They hold pens or pencils awkwardly or so tightly that it becomes difficult for them to complete tasks.

• They fail to decode a written mathematical story with words such as “less”, “more”, “first”, “last”, “before”, “after”, etc. This may demonstrate an overlap of language problems in mathematics.

• They have problems with long division and addition and with “carrying” in mathematics.

It is important to realise that mild mental impairment can be rectified.

Teachers and parents can employ the following techniques to correct learning deficiencies .

• Teach mentally disabled children using games and songs.

• Always use concrete objects when demonstrating mathematical calculations.

• Vary learning materials and methods to stimulate concentration on a task.

• Establish whether the child learns best by the sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell and use learning materials that appeal to the child’s active sense.

• Provide the pupil with graded learning materials, so that he or she has a feeling of achievement after the learning experience.

• Utilise an individualised educational programme where the child’s learning problems are catered for.

• Accept the child as he or she is. Avoid the use of derogative terms, for example “you are dull”.

• Use simple language to explain a concept.

• Teach subject matter in small, logical units to promote understanding.

• Use a variety of textbooks. Some textbooks are written in a very difficult manner.

• Utilise the child’s interest areas to develop reading and mathematical skills.

• Encourage the child to participate actively in non-academic tasks. This helps to boost the child’s self-esteem. Never allow any correct work to go unnoticed.

• Give positive feedback. Compare the child’s current progress with his or her previous performance.

• Let the child work with you and under your supervision.

• Make the child responsible for different activities in the class-room or at home.

• The school should always communicate with parents of children facing learning difficulties so that a co-operative approach can be adopted and implemented.Mental impairment is a phenomenon that can be rectified if early warning signs are identified.

It should be noted that some children with mild mental disabilities can improve their performance remarkably well.

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