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More children being tested for learning disabilities

india Updated: Jan 22, 2009 01:05 IST
Neha Bhayana

Until not so long ago, teachers dismissed children with difficulties in learning as “lazy” or “dumb”.

But thanks to greater awareness and the impact of the 2007 film Taare Zameen Par, schools are referring an increasing number of children for learning disability (LD) tests.

The Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA) and the LD clinic of Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Sion have more than 200 children on their waiting lists for testing. At Nair Hospital’s one-year-old LD clinic, 80 to 120 children are registered for testing every month.

Because of this high demand and the fact that the eight one-hour-long tests are conducted over a month, children have to wait for up to two months before they can be tested.

Sion Hospital’s clinic, the city’s main certification centre, saw more than 2,000 children in 2008. After initial screening for neurological disorders, it put 1,422 children through the LD test. Over 760 of them were diagnosed with dyslexia.

The clinic had conducted tests for 1,285 children in 2007 and 1,004 in 2006.

“When we started the clinic in 1996, less than 100 children were referred to us in the entire year. Fortunately, awareness is on the rise so a lot more children are being referred,” said Dr Sunil Karande, who heads the Sion hospital clinic.

This is a step forward, but doctors pointed out that children were still being brought in very late.

“The majority of children referred are over 11 years old and study in Class 6 or 7. Ideally children should be identified in Class 3 or 4 itself,” said Dr Karande.

Masarrat Khan, the chief executive of the MDA said even four-year-olds who had difficulty learning nursery rhymes, could not recite the alphabet in sequence or hop in a straight line should be tested.

“Dyslexia can only be diagnosed after the age of seven but by testing early we know which children are at risk and can start remedial measures,” she said.

Moreover, the number of children schools are referring is still too low. Around 7 per cent of school-going children in the world are dyslexic and 30 per cent have some sort of learning difficulty, according to city doctors. Considering that more than 20 lakh children are enrolled in Mumbai schools, the number ought to be huge.

“We have probably identified just 0.1 per cent of students who have learning difficulties,” said Dr Karande.