What's in a name?

SLD, VAS, ADD, Dyslexia, Minimal Brain Dysfunction. These all come back to one thing, a child with learning difficulties.

Attention Deficit Disorder is just one of these conditions despite potentially one of the most significant. ADD is the handicap which few people still acknowledge. Even in these enlightened times it is being rejected by some education and medical professionals.

Television coverage has brought forth the knowledge that this handicap certainly does exist, one only has to speak to the parents of children suffering from this disability. Listen to the many stories of children who daily turn their home into a battlefield.

To the average person a child with learning disabilities has no obvious problems. They appear quite normal, they run around and play with other children at school and are able to see, speak and hear in the usual manner. Most people would look at these children and say they have no handicap and certainly are in no need of any special assistance. Unfortunately the handicap these children have is invisible.

These are children who at ten or twelve years of age are still unable to read, write or do mathematics at all but the very basic of levels. What is to become of them? That is the question being asked by numerous parents.

Research tells us that ADD is an immaturity in the limbic zone of the brain and these children can not take responsibility for their behavior. They are impulsive, frequently hyperactive, easily frustrated and usually suffer from extremely low self-esteem. Add to this the long list of learning disabilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

This situation exists from birth but becomes more apparent as the child grows older. The brain ever undergoes a maturing phase at around the age of fourteen years. The handling of the situation during the child's early years determines whether or not the person achieves emotional and behavioral stability when reaching adulthood.

Those who are not given the appropriate assistance in their formative years simply join the growing list of statistics of adults who are unable to read. It has been suggested that a large proportion of prison inmates are those suffering with ADD which was never acknowledged during their childhood years.

Unfortunately ADD is still not picked up by a large number of teachers. It can be said in their defense that they are trained to teach, not to diagnoseose medical conditions. On the other hand, if a child is progressing through the school system and although appearing to be of normal intelligence, still seems unable to pick up on the usual reading, writing and maths skills, what then?

The usual recourse is to place the child in some sort of reading recovery program at a reliably early age. If this does not work there is the possibility of reading clinics and teacher aides for extra assistance. By this stage the teacher and child are both frustrated with the teacher frequently complaining that if only the child would sit still and concentrate, things would certainly improve. Unfortunately for the child with ADD, that is beyond his control.

By this time, any astute parent will be seeking help, not only at the child's school but also with their local GP, speech therapist, and dietician or possibly even a physiotherapist or osteopath.

The educational term for this type of problem is specific learning disabilities, (SLD). This covers all the learning difficulties a child may develop. ie VAS (visual attention span), dyslexia (reading problems), dyscalculia (mathematics), dysphasia (speech and language), dysgraphia (writing) and of course ADD (attention deficit disorder).

ADD is not an uncommon disorder. It is usually found in males and will actually be seen in about five to twenty percent of boys.

The idea that this is a condition of recent times is incorrect. Research into man's ability to learn dates back to the early Grecian era. Late last century neurologists and neurosurgeons made a study of people who had experienced strokes which claimed in their being unable to speak, write, or generally comprehend. They were then able to relate these problems to different areas of the brain giving some ideas into the functioning of this organ. By the 1970's it was found that children with 'Minimal Brain Dysfunction' as it was then called, did indeed have problems in the learning regions of the brain. Initially it was considered that these problems developed during pregnancy or birth, but further studies have revealed that the child with ADD generally has other family members also displaying symptoms of this condition. This has led observers to consider that ADD is very generous genetic! It appears that the condition is handed down through the males of the family. Females are less likely to inherit this disorder but can often be carriers.

So, what is ADD?

It is a disorder affecting a child's ability to concentrate or pay attention. The majority of children with this disability generally have difficulties in both these areas but some children may experience problems with only one.

The child with the attention problem will be easily distracted; he will also be restless and frequently disrupted other children in the classroom.

The child who is unable to concentrate will be a daydreamer. These children have so much difficulty in concentrating on one topic the usually 'switch off' completely and dream about anything that is of more interest to themselves rather than listen to what the teacher is saying at the time. This is understandable when one realizes that the brain of the child with ADD is just not selective in what it absorbs. Is it any wonder these children end up by giving the whole learning process away and simply doing their 'own thing'.

A large proportion of these children have not only ADD, but also hyperactivity adding to their problems. (ADHD) They find it impossible to keep their hands to themselves, always fiddling and touching, having absolutely no respect for objects surrounding them, be they expensive or cheap! These children appear to be completely out of focus and run and jump on furniture turning a home inside out in a matter of minutes. In the classroom the child will wander around and appear to be quite disruptive. Unfortunately the need to be on the move is not simply bad behavior, but a neurological one.

On the other hand there is the hypoactive child who will often be overlooked through childhood. He is the one who has trouble getting off his bottom, does not take much interest in sporting activities and is more than happy to just stay put! His problem is more with concentration than attention. It is easy for these children to be completely overlooked, both in the classroom and at home. They are so “good” they are actually ignored.

Impulsiveness combined with hyperactivity is one of the most dangerous features of ADD. Dangerous to both the child and to those close at hand; This is especially so in the very young child. Cases have been reported of children running out into traffic, jumping off roofs and poking objects into electric sockets causing despair for parents and teachers alike.

The child with ADD also experiences major difficulties in waiting for anything. Without a parent agrees promptly to a request, frustration invariably results in displays of temper. In the classroom or examination room these children often read questions incorrectly in their impatience to get started. This results in frequent incorrect answers.

It is not uncommon for a child with ADD to require a writer especially in examination situations. This is because they invariably have problems with fine motor coordination which affects their ability to tie shoelaces, do up buttons and more importantly, to develop correct hand writing skills.

We are told also that about sixty percent of all children with ADD have some problem developing their early speech patterns. They acquire speech during the first year but have some difficulties in the development of language. Generally these children gain correct receptive speech so they can easily understand the language of those around them. There is however often a delay in their ability to express themselves. The use of small sentences will frequently not start until around three years of age. If speech problems are not corrected in the early years they may well continue all the way into adult life. It is known that speech difficulties lead to a greater risk of spelling, reading or writing disabilities.

Another problem which can continue well into adulthood is low self-esteem and self confidence. This is due to a dysfunction in the limbic system. These children feel awkward mixing with their peers, a problem which becomes even more noticeable in group situations. They feel more comfortable with only one or two children at a time. These difficulties are obvious in early schooling but becoming alarming as the child reaches puberty. Owing to their low self-esteem, they are easily influenced by their peers and will often engage in dubious activities as they try to gain acceptance by their group. Here we see these children rapidly heading on the downward slope to becoming involved with alcohol, drugs and criminal activities.

Various methods of therapy are available the more common being remedial teaching, speech therapy, behavioral therapy and dietary assistance. There is also drug therapy, this being the most controversial. The claim is that the majority of children with ADD respond positively to drugs but it has been proved that there are some who are actually made worse by this form of treatment. Consequently this treatment is only performed through a specialist and the child is monitored closely to determine its reaction.

To ascertain whether a child is suffering with ADD he must be evaluated by a combination of practitioners preferably in a medical, mental health or educational facility. Many parents will recognize symptoms their child might display. Following are just a few of the signs which accompany this condition.

  1. The child has difficulty remaining separated.
  2. Late speech development.
  3. Will frequently do physically dangerous activities without considering the circumstances. (Leaps before he looks).
  4. Has trouble following a list of instructions.
  5. Is easily distracted by external noises.
  6. Often talks excessively.
  7. Is always on the move, fidgets and is generally restless.
  8. Frequently moves from on unfinished task to another.

The existence of developmental learning and behavioral disabilities is not widely acknowledged. Those who specialize in this area are only too well aware of their fight to assist these children. These children are fragile and are certainly not a lost cause. They require endless support, security and love. Let us not forget that these children are our future adults.