Ishaan Awasthi in ‘Taare Zameen Par’ epitomised the plight of children with learning disabilities. But, little has changed since then in the country. Except four states, the rest of the country has never heard about learning disabilities (LD). The numbers of children diagnosed and registered as having learning disabilities during 2014, 2016 CBSE (10th and 12th examinations) are a minuscule amount. But, 99.90% children remain undiagnosed in India.
In 2014, only 816 out of 6 lakh students who appeared for SSC exam were identified as suffering from Learning Disabilities, which is only 0.13%. In class 12th examination, 324 out of 9,67,000 students were identified as having the said disabilities, which is only 0.33%.
In 2016, 1306 students out of 14, 89,021 who appeared for SSC exam, were identified as having learning disabilities. In 2016, 722 out of 9, 92,656 who appeared for HSC were identified as having learning disabilities.
I had asked the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry to provide me the data from 2001 to 2016 of children registered with learning disabilities in SSC and HSC, but it denied having it.
Globally, there are about 5% to 10% of children who suffer from learning disabilities. The figures reveal that the vast majority of children with learning disabilities are never diagnosed even after 70 years of independence.
What is Learning Disability?
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and / or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organisation, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention. It is important to realise that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and at the workplace.
Since difficulties with reading, writing and / or math are recognisable problems during school years, the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are most often diagnosed during this time. However, some individuals do not receive an evaluation until they are in post-secondary education or till they start working as professionals. Other individuals with learning disabilities may never receive an evaluation and go through life, never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their jobs or in relationships with family and friends.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems, which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, motor handicaps, or of mental retardation, or due to emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural and economic disadvantages.
A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed as it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
Source: Learning Disabilities Association of America
Senior CBSE officials told me that identifying the children with disability in all schools across India is not their responsibility. But, that is not true. The fact is that the board has completely ignored the issue of learning disabilities over the last 70 years.
An undiagnosed child with learning disability is at the receiving end from both his teachers and parents in most of the cases. The trauma is invisible and leads to drop outs, behavioural issues and depression. A microscopic minority manages to break free and succeed in life. These points to serious child rights emergency and all the stake holders need to wake up.
The Bombay High Court is seized of this issue and has asked the Government of Maharashtra to start LD certification centres across the country.
Mental health professionals, HRD Ministry, educationists and child right activists need to join hands to change this scenario.
The author is a psychiatrist at Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital