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Society for Excellence in Education

Dealing with differences: Gifted Education, Special Education, Learning Difficulties & Disability

It was a cold winter misty morning, and I was feeling cozy and comfortable standing on the terrace of my home seeing the sun sparkled gold across the mountains, as I sipped my coffee. Soon it was time to dress up and reach the bus stop. I reached the stop as the school bus arrived and boarded the bus. Little children were all dressed in their school jackets wearing the hood and looked smart.

In about 15 minutes we reached school and I went to the Skill Enhancement Department, the place where I belong. Skill Enhancement Department is a remedial and counselling department at Vidya Valley in Pune.

To my surprise, I had about 15 children waiting for me and my colleague Arpita. Quickly I unlocked the door and we all entered. Soon Arpita arrived and both of us sat down to listen to these children. Some were worried they had not studied enough for the tests, and there wasn’t any one at home to help them. Some were worried that the Hindi homework had not been completed as again there wasn’t anyone at home who knew Hindi, the Hindi teacher would write a note in their communication book, mentioning they haven’t completed the homework. So an easy solution for them was to leave the Communication book on my desk and tell the teacher they had left the book home! We all keep searching for coping mechanisms in time of difficulty, isn’t it? Some also wanted to share their victory and the medals they had received on the Sports Day.

As much as Arpita and I wanted to help each and every child, due to other commitments it wasn’t possible. But we both knew one thing and that was listening to their concerns and offering to help them in need was all they needed and that’s what had brought them to our department first thing in the morning. While other children enjoyed a chat with their friends and laughed and shared jokes, these children were looking for an adult who could help them in the true sense.

Consider-Aayush, (name changed) he would often manage to hack the main server of the computer lab and tamper the entire class computer submission. When, the teacher got him to us, (the counsellors) he   in a very surprised tone asked,” What have I done? Why am I here? I was just checking if whatever I knew was correct, and the Computer Teacher is angry with me!” And he looked through me without any eye-contact. We smiled and explained…..”Dear Aayush you have deleted other children’s work and they are upset and so is your teacher”. He would say,” No Ma’am it got deleted when I was trying to check what I knew”. And he was right. However he was excellent at wall climbing and Tabla. He was so consistent in his Tabla lessons that his ‘Gharana’ (group of Tabla students) would often win  House points. He is a child with a high IQ and only some traits of ASD.

Consider, Ram (name changed). He struggled to fit in a class as he had a speech difficulty and awkward motor movements. He found Algebra, Geometry and art extremely difficult as he could not hold his writing instrument correctly, but he enjoyed his Physical Education class and Indian Music class as the PE teachers would modify his activities and he loved the music class. He was a child who had cerebral Palsy and a delayed development.

Consider-Prashant, Arun and Shyam (names changed). Exam times were the most difficult time for them. They all wanted to just pass in their tests they struggled with reading and comprehension. They often fell out of place in class and wanted to remain in the counselling and remediation department throughout the day. They were very creative and would make working models in science and enjoyed the same. They had a Learning Disability with language impairment.

The term “Special Education” is used, in most cases, for the education of children with learning disabilities, emotional problems, behavioural difficulties, severe physical limitations, or difficulties related to low cognitive abilities.

“Gifted education”, on the other hand, is used for educating the more able, children with high learning ability or special talents, creative children or children who had achieved highly in school-related or any other area, such as chess, music, painting, etc. However, many gifted children belong to both categories. Some suffer from problems or irregularities unrelated to their giftedness, for example – learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD), or physical limitations, such as hearing loss, blindness, or paralysis. Some have to deal with issues directly or indirectly connected to their giftedness. For example: social acceptance has to do with conforming to the classroom norms, speaking about subjects considered age-appropriate, or being careful not to use “high level” vocabulary. A gifted child might find it difficult to participate in activities he or she has no interest in, not expressing feelings or ideas because they might seem odd to the peers, or thinking before using any rare or unconventional word or expression. A gifted child who is bored in the classroom might adopt behaviours such as abstention from activities, daydreaming or becoming the “classroom clown” and disturbing the teachers with voice-making, making jokes at others’ expense.

Our classrooms are enriched with students with mixed abilities. We have students who learn quickly and some students who take time and explore and learn. Some children know more about what is being taught in classrooms, while others struggle to learn.  We are all aware about ‘Multiple Intelligence’ the famous Gardner theory, yet as adults sometimes we narrow our scope to understand our student’s abilities and force them to perform on parameters that do not bring out the best of them.

So how do we help students bring out the best possible self?

The answer is to let them explore and learn, give them an atmosphere conducive to learn, try and be a mentor instead of being a teacher. Make use of ‘multi-sensory method’ of teaching in classrooms. Believing in your students strengths and adapting ’mediated learning’. The concept of mediated Learning was discussed in the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability and Mediated Learning, by ‘Reuven Feuerstein’ for cognitive rehabilitation.

He believed that Human beings are modifiable, because they are open systems with continuous  interaction with their environment and prone to allow meaningful structural changes to take place in their cognition throughout their entire life span.

Once an individual has been equipped with an adequate vocabulary precision and comparative behaviour, good hypothetical thinking and ways to correctly infer conclusions, he will have the possibility to gain more insight in emotions and other experiences. The theory states that a person’s cognitive performance can be significantly modified through mediated learning intervention aimed at creating new cognitive structures.

So friends let’s celebrate Neuro-diversity in our classrooms, encourage and facilitate young minds to reach their true potentials.

–  Anisha Nair


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