CONFUSION: Sometimes behaviour may be over-diagnosed. Picture: Independent Media
Parenting expert Lee Koetser tries to unbox the reasons for this problem.

We are in the 21st century and yet learning disabilities are on the increase. One would think that with advanced technology, better education and revolutionary medicine this would not be the case.

However, there been a rise in special educational needs.

This is such a controversial debate with no clear-cut answer as to why this is the case. Here are some of the points to consider and help put the matter into perspective:

Back in the day there were fewer available medical and educational professionals and these “labels” were taboo. Children with learning disabilities might well have been overlooked and considered to be slow or naughty.

Education was taught in a rote learning fashion, these were memorisation techniques based on repetition, and children had to fit the norm or remain behind. There were no inclusive policies.

Should the child be noticeably restricted physically or mentally they would be sent to an institution separate from the mainstream environments and assisted there.

Foodstuffs in the latter years have become more artificial and sugar laden. The additives, sweeteners, fillers and hormones have played a major role in the growth, sensitivities and behaviour of today’s children.

Discipline is not what it used to be. Respect has gone out of the window and our youth are managing us and not the other way around. Teaching in an environment such as this makes learning difficult and has nothing to do with intrinsic factors of the children themselves.

In addition to the above teachers are finding the environment impossible to teach in and referring children for assessments and therapy is sometimes the only option. There is no deterrent and restless, defiant and unfocused behaviour are common. Incomplete work and poor grades need addressing before a child has to repeat a grade. For the teacher, it may be that his or her job is on the line should a child not progress to the next grade.

Sometimes parents and teachers need a “name” and “reason” to attach to the issue as it doesn’t fix it but makes the problem more understandable not to mention adapting better ways to assist in the classroom and at home.

As much as I believe in the digital resources of today especially for children who have occupational therapy issues and battle to complete work and write legibly, I think that unlimited use of these gadgets can cause more problems. Our children’s writing abilities and work rate have slowed disproportionately compared to when I was at school. Children have become lazy and pencil grip, shoulder stability and wrist control are on the decline only making therapy more mandatory.

Digital resources have increased learner’s screen time putting strain on the eyes and brain. The iPad or tablet makes more sense in terms of not having overloaded bags and just one gadget to remember but as a remedial therapist I still love textbooks.

NO TEXTBOOK policy is ruining our children by spoiling them. We had to remember which books to take to which class and without realising this trivial task actually improved our organisational skills and memory. The off white pages would be good for children who had figure ground issues and was gentle on the eyes as opposed to the stark white and black on the screen. The glare on the screens is also unhealthy for sensitive eyes. Having the computer at our reach also creates a further distraction of the games that beckon us from the hidden depths of the entertainment app.

The Google doctor is around now. When I was pregnant I would google everything in fear of visiting the doctor unnecessarily. A pain here, a pull here and I would google. Google is your worst option as a headache is a brain tumour and sugar sensitivity is ADHD. This has also escalated the amount of referrals nowadays. If your child displays any strange behaviours ask a professional. Even if it is for your peace of mind and turns out to be oppositional defiant behaviour.

In my therapy I like to take a holistic approach rather than just working on the symptom. If you have been having neck back and shoulder pain for years do you visit the physiotherapist continuously and pop non-inflammatory pills and muscle relaxants like smarties? That would be placing a Band-Aid on the wound and never getting to the crux of the problem. For this reason I work in a holistic manner.

Look at emotional factors, biological factors, medical history and learning styles. I also investigate the eyes and ears to eliminate auditory, speech and visual related issues hindering learning. I, as a therapist, need to know what the cause of the issue is before I can assist in re-mediating it. If a child cannot hear or discriminate between the sounds how am I going to teach him phonics? If a child has had a traumatic event take place how will he or she learn without assisting them emotionally first?

So back to my original question: Why are learning barriers on the rise? There are conglomerations of reasoning for this and thus we should not look at things in isolation. I cannot speculate what the reason is but if this is the case we need to as a community look at our children and assist them in the following holistic manner:

Introduce and expose them to a healthier lifestyle including organic food, minimal sugar, more water, less screen time and more outdoor activity.

Instill discipline at home and at school.

Be consistent and work alongside the teacher as opposed to against for a desired effect.

Identify issues early to eliminate problems in the long run.

Let us take Frederick Douglass’ advice and “build strong children rather than repairing broken adults”.

Lee Koetser is a parenting expert. Visit http://www.breakingbarriers.co.za/ for more information.