x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Early intervention 'vital' to tackle learning difficulties

A child development workshop in Dubai yesterday proposed that schools that make strides towards successful inclusion of with developmental delays should receive higher ratings at the end of the school year.

DUBAI // Early detection of learning difficulties is the key to overcoming these problems, child health experts said yesterday.

A broad range of issues, from inclusion and integration to detecting dyslexia, hearing loss and feeding difficulties, were discussed at a child development workshop, held at Wellington International School.

"Early intervention is key because there are statistics that show young people are highly receptive in the early years, but they face more difficulties if their learning disabilities are tackled when they are older," said Abdulkareem al Olama, the executive director of the Centre for Healthcare Planning and Quality.

Mr al Olama stressed that schools who make strides towards successful inclusion and provide the necessary assistance to students with developmental delays should receive higher ratings at the end of the school year.

"The Ministry of Education and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority have to work with schools to make sure that inclusion is implemented," he said. "I believe schools that provide students with continuous opportunities to learn and grow, with the necessary monitoring throughout the year, should achieve some of the best ratings at the end of the school year."

Experts urged educators to seek assistance when helping a child who suffers from learning difficulties, such as problems with motor skills, speech and language, sensory, emotional or social skills.

"At the end of the day, families with children that have special needs require all the support that they can get from the community since it affects the entire family," said Mr al Olama. "There are resources within the community that they need to be made aware of."

Dr Shola Faniran, a specialist and developmental paediatrician at the Child Learning and Enrichment Medical Centre, told the audience that teachers and family members should suggest parents seek expert advice if they notice that a child has learning problems. When mild disabilities and specific learning disorders were detected early, both the child, parents and community stood to gain, she said.

"There has to be general awareness in the community to take away the stigma of childhood disability," said Dr Faniran. "Our aim is to integrate students and that is by raising awareness among teachers who are able to identify if a child requires additional assistance and for parents to take the necessary steps to address this."

Dr Faniran said that sometimes parents feared their child might be labelled if they informed the school or brought it to a teacher's attention.

"Parents are normally the first to highlight that there may be a problem with their child and schools have to be prepared to accept those children," explained Dr Faniran. "When teachers and therapists work together, better results can be achieved and parents need to be aware of that."

"Some schools are known to have learning support, so parents hear about that one school and they want to send their child to it, but the point is to achieve inclusion for all students - regardless of whether they have learning difficulties or are highly intelligent."

Nancy Cylke, the head of inclusion at Wellington Primary School, said she thought the forum was useful and raised awareness of what can be done to support students.

"Although it is still a challenge, there is more cohesiveness in the community and more services," Mrs Cylke said. "We see very involved parents in our school and they are receptive to suggestions. Inclusion should be for every school, because it means every child reaches their potential."

The event was organised by the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre and Child Learning and Enrichment Medical Centre in collaboration with Dubai Health Care City and Wellington International School.

balqabbani@thenational.ae