My Son Is Just A Slow Learner; It’s Unfair To Label Him A Trouble Maker & Failure!

Posted: April 23, 2019

Support and motivation from teachers and parents play a magical role in a slow learner’s development. Such children are not intellectually challenged, only their pace of learning is slow.

Our world is inherently competitive. It is a fact that all organisms struggle to survive in this constantly changing world and only the fittest of the species survive. Parents are one of the most enduring species who constantly push their child to participate in the race called life and fit into this world.

What happens when a mother is told that her child cannot participate in that race because they are a slow learner? And that they would not be able to “fit into the society?” I know it because I was told so! I am the mother of a 13-year-old teenage boy and this is the story of my struggle.

I still remember the first day of school for my son. I had gotten him enrolled in a CBSE pattern, English medium school and I also had joined as a PRT teacher in the same school. My son was joyous and very excited to go to school with his mommy. What a fun-filled day that was! Like most of the parents world-over, I also had this dream of providing him with the best of education which I could afford in my limited budget. I dreamed of my son achieving success in his life one day. But success in what, academics? And then get a job so that he would be able to survive?

Yes, I thought so. My son started his studies and passed his first three years of kindergarten. During these years, I was repeatedly told by his class teachers that though he was good with verbal expression, yet he had a problem in writing. The first thought that crossed my mind was that maybe with time he will develop his writing skills. I didn’t feel like pressurizing my kid to write better. All we needed to do was give him some more time. I wanted his kindergarten years to be fun-filled and blissful, and was confident that he will improve with time.

Dreams of an education

The year my son reached the first standard, I quit my job of teaching and got myself enrolled as a Ph.D. scholar in the field of Education in a reputed university in my city. I was happy but the Principal of my school was not. As a homemaker and working mother, I had doubled my responsibilities. I was a homemaker and also working outside to earn money (work done at home is labeled as duty and is not paid work). Without any domestic help, I felt myself stretched and managing things beyond my capabilities. On top of everything, I had started my Ph.D. and was working hard to accomplish that also.

My son continued with his formal schooling and gradually a lot of complaints started coming in from his school regarding his performance. My son was unable to copy his classwork from the blackboard. His notebooks were untidy, and book covers torn and shabby. His school dress was often disheveled as he did not care much about his looks.

Though his outward looks and organization were untidy, he was outspoken in class. The teachers took this to be a sign of misbehavior and lack of manners in my son. Every time I went for parent-teacher meetings at his school, I was taunted by the teachers that he lagged in academics. He did not participate in group activities or sit quietly in the class. To make matters worse, the teachers thought it was all because I was too busy pursuing my Ph.D. and had therefore neglected to pay attention to my son.

Your child is a failure!

My son failed in the third standard because he did not write anything substantial in his answer sheets and also did a whole lot of spelling mistakes. The teachers told me that because of the low scores, my son would have to repeat the third standard. I was summoned to the Principal’s office where I was again told that my child would not be promoted to the next class.

I was sad, of course, as I had never thought that things would become so hard. However, I agreed to the Principal’s call. I felt guilty, that maybe I had neglected my son and was responsible for his failure. I had failed as a mother because my child trailed behind in academics. We were ridiculed a lot by others, and it was so shameful for us when people taunted us saying, “Mother is a Ph.D. scholar and son has failed in class three!” I doubled the efforts with my son and forced him to learn his lessons well. He was repeating the third standard but I found that he was still not able to spell words, do simple mathematical calculations, and he fumbled while reading.

Learning difficulties, not ‘bad child’

I had heard about Dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) but knew about these concepts only theoretically. I did not know if my child was suffering from any of these learning difficulties. I had no way of finding out either, so I tried explaining this to his teachers and principal. Their response dumbfounded me. I was told by the Principal, “but your child has to score to get passed”. All that mattered was his performance in class and the score on his marksheet so that he could be promoted to the next class. With so much pressure, and no actual help to make him learn, my son failed the third standard again.

This time the Principal handed me his transfer certificate commenting that “it affected the reputation of the school.” I tried to discuss and sort things out but it was of no avail. All I received was a dollop of sympathy and a pinch of advice. I was told to “look for a school of his caliber.” I was devastated. My son asked me “Mumma, do I have to leave my friends and my school?” I had no answer to give him.

There is not much awareness regarding learning difficulties and ADHD in India. I live in a small city where these concepts are still foreign to us. It was hard for me to compose myself and make my relatives understand why my child had failed twice in the third standard. All they thought was that he was dumb, lazy, ill-mannered and that I did not give him enough time because I was working.

Child psychologists are very rare to find in the small city to which I belong. Traveling to other cities to consult doctors is expensive and time-consuming. I struggled every day to cope with the fact that I now had to get my son enrolled in a government-aided Hindi medium school “of his caliber,” where the teachers paid little attention to the students.

Beating those already down

I could only rely on myself and every day I browsed the internet and tried to find out more about learning difficulties. I tried to incorporate the suggested learning strategies for such children in my efforts to teach my child. It became harder for me to manage home, my study and my son with his learning difficulties. However, I strived to do better each day.

Luckily, after a year of research, I got to know about a psychologist in my city with whom I could discuss my son’s condition. The doctor took several sessions, both individually with my son and joint sessions with me and my husband. He conducted a number of psychological tests with my son too. The doctor told me “Mam, your son does not have any learning difficulty, but he is over-all slower than children of his age. His mental age is less than his chronological age. He may learn things but at his own pace and there is nothing that we can do. Except raise him to be a confident person, otherwise his personality would be distorted. And he will not be able to pass even high school, forget about graduation”. No one in the world can understand the feelings of a mother whose heart was drenched with tears, emotions, and sadness for her son and who wept and grieved silently in the doctor’s chamber.

As conscious members of this society, what can we do for the upliftment of these marginalised children? What can we do to help other children like my son who are either dyslexic or a slow-learner? Do children with special needs not have the right to find a place in society or in the school with other regular, normal children, even if they do not score well in exams? What about the government’s vision on inclusive education, education for all, and slogans like no child to be left behind? Although the government has made some laws for CWSN (Children With Special Needs) in the RTE (Right to Education) Act, is the implementation ensured by them? Who will ensure that the right to education of the child is not snatched away from them? How do we create awareness and sensitize principals, teachers, and administrators of privately managed and government-aided schools about learning difficulties, ADHD and autism, so that none of our children is left behind?

These are some of the issues that we need to address if we want to remove the tag of non-achievers from such children. They are not physically or mentally disabled, only pace disabled. They learn concepts at a pace slower than their peers. Creating a supportive and appreciative environment for slow learners is critical to improving the pace of their learning.

Image source: a still from the movie Taare Zameen Par

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