A child with learning difficulties has special education needs (SEN) if they find learning more difficult than other children the same age. In the UAE it’s estimated that between 10 and 20% of school children will have some type of SEN during their educational journey.
While many SEN are immediately identifiable, others are often ‘masked’ as the child learns strategies to cope, disguising the problem. In a transient culture like the UAE, where many children are long-term expats having moved country several times, changed curriculums and even the language of instruction- there are numerous children with special educational needs who simply, ‘fall through the cracks.’
What are the signs of SEN?
While parents of children with Downs, cerebral palsy and autism discover their child’s diagnosis early, many other SEN only manifest themselves later when the child reaches pre-school age or even later. It’s for this reason, if your child’s being cared for by someone else; a nanny, day care worker or child-minder, you maintain a positive working relationship and keep up to date with any developments or concerns they might have.
If you suspect your child may have SEN, discuss it with your paediatrician. He or she will be able to talk you through the options available and start the diagnostic process if he or she thinks there is good cause for concern. Doctor Keith Nicholl, a paediatrician in Dubai for over 20 years believes, “a good paediatrician is like an orchestral conductor, he or she should conduct the diagnostic process.”
For this reason it’s essential you have a paediatrician you like, respect and trust. Ask friends, at school or on forums for paediatric recommendations. Many clinics ‘chop and change’ doctors frequently, so make sure you chose someone here for the long-haul and that you know you can rely on.
Although every child is unique, there are certain red flags parents should look out for, these are listed below. However, it’s important to note that all children display at least one or two of these behaviours at some point in their development, therefore experts recommend parents identify at least four or five, before seeking professional help.
Does your child:
• Get distracted easily or create distractions?
• Get aggressive or disruptive?
• Get angry over trivial things?
• Consistently refuse to go to school?
• Gets stressed when beginning something new or when working alone?
• Refuse to do their homework without your help?
• Appear to be making very little progress at school?
• Have very poor reading skills for their age group?
• Hate a particular school subject?
• Show consistent disorganisation?
• Conveniently forget to revise for tests?
• Have trouble remembering more than two or three instructions at a time?
• Have consistently messy work?
• Create art that’s significantly behind that of his or her peers?
• Refuse to write and yet converses articulately?
• Hold his or her pencil awkwardly?
• Bump into things or is clumsy and behind his or her peers in self-care?
• Often miss-hear what is being said?
• Repeat sentences and yet lacks comprehension?
• Find making and keeping friendships difficult and even avoid social situations all together?
• Avoid eye-contact?
• Have difficulty with any form of change?
In less transient countries, it is generally teachers who first alert parents to the possibility of their child having a special educational need. In fact, most experienced teachers are very good at identifying specific SEN, however they are neither qualified nor permitted to make a formal diagnosis.
This is not always the case in the UAE in general, while some schools are lucky enough to strike a good balance; others have unusually high population of young and newly qualified teachers who lack true ‘coal-face’ experience. This can mean a child who shows classic signs of a specific SEN has the potential to pass unnoticed through the classroom undetected.
Although many families arrive straight from their home country, there are also children who have lived in numerous countries and cultures. This constant change of care-givers, schools, languages, curricula and countries means they can often develop coping strategies which ‘mask’ or hide any special educational needs they might have. In some situations where children’s language is so lacking teachers might miss-diagnose SEN or only recognise it after concerted language training has taken place. For others, it is their parents who find it difficult to communicate with doctors or teachers, and, depending on circumstances, they are unaware of where to go for information and support.
But, it’s really not all bad news; the UAE also has many great teachers, good intervention programmes and many high quality assessment options. If you have any concerns talk to your child’s teacher immediately and the school SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), if they have one. Start the ball rolling as soon as you can, and remember those who receive the earliest intervention, have the best chance of reaching their full potential.
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