Oliver Robinson meets local expert Rudolph Stockling to see how attitudes have changed in the UAE
This month’s First Annual Symposium on Learning Differences, taking place in Dubai on September 25, represents the progress that has been made in raising awareness of learning difficulties in our city. Organiser Rudolph Stockling (pictured) explains that when he arrived here in late December last year, the understanding of dyslexia and other mild learning difficulties was comparable to Australia in the 1980s. Back then, he says, learning institutions were resistant to the idea that children with learning difficulties should be kept in mainstream schools to help them realise their potential.
‘There is a lack of opportunity for children with mild learning difficulties in Dubai – children who do not need special facilities and are in fact better off in mainstream schools with appropriate support,’ Stockling explains. ‘These are the children who have problems finding places in schools.’ He believes many parents and teachers in Dubai still fail to understand that children may be having problems at school not because they are lazy, but because they have what he calls ‘designable learning differences’.
A former teacher himself, Stockling appreciates that while it is all very well talking about the integration and inclusion of children with learning difficulties into mainstream education (which he maintains is a wholly positive policy initiative), the practicalities are often far more complex. For example, how can a teacher of a large class effectively accommodate the varying learning abilities of a class? The symposium, therefore, will address the more practical elements of dealing with children with learning difficulties by first helping teachers, parents and professionals recognise the tell-tale signs in children. What’s more, the event has been tailored to local needs and concerns. ‘The guest speakers have vast experience in their fields,’ Stockling says. ‘They bring their experience to meet the needs of people here. We’ve asked what topics they’d like addressed – we’ve spoken to local teachers to raise UAE-specific concerns.’
After the symposium, Stockling hopes to connect with teachers and parents by means of regular meetings and online forums, so issues relating to dyslexia will be subject to an ongoing and evolving discussion. He also expresses an interest in addressing learning difficulties among Arabic-speaking children, and says developing programmes in Arabic would involve working closely with academics and universities, because the symptoms and effects of learning difficulties such as dyslexia do not translate directly from one language to another. ‘I’m not an English speaker myself; my first languages are French and German, and I have been a language teacher,’ he explains. ‘So I know the issues that can arise in different languages – they’re never identical.’
However, certain procedures, such as ability assessment, can still be carried out by working through a translator, a method that can give a fairly accurate idea of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. Stockling believes that in the foreseeable future, he’ll be able to work with Arabic-speaking intervention specialists. When this happens, he says a primitive method of diagnosing dyslexia in Arabic can be developed. ‘This won’t be an ideal [method],’ says Stockling. ‘But you have to start somewhere.’ The First Annual Symposium on Learning Differences is on September 25 at Rashid Library Auditorium. Speakers include Dr Constance Smith-Hicks, Dr Steve Chinn, Dr Nancy Cushen White and Lalitha Ramanujan. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, for more info, or register online at www.lexiconreadingcenter.org/register.
How can I recognise the symptoms of learning difficulties in my child?
• Early indicators of learning difficulties can include clumsiness, difficulty writing letters of the alphabet (or illegible handwriting in slightly older children), or oral language issues, such as trouble learning to speak.
• A tell-tale sign of dyslexia is when a child has difficulty recognising the first and last letter of a word, or has problems with games such as ‘I Spy’. Likewise, children who have difficulty pronouncing words beginning with ‘ch’ or being able to determine how many syllables there are in a word, could also be prone to dyslexia.
• ‘The younger you see problems, the easier it is to deal with them,’ says Stockling. ‘Pre-school children are often not diagnosed, because there’s an attitude that they’ll develop later. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t.’