Nigeria’s future continues to shrink in the lost dreams of children living with learning disabilities

There is a well-loved meme on the internet whose immortal words “Are you not ashamed of yourself? are you not embarrassed? This is really embarrassing,” could elicit laughter from you regardless of the context it is used in. It is used in several ways as all memes usually are – to shame others, to make fun of one’s own shame or that of others, and underneath all that something about it always tugs at the sub-conscience.

That sentence is one many Nigerian’s are familiar with from childhood memories that are not of a happy kind. Whether it was said to you concerning your own learning struggle relative to your peers or you overheard it being said to a peer who is struggling relative to your ‘normal’ achievements. Most of us have a story to tell whose central scathing rebuke is, “Are you not embarrassed? This is really embarrassing.”

This is where that meme originated from:

The culprit as some of us have come to learn in later years was never us – we were just the victims caught in the crossfires of the struggle of the adults in our lives to make sense of difference and their failed attempt at hiding their ignorance to what’s going on.

Nigeria is home to over 32 million people that struggle with reading, writing, spelling, comprehension, and other disabilities, The Dyslexia Foundation in Nigeria stated. Yet, not only does a majority of the nation’s population remain unaware of what learning disability is, but even those tasked with teaching and policymaking are not invested enough to facilitate leaping policy changes that will best protect children living with learning disabilities. 

A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects how a person receives and processes information due to a difference in the way the person’s brain is “wired,” so to speak. 

Learning disabilities have nothing to do with how smart a person is, children with learning disabilities are as smart and sometimes smarter than their peers. Yet because they are different, they will have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling, and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways. This is why education policy around the world – Nigeria being no exception, always makes room for special needs provision so no child is left behind.

A learning disability can’t be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong issue that can be managed. With the right support and intervention, children with learning disabilities succeed in school and go on to become successful, often distinguished adults later in life.

The millions left behind …

A 2017 report on inclusive education by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education found that though literacy among children with learning disabilities has increased globally, these children remain severely excluded from educational policies and still lag far behind their peers. 

The study, Disability Gaps in Educational Attainment and Literacy, found that primary school completion for children with disabilities in 19 developing countries is just 48 percent, and as many as three in ten children with disabilities have never been in school. The study, based on analysis of census data, also found that literacy rates and secondary school completion lag considerably behind: Only 6 in 10 children with disabilities can read and write, and only a third complete secondary school.

The shrinking prospects of the young nation should alarm everyone considering Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. It isn’t just disabled Nigerian children in the millions that are left behind even if they are left behind more than their abled peers.

Any educational plan that does not address the needs of those with disabilities is lacking not just for the disabled population but for everyone.

What you can do …

Understanding what constitutes learning disabilities is a good first step to pushing for better protection of people living with a learning disability – particularly children who can’t figure out better for themselves.

There are many learning disabilities and they all affect people differently. The main types of learning disorders include:

  1.  Dyslexia – A specific learning disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills. Individuals with dyslexia struggle with word recognition, decoding, and spelling.

Reading comprehension is sometimes impaired due to very poor word reading skills.

  1. Dyscalculia – A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts. Chances are your struggle with Mathematics in school was not because you are incapable but because you needed to be taught in ways that make it easy for your mind to process at its pace.
  2. Dysgraphia – A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills.
  3. Non-verbal learning disability – Results in trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and in some cases poor coordination.
  4. Auditory and Visual Processing disability – Sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.

Attention disorders, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities often occur at the same time, but the two disorders are not the same.

Now that you know, pass along the message and encourage more people to learn about learning disabilities. It is the first step to ensuring we don’t raise another generation of broken adults who were abused because the adults in their lives didnt know better.

Also, pushing for increased inclusion in private and public schools will take us farther in the fight to protect children living with learning disabilities in particular, and children living with other disabilities in general.

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