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Turning negatives into positives
- AFTER-SCHOOL CENTRE HELPS STUDENTS COPE

Concerned about your child’s short attention span, lack of communication skills, fear of mathematics or some other form of “scholastic backwardness”' Take heart.

The Learning Centre (TLC), Calcutta, a “first-of-its-kind institution in the city”, offers remedial, after-school programmes for students who find it difficult to cope with some subjects — not because of a lack of ability, but due to specific learning problems, like attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), Asperger’s Syndrome, etc.

“The concept of the centre is unique in that it is designed to cater to children considered to be on the fringe of the learning curve as professionally as their more able peers,” explains Mita Chakravarty-Webb, special education expert and director of TLC. The centre caters to children with specific deficits, already diagnosed, as well as those who need accelerated and intensive treatment.

Once a child is referred to the centre, it assesses the problem by using standardised and universally-accepted rating scales, teaches strategies to cope with grade-level work and creates self-confidence in students who are otherwise affected by a failure chain. TLC also focuses on enrichment studies to enable students correct existing problems and extend their scope of learning.

Set up two months ago, the after-school centre on 6, Andul Raj Road, near the Hazra crossing, already has more than 20 children coming for regular therapy sessions and one-to-one counselling. Apart from autistic spectrum disorders like ADHD, obsessive behaviour and lack of social interplay, children are also referred to TLC for “inappropriate behaviour”, mostly under-achievers with low self-image and lacking in direction.

Some just need counselling to tackle specific academic phobias, like a fear of maths or an allergy to tuition sessions. Strategies from different methodologies are incorporated to address the special needs of the child. “We work on a reward system, rather than a punitive one, trying to turn the negatives into positives,” says Chakravarty-Webb, with multifarious experience in autism consultation and therapy in New York, Geneva and Hawaii.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Jai Ranjan Ram, who has noticed an alarming spiral in spectrum disorder-triggered scholastic backwardness of late, besides anxiety, depression and flawed development, feels the burden of over-expectation has a lot to do with it. “The child struggles to cope with the demands put on him/her, thanks often to the harsh and punitive parenting style or the tyranny of schools. Instead of natural, unstinting affection, love is often linked to performance, which is criminal,” he observes.

Ram, who has referred a number of kids with learning problems to TLC, feels the centre is a “definitive value-addition to the city, since we doctors are not always capable of addressing the special needs of such children like a special educator can”. He laments how repeated reprimands, either at home or at school, reduces these youngsters to nervous wrecks, “with low self-esteem and often a chronic depression”.

Chakravarty-Webb agrees that an obsessive stress on academic as well as extra-curricular excellence is robbing children of the free time to grow at their own pace and leading to specific learning disorders or dyslexia. At TLC, parents have access to observe therapy sessions at certain times and are advised to ensure consistency in strategy, “absolutely crucial” in the continuity of behavioural management studies.

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