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Thammasat devises better test for childhood learning disabilities

Feb 24. 2019
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By The Nation

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TO HELP Thailand battle illiteracy and improve screening for learning disabilities among children, Thammasat University’s School of Engineering (TSE) has developed an innovative computer program that can yield results in 30 minutes with 95-per-cent accuracy.

Noo Khor An (Kids Wish to Read), a user-friendly program compatible with tablets and smartphones, is helpful in identifying children’s learning problems stemming from heredity or brain disorder. 

Academics estimate that up to 40,000 Thai newborns a year are afflicted, said Jaturong Tantibundit, a lecturer in electrical and computer engineering at TSE. 

The program can screen children as young as 6 – two years younger than was previously possible with other similar programs. 

The TSE faculty and Chutamanee Onsuwan, a lecturer in the university’s Department of English and Linguistics, developed Noo Khor An.

The early detection of learning disabilities is crucial in enabling timely intervention and effective management. Children can be taught how to compensate for any slowness in learning and educators can set out appropriate study programmes so youngsters can keep up with their peers. 

There are three main types of learning disabilities.

Dyslexia hampers the ability to read. Common signs include difficulty in associating or recognising sounds to match letters of the alphabet, difficulty sounding out words, problems in understanding and using words, and poor spelling. 

Dyslexic children often resort to guessing which word is correct and only learn to read out words with which they’re familiar. By relying on memory rather than spelling out words, they struggle to read and cannot grasp the gist of stories.

Dysgraphia affects handwriting and other fine motor skills. Common signs include illegible writing, difficulty writing letters of the alphabet, inconsistency in spacing out words, and having trouble with sentence structure and the rules of grammar when writing. 

Sufferers have trouble organising or articulating their thoughts on paper, and yet are able to copy words. Letters and numbers might be written backwards or upside down. 

Dyscalculia causes difficulty in arithmetical calculations. Common signs include trouble comprehending number-related concepts or in using mathematics symbols or functions, difficulty in reciting numbers, difficulty linking numbers and symbols to amounts and directions, and difficulty in remembering the multiplication table.

It’s possible for a child to have all three types of disabilities. 

Limitations in screening persist in Thailand due to various factors. These include misunderstanding among teachers and parents, lack of access to corrective care because screening experts are in short supply, and the fact that currently available test sets, which are usually translated from foreign languages, have their own limitations. 

It is estimated that 40,000 of the 800,000 children born in Thailand every year could have one or more learning disabilities, and the most common type here is dyslexia. 

Boys are believed to be four times more likely to have a learning disability than are girls.

 

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