Approximately 10 percent of the adult population have learning disabilities. Learning disabilities also affect about 5 to 10 percent of school-age children. Most disabilities occur in math, spelling, reading comprehension, oral expression, and written language. The most common learning disabilities are in reading. Children with learning disabilities also have problems with attention, memory, and behavioral problems as a result of frustration. The term “learning disabilities” covers a combination of possible causes, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes.
What is a learning disability? With at least twelve definitions that appear in professional literature, there is no exact definition. Most experts agree that the learning disabled have difficulties with academic achievement and progress and that discrepancies exist between a person’s potential for learning and what he actually learns. Learning problems are not due to environmental disadvantages, mental retardation, or emotional disturbance. The learning disabled also show an uneven pattern of language, physical, academic, or perceptual development. A learning disability is a disorder, which affects people’s abilities to interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain.
The regulations for Public Law (PL) 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) define a learning disability as a “disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.” The Federal definition also states that learning disabilities include perception disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and development aphasia.
The are several types of disorders that are classified as learning disabilities. The two most common are Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Dyslexia. ADD is poor attention, concentration, and impulse control. Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral, or written language. An unexpected gap exists between learning aptitude and achievement in school. The problem is not behavioral, psychological, motivational, or social. It results from differences in the structure and function of the brain.
Students who have learning disabilities may exhibit a wide range of traits. Some of these characteristics are hyperactivity, inattention, and perception conditional problems. In spoken language, learning disabilities are delays, disorders, and deviations in listening and speaking. Students with learning disabilities in written language have difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling. In math, learning disabilities are evidenced in difficulty performing arithmetic operations or in understanding basic concepts. Learning disabled students also have difficulty with reasoning skills in organizing and integrating thoughts. Students affected by learning disabilities have difficulty in remembering information and instructions.
Since learning disabilities can cause a great deal of stress and frustration to a student it is important for parents and teachers to discover the problem and start to work on improvement. Sometimes a learning disabled student is labeled as lazy or disobedient. It is important to know the symptoms of learning disabilities because the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner improvement can be made. Some common symptoms of a learning disabled student are: poor performance on group tests; difficulty discriminating size, shape or color; distorted concept of body image; reversals in writing and reading; general awkwardness; hyperactivity; slowness in completing work; easily confused by instructions; low tolerance for frustration; and difficulty making decisions. It is important to remember that no one will have all these symptoms and all people, even those who are not learning disabled, have at least one or two of these problems to some degree. Even among the learning disabled, some symptoms are more common than others are. Also, the number of symptoms seen in a particular child does not give an indication as whether the disability is mild or severe. It is important to consider if the behaviors are chronic and appear in clusters.
Learning disorders may be informally flagged by observing significant delays, usually a two-year delay in the primary grades, in the child’s skill development. Children can be informally flagged through observation, but an actual diagnosis is made using standardized tests comparing the child’s ability level to what is considered the normal development for a child of that age and intelligence. The outcome of the test relies not only on the child’s actual abilities, but also on the dependability of the test and the child’s ability to pay attention and understand the questions.
But what causes learning disabilities? No one knows what the causes are right now because there are still too many possibilities. The current leading theory among scientists is that learning disabilities stem from subtle disturbances in the brain structures and functions. Instead of dwelling on the causes, families should realize that there is a problem and move forward in finding ways to get the right help.
After diagnosis, the most important thing is to create a plan for getting the right help. The affects of a learning disorder are numerous, so the best help is a combination of educational, medical, emotional, and practical support. Since learning disabilities can have a variety of behavioral patterns, it is important to design the Individual Education Program (IEP) carefully. An Individualized Education Program is a written agreement between the parents and the school about what the child needs and what will be done to address those needs. It is more important for a team to work together on educating the child. The assessment process must come first and then followed by the development of the individual education program. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that individual education program must be drawn up by the educational team and must include the student’s present levels of academic performance, annual goals for the student, short-term instructional objectives related to the annual goal, special education and related services that will provided, and transition planning for older students. Unity among special class teachers, parents, resource room teachers, regular class teachers, and others will facilitate the overall development of a child with learning disabilities.
Some teachers who have worked closely with the learning disabled have provided a list of effective and helpful strategies. For example, it is important to recognize and praise the student’s strengths. By using short sentences and a simple vocabulary, the learning disabled student will understand and remember lessons more clearly. The provision of opportunities for success in a supportive atmosphere helps to build self-esteem. Positive reinforcement of appropriate social skills at school in home is another effective strategy. Teachers can use these methods to improve the quality of learning of their students.
Children need the most support from their parents as they face their learning disabilities. It is important that a parent takes the time to listen to their child as much as they can. By accepting the child for what he is and for his human potential for growth and development, allows the child to improve while also maintaining a realistic world view. It is important to help the child to correct his own errors and mistakes by demonstrating what he should do without nagging. The parents need to be a model for their child because children often look up to their parents. The parent is very important to the child’s success.
Learning disabilities affect six million adults according to The Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities. That number will only increase as the population grows. Therefore, it is extremely important that learning disabilities are recognized in childhood. Once a child is actually diagnosed, the school and family can work together for the child. Then improvements can be made in the child’s work and ability.
The ABC’s of LD and ADD. LD Online.