WHAT IS LEARNING DISABILITIES ?

The term learning disabilities refers to a neurological disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. This brain variance may influence an individual’s ability to speak, listen, read, write, spell, reason, organize information, or do mathematical calculations. If provided with the right support and intervention, a child with learning disabilities can succeed in school and have and have a successful, and often distinguished, career later in life. Parents and teachers can help the child achieve success by both fostering the child’s strengths and knowing the child’s weaknesses. People with learning disabilities do not look handicapped – they wear no prosthesis to assist them. The fact that they have no visible handicap has led to this condition being referred to as the invisible handicap. Because their difficulties are not obvious, learning disabled persons are often misunderstood and maligned. They are accused of “not listening”, of “being lazy”, of “being clumsy”, or “being weird”. Not understanding their own problem, they often experience loss of self esteem and feelings of worthlessness. The enigma of the youngster who encounters extraordinary difficulty in learning, of course, is not new. Throughout the years, children from all walks of life have experiences serious difficulties in learning. Moreover, the condition we call learning disabilities occurs in all cultures, nations, and language groups.

SOME EMINENT PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES

The life stories of eminent individuals who eventually became successful contributors to society reflect their travails with serious learning disabilities.

I remember vividly the pain and mortification I felt as a boy of 8 when I was assigned to read a short passage of scriptures with a community vesper service during the summer vacation in Maine – and did a thoroughly miserable job of it.

Nelson Rockefeller
Served as Vice President of the United States

I am not lazy, I am not stupid, I am dyslexic. My parents grounded me for weeks at a time because I was at the bottom 3 percent in the country in math. On the SAT’s I got 159 out of 800 in math. My parents had no idea that I had dyslexia. They never knew such a thing existed ( S.Smith, 1991 ).

Henry Winkler
Actor, Director, Producer

I got all C’s and D’s in school and I am mildly dyslexic. But I am very persistent and ambitious. When I applied to college, the admission officer said that I wasn’t what they wanted. So I sat outside his office for 12 hours a day until the admissions officer said he would let me in if I attended summer school. The tuition was $ 12,000, so I took out my wallet and gave him $ 12,000 in cash. I was already making good money in nightclubs. I think that having dyslexia is a competitive advantage. Dyslexic people are good at setting everything aside to pursue one goal. Ambition beats genius 99 percent of the time.

Jay Leno
Comedian and Late-Night Talk-Show Host

When I was young, they use to say on my report cards, “Se has the ability but doesn’t apply herself”. Everything I learnt in school was through spoken information because I had such a hard time reading and writing. I can’t spell, and if I have to dial the telephone long distance, it’s a hassle. You have to find the place that you can shine if you don’t fit in with what everybody else is doing. I became the class clown because I could not read or write. I dropped out of school at age 16. ( S.Smith, 1991).

Cher
Actress, Singer, Dancer

I hardly got through school. Probably the biggest fear of my life barring none, was not competing in the Olympic games against the best athletes in the world, but when I was a young boy, my biggest fear was having to stand up in front of the class and read. It wasn’t until later in life that I found my niche, and that was athletics. For the first time in my life, I could hold up my head high. I could get out on the football field and complete against a boy I know was a real good reader. All of a sudden we were equal and in most cases I could beat him. That was very important to me ( S.Smith).

Bruce Jenner
Olympic Gold Medalist

 

DEFINITIONS OF LEARNING DISABILITIES

The term learning disabilities was first introduces in 1963. A small group of parents and educators met in Chicago to consider linking the isolated parent groups active in a few communities into a single organization. Each of these parent groups identified the children of concern under a different name, including perceptually handicapped, brain-injured, and neurologically impaired. If these groups were to unite, they needed to agree on a single term to identify the children. When the term learning disabilities was suggested at this meeting ( Kirk, 1963), it met with immediate approval. The organization today known as the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) was born at this historic meeting.

Although the term learning disabilities has immediate appeal and acceptance, the task of developing a definition of learning disabilities proved to be a formidable challenge. A number of definitions have been generated over the years, but each has been judged by some to have certain shortcomings.

 

THE FEDERAL DEFINITION: INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT – 1997 ( IDEA-1997)

There are two parts to the federal definition. The first part –

The term “specific learning disabilities” means those children who have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include a learning problem which is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

The second part of the federal definition –

The regulation states that a student has a specific learning disability if (1) the student does not achieve at the proper age and ability levels in one or more specific areas when provided with appropriate learning experiences and (2) the student has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of these seven areas : (a) oral expression, (b) listening comprehension,(c) written expression, (d) basic reading skills, (e) reading comprehension, (f) mathematical calculations, and (g) mathematical reasoning.

THE NATIONAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON LEARNING DISABILITIES ( NJCLD ) DEFINITION

Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, are presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviours, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability.

Although a learning disability may occur concomitantly with other disabilities ( for example, sensory impairment, mental retardation, or serious emotional disturbance ) or with extrinsic influences ( such as cultural differences or insufficient / inappropriate instruction ) , it would not be a result of those conditions or influences.

 

THE INTERAGENCY COMMITTEE ON LEARNING DISABILITIES ( ICLD)

The ICLD is a government committee that was commissioned by the US Congress to develop a definition of learning disabilities. A key addition by the committee was the inclusion of social skills deficits as a characteristic of learning disabilities ( 1987 ), an addition which has drawn some criticism ( Silver, 1998 ). The major points of the committee’s definition are as follows –

1. The child can have difficulties in listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, mathematics, or social skills. Unlike the federal definition, the ICLD includes social disabilities.

2. Learning disabilities can occur concomitantly with other conditions. This definition specifically mentions socio environmental influences and attention-deficit disorders.

3. Learning disabilities are intrinsic to the individual and are presumed to be caused by central system dysfunction. The disorder in learning is presumed to be caused by an impairment in brain function.

 

DIVERSE CHARACTERISTICS

Students with learning disabilities exhibit a variety of learning and behavioral traits, and no individual will display all of them. Some students will have disabilities in mathematics, whereas others excel in mathematics. Attention disorders and nonverbal learning disabilities are symptomatic problems for many students with learning disabilities but not for all. Further, certain kinds of characteristics are more likely to be exhibited at certain age levels. Young children are more likely to be hyperactive than adolescents. In addition, deficits are manifested in different ways at different age levels. For example, an underlying language disorder may appear as a delayed speech problem in a preschooler, as a reading disorder in the elementary student, and as a writing disorder in the secondary student.

Keeping in mind that the implications of each of these learning and behavioural characteristics are complex, let’s look at the common characteristics of learning disabilities.

Disorders of attention – Students with attention problems may not focus when a lesson is being presented, have a short attention span, be easily distracted, and have poor concentration ability. They may also be hyperactive or impulsive. Students with learning disabilities with these characteristics may have coexisting attention deficit disorders ( ADD ).

Poor motor abilities – Some children with learning disabilities have difficulty with gross motor abilities and fine motor coordination, and they exhibit general awkwardness and clumsiness and have spatial problems.

Psychological process deficits and information-processing problems – Children with learning disabilities often have problems in processing auditory or visual information. For example, many are poor in recognizing the sounds of language ( phonological awareness ), in quickly recognizing letters or words ( visual perception ), or in short term memory tasks.

Failure to develop and mobilize cognitive strategies for learning – Many students with learning disabilities do not know hoe to go about learning and studying. They lack organization skills, have not developed an active learning style, and do not direct their own learning ( metacognitive functions ).

Oral language difficulties – Many individuals with learning disabilities have basic underlying language disorders. This characteristic appears with problems in listening, language development, speaking, vocabulary development, and linguistics competencies.

Reading difficulties – About 80 percent of the students with learning disabilities have disabilities in reading. They have problems with learning to decode words, with basic word-recognition skills, or with reading comprehension.

Written language difficulties – Writing is a very challenging task for many students with learning disabilities, and they do poorly in situations that require written work.

Mathematics difficulties – The major problem for some students with learning disabilities involves difficulties in quantitative thinking, arithmetic, time, space, and calculation facts.

Nonverbal learning disabilities : Problems with social skills – The major problem for some individuals with learning disabilities involves social skills. These individuals have not learned how to act and talk in social situations, their social skills deficits make it hard to establish satisfying social relationships and make and keep friends.

DYSELXIA

What is Dyslexia?

The word dyslexia comes from the Greek language and means, ”difficulty with words’. Dyslexia is a language based learning disability, and the main area of difficulty is reading. Students with Dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing and pronouncing words.

Dyslexia is caused by an abnormality in brain structure, a difference in brain function and also could be hereditary. It is caused by impairment in the brain’s ability to translate images received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not result from vision or hearing problem. It is not due to mental retardation or brain damage. Dyslexia is not due to either lack of intelligence or a desire to learn. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however each individual learns to cope with adequate support.

Signs and Symptoms

Preschool

•  Delay in speaking and acquiring language.
•  Delay in other developmental milestones like crawling and walking.
•  Mispronounced words and persistent baby talk.
•  Inability to rhyme and to learn simple nursery rhymes.
•  Difficulty in learning and remembering the letters of the alphabet.

Early School Years 

•  Inability to recognise that letters have sounds, for example “b” says “bh’,
•  Inability to learn simple word like cat, bat, fan, man, cup, pen, log.
•  Making reading errors, which show no connection to the word, for example saying “big” for “bat”.
•  Reversals in writing letters like b and d , m and w, p and q ,reversals in the letter s , h , and r. Also number reversals in 3, 6,9, 7 and 2.

Secondary School onwards

•  Slow progress in acquiring reading skills.
•  Reading is slow and laboured.
•  Difficulty reading new and unfamiliar words, which need to be sounded out.
•  Missing out or omitting parts in a word.
•  Fear and avoidance of reading aloud.
•  Oral reading filled with substitution, omission of words and mispronunciation.
•  Letter and word reversals while reading, b/d, was/saw.
•  No automatic recognition of sight words such as: the, is, and, because, since, could etc
•  May lose their place while reading, may complain letters are swimming, or complain of headaches.
•  May have problems copying off the board as they frequently lose their place, resulting in illegible handwriting.
•  Difficulty repeating what is said to them and following a set of oral instructions.
•  Spelling may be very poor.
•  Difficulty remembering and understanding what they have just read.

DYSCALCULIA

Dyscalculia is a learning disability affecting a person’s ability to understand and manipulate numbers.

Dyscalculia affects people across the whole IQ range, but means they have problems with mathematics, time, measurement, etc

IDENTIFYING PUPILS WITH DYSCALCULIA 

Difficulties with numbers and signs (i.e. +, -, /, and x)
Inability to tell which number is larger
Reliance on strategies such as finger counting, rather than mental strategies
Difficulty with times table, mental arithmetic, measurements, etc.
Good in subjects such as Science or Geometry until calculations are required
Difficulty with conceptualizing time
Difficulty with everyday tasks (i.e. checking change, reading clock)
Inability to plan or budget or estimating items
Inability to remember math concepts, rules or sequences
Difficulty keeping score during games
Makes mistakes in interpreting word problems
But they are not stupid or lazy……..

MITIGATIVE STRATEGIES

• Draw for them or have them draw a picture to help understand the problem,
• Have the student read problems out loud and listen very carefully.
• Provide examples and try to relate problems to real-life situations.
• Provide uncluttered worksheets so that the student is not overwhelmed by too much visual information (visual pollution).
• Dyscalculia students must spend extra time memorizing mathematics facts. Repetition is very important. Use rhythm or music to help memorize.
• Many students need one-on- one attention to fully grasp certain concepts.
• If possible, allow the student to take the exam on a one-to- one basis in the teacher's presence.
• Provide peer assistance
• Suggest use of colored pencils to differentiate problems
• Use mnemonic devices to learn steps of a math concept
• Use rhythm and music to teach math facts and to set steps to a beat
• Schedule computer time for the student for drill and practice
• Attempt to determine if the learning style is visual, auditory or kinesthetic
• Be sure to focus on strengthening basic numerical bonds and then use calculation strategies.
• Do not scold or pity the student
• First they should be taught to translate mathematical language into English expression
• Most importantly, be PATIENT!
• Assign extra problems for practice and maybe a special TA (teaching assistant) or special education is assigned to assist the affected student.

DYSGRAPHIA

What is Dysgraphia?

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Because writing requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills, saying a student has dysgraphia is not sufficient. A student with disorders in written expression will benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment, as well as additional practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer.

What are the Warning Signs of Dysgraphia?

Just having bad handwriting doesn’t mean a person has dysgraphia. Since dysgraphia is a processing disorder, difficulties can change throughout a lifetime. However since writing is a developmental process – children learn the motor skills needed to write, while learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper – difficulties can also overlap. If a person has trouble in any of the areas below, additional help may be beneficial.

• Tight, awkward pencil grip and body position
• Illegible handwriting
• Avoiding writing or drawing tasks
• Tiring quickly while writing
• Saying words out loud while writing
• Unfinished or omitted words in sentences
• Difficulty organizing thoughts on paper
• Difficulty with syntax structure and grammar
• Large gap between written ideas and understanding demonstrated through speech.

DYSPRAXIA

Sensory Integration Disorder
Problems with motor coordination

What is it?

Dyspraxia can affect any or all areas of development – intellectual, emotional, physical, language, social and sensory – and may impair a person’s normal process of learning. Usually, it’s said to be an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement, but associated with this may be problems of language, perception and thought.

Problems arise in the process of forming ideas, motor planning and execution, since people with dyspraxia have poor understanding of the messages their senses convey and difficulty relating those messages to actions.

This means physical activities are hard to learn, difficult to retain, and hesitant and awkward in performance.

Dyspraxia affects each person in different ways and at different stages of development. How an individual is affected is inconsistent, too. For example, one day they may be able to perform a specific task, the next day they can’t.

What are the symptoms? Children with dyspraxia may be late in reaching milestones, and may not be able to run, hop or jump, for example, when their friends can. They may find it hard to walk up and down stairs, and may not be able to dress easily. Their speech may be immature or unintelligible in their early years. Language may be impaired or late to develop.

Poor handwriting is one of the most common symptoms At School, A child with dyspraxia may have difficulty with maths and writing stories. They may avoid games, be slow at dressing and unable to tie shoelaces, be poorly organised or have a short attention span. They may find it hard to remember and follow instructions. Poor handwriting is one of the most common symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

• Exhibits poor balance; may appear clumsy; may frequently stumble
• Shows difficulty with motor planning
• Demonstrates inability to coordinate both sides of the body
• Has poor hand-eye coordination
• Exhibits weakness in the ability to organize self and belongings
• Shows possible sensitivity to touch
• May be distressed by loud noises or constant noises like the ticking of a clock or someone tapping a pencil
• May break things or choose toys that do not require skilled manipulation
• Has difficulty with fine motor tasks such as colouring between the lines, putting puzzles together; cutting accurately or pasting neatly
• Irritated by scratchy, rough, tight or heavy clothing


ASSOCIATED DISORDER

The following disorders have been seen to occur along with Learning Disabilities in some cases :

ADD/HD

Journal of Learning Disabilities, v24 n2 p88-95 Feb 1991

Journal Articles; Information Analyses; Reports – Research

After a discussion of definitional issues, the article reports on a prospective follow-up study of 600 children with early speech/language impairments which found an increased prevalence of both learning disability (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with LD strongly associated with ADHD in both initial and follow-up samples. (Author/DB)

The correlation of ADD/HD with LD is seen to be the highest.

EPILEPSY

In the study conducted at the LSU Epilepsy Center of Excellence, adult patients of normal intelligence with either left temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) or right TLE were evaluated with reading comprehension, written language, and calculation tests. The Center researchers found that 75% of patients with left TLE had one or more learning disabilities. This was found in only 10% of those with right TLE. Additionally, those with left TLE reported higher rates of literacy and/or career development problems, such as a history of special education, repeating grades, or disrupted educational progress.