Learning disabilities are now recognized as neurological conditions, where the “wiring” or circuitry in an affected person’s brain is different from people with conventional brains. Up to 15% of the US population is believed to have a learning disorder or disability.
People with this neurological condition can be as intelligent or more intelligent than their peers. Their brain is wired for learning in different ways, and so they may struggle with reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and organizing information and doing mathematics, especially if taught in a conventional manner.
Learning disabilities cannot be cured, but people with these conditions have frequently learned to work with and around the issues, and gone onto successful and sometimes distinguished careers.
What are the Common Types of Learning Disabilities?
Types of learning disabilities include:
• Dyslexia: one of the most commonly identified learning disabilities, affecting a person’s ability to learn to read, spell and comprehend text.
• Dyscalculia: difficulties with understanding math concepts and solving mathematical equations.
• Dysgraphia: difficulties with forming letters, or writing within a defined space.
• Auditory and Visual Processing Disorder: difficulties in understanding language, despite normal hearing and eyesight.
• Non-verbal Learning Disabilities: a right-brain condition affecting holistic, evaluative, visual-spatial, organizational and intuitive processing functions.
Principles for Overcoming Learning Disabilities
There are specific methods of remediation for each learning disability as well as for students of all ages but which, unfortunately, would entail a lengthier discussion of the current topic. There are, however, some principles for dealing with a learning disability that, if followed by parents and teachers, can ensure better academic success and life-course options for the young person.
These principles include:
• Taking a strengths-based approach to learning: Focus on what the learner can do, and celebrate successes, as a platform for building confidence and skills in other areas.
• Early identification: the sooner a learning disability is correctly diagnosed, the sooner remediation efforts can be found and implemented and help the learner overcome their disability and become a successful student.
• Accurate assessment of the disability: This aids the learner, their family and teachers, to understand the condition and determine what remediation and accommodations are needed to enable them to learn best and achieve academically.
• Remediation and support: Accessing appropriate remediation for the specific learning disability, through both in-class and specialized teaching, will go a long way to preparing a student to achieve academically. It is important that this support continues into secondary schooling, as the academic demands increase, and the need to read, comprehend and write information becomes even more important.
• Accommodations: Specific accommodations can be made for students, such as the provision of reader/writers or more time in exams for students with dyslexia.
• Technology: the benefits of technology in aiding students to view concepts, demonstrations or sources of information in a visual format, learn to read through the development of phonemic awareness, capture their ideas in audio files or video format, or learn to write with audio-to-text conversion software cannot be underestimated. Increasingly, technology is permitting students with even limited motor skills to input information through the use of assistive technologies, opening up the world of education and knowledge to them.
• A variety of approaches: There are a variety of approaches to remediating learning difficulties, including experiential learning, multi-sensory, task analytic, project-based learning, direct instruction and interdisciplinary techniques. One size will not fit all, and teachers and parents need to adopt a flexible approach with each learner, and if one approach does not work, be prepared to try another.
The most important aspect of helping your child or student overcome a learning disability is to help them develop a healthy dose of resilience and persistence. They will need to find ways to work with and around their disability for the rest of their lives, so they will need to become resourceful, optimistic and persevering in their quest, and be willing to keep asking questions until they get the help, resources and understanding they require to succeed.