Research Paper, 6 pages (1600 words)

Management of learning disabilities

This semester we have spent the majority of our time learning about and discussing how we can best assist exceptional students. Many of these students are individuals with learning dissabilities. Although it would be difficult for everyteacherto understand the distinctions, symptoms, weaknesses and strengths of every disability, it can be very helpful to have a general knowledge of the disabilities that may hinder a student”s ability to learn. Unlike other disabilities like paralysis and blindness, a learning disability (LD) is a hidden handicap.

A learning disability does not disfigure or leave visible signs that would invite others to be understanding or offer support (Council for Exceptional Children (CEC),1999). Therefore as teachers it will be ourresponsibilityto provide that understanding and support for those children already diagnosed and also be alert to the warning signs that may be symptoms of a previously undetected disability. The National Institute of MentalHealth(NIMH) (NIMH, 1999) describes learning disabilities as follows:

LD is a disorder that effects people”s ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways. As specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to school work and can impede learning to read or write or to do math. Learning disability can be lifelong conditions that, in some cases, affect many parts of a person”s life: school or work, daily routines,familylife, and sometimes even friendships.

In some people, many overlapping learning disabilities may be apparent. Other people may have a single isolated learning problem that has little impact on other areas of their lives (National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), 1999). It is important to remember that the term “learning disability” does not apply to students who have learning problems that are primarily the result of visual or hearing problems, mental retardation, emotional problems, or disadvantaged due to theirenvironment,cultureor economic background (US Department ofEducation(USDE), 1999). Knowing what constitutes a LD is only the beginning.

Diagnosing and treating a learning disability is not a diagnosis in the same sense asdiabetesor chicken pox. These have a known cause, distinct symptoms and treatments. LD, on the other hand, is a very broad term that covers an array of possible causes, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes. There is no medication to “cure” a learning disability (NCLD, 1999). If seen listed, the number of disabilities may be daunting. However, TheDiagnosticand Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed. (DSM-IV) (DSM-IV, 1994) divides LD”s into three broad categories. The first category is Developmental Speech and Language Disorders.

This includes disorders where children have trouble controlling their rate of speech and may be behind their peers in learning certain speech sounds. Difficulty being able to express oneself through speech as well as trouble understanding certain aspects of speech all fall within this category (Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA), 1999). The second category isAcademicSkills Disorders. Under this category falls Developmental Reading Disorder, more commonly known as dyslexia. Reading disorders are believed to effect 2-8% of all elementary school children(The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), 1999).

Developmental Writing Disorder, where a child has difficulty with vocabulary, grammar, hand movement or memory and Developmental Arithmetic Disorder where a child has difficulty recognizing numbers and symbols and understanding abstract concepts also fall under this category. The last category is known as “other” Learning Disabilities. The most commonly known are the attention disorders. Although Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are not actual learning disabilities they may have a major impact on the child”s ability to learn (CEC, 1999).

Another aspect that separates a learning disability from other disabilities is that currently the cause is unclear. In the past it was believed that LD”s were the result of a single neurological problem. However recent research seems to indicate that most learning dissabilities do not stem from a specific area of the brain, but from difficulties in bringing together information from various regions of the brain (NIMH, 1999). There are several possible reasons how a child might develop these subtle disturbances in the brain. When the brain is developing as a fetus is highly vulnerable.

If it”s development is disrupted early in the development that fetus may die or suffer from more severe dissabilities. If, however, the disturbance occurs later in development when the cells in the brain are becoming specialized (this is when areas associated with attention, thinking and emotion develop as well as processing sight, sound and other senses) then the result may show up as a LD as the child develops (NIMH, 1999). The use of tabacco, alcohol, or other drugs during pregnancy may also have damaging effects on the unborn child. Many drugs taken by the mother are passed directly onto the fetus.

Babies born to mother who smoke for instance are more likely to have a low birth weight. Newborns born under weight tend to be at risk for a variety of problems one of which is a learning disability. Alcohol may distort the developing neutrons and if taken in large amounts may result in fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that leads to intellectual impairment (NIMH,1999). Complications during pregnancy or delivery are another possible cause of a LD. In some instances the mother”s immune system will react to the fetus as a virus and fight it as if it were an infection.

This may lead the forming brain cells to settle in the wrong places. Lack of oxygen during delivery can impair brain function and result in a LD as well (NIMH, 1999). It is also a fact the LD”s seem to run in families. This may indicate a genetic link of some kind. Although LD can run in the family, there is usually a slight difference in the disability. For example, a parent that may have a writing disorder may have a child that has difficulty expressing him/herself in speech (NCLD,1999). There could be another reason why LD”s run in the family. It is possible to attribute some learning difficulties to the family environment.

For example, if a parent has a disability where s/he has difficulty expressing themselves through language then they are more likely not to talk as much to their children or the language they use may be distorted or they may use the wrong words often enough so that the child is unaware the s/he is using the wrong words also. The child lacking a good model to follow when acquiring language skills may then acquire a disability of his/her own (NCLD, 1999). Another possibility is that toxins in the child”s environment may effect the development of the child”s brain in earlychildhood.

In a study conducted by the National Institute of Health, a connection was made between the amount of lead in the environment and learning disabilities (NIMH,1999). Though many of the possible reasons a child may have developed a learning disability can not be changed, environmental causes can. Many learning disabilities are not noticed until a child enters the formal learning environment (Council for Learning Disabilities (CFLD), 1999). Therefore, teachers are often the first to observe a child”s persistent difficulties inmathematics, reading or writing and must be knowledgeable about what to look for and how to identify a LD.

A student with hyperactivity is relatively easy to identify due to there impulsive behavior and excessive movement, however, what about the child who is quiet and polite or the child with above average intelligence who has been able to maintain passing grades? These children are less likely do be identified and may go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Although some children reach developmental milestones (first step, first word, ability to write one”s own name… etc. ) later than others, there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to informally identify a learning disability.

If a milestone is already quite delayed, if there”s a history of LD in the family or if there are several delayed skills than a teacher should notify the students parents and relay his/her concerns (CEC,1999). At this time, parents have the opportunity to have their child tested free of charge through the local public school system or they may choose to have an outside evaluation. Documentation is then brought to the school and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is created. It is a teacher”s responsibility to implement thegoalsand objectives of an IEP in the classroom.

Due to the individuality of each student and his/her disability, accommodations may vary among students. There are several different strategies that may help children to succeed academically. For example, printing assignments on a certain color paper or encouraging a child to use a colored overlay may significantly help them to process written information. Older students with developmental writing disorders may benefit from bringing a lap top computer to class to take notes or use for any written assignments. It may also be necessary that a student has someone to take notes for them or have assignments read to them aloud.

These are just a few of the possible accommodations that may help students learn more efficiently (LDAA,1998). Insuring each child receives the best education possible is a never ending task yet it is one each teacher takes on when s/he enters the classroom. By educating oneself about the different ways students learn, having the ability to notice when there appears to be a gap in a child”s intelligence and the skills s/he has achieved and being familiar and educated about what you can do to help each child fulfill his/her potential can only make for a better educator.

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