What Are Specific Learning Disabilities?
Specific learning disabilities in students indicate significant discrepancies between ability and achievement occurring concomitantly with processing deficits in one or more of the major senses.
Students with learning disabilities are challenged to learn new material and challenged to retain old material. This enigmatic group of individuals truly frustrates the parents and teachers who care for them. The students themselves are desperate to become successful, and they have to withstand such labels as “lazy” and “underachiever.”
Students who appear different than the mainstream may be shunned or ridiculed by other students. This happens every day in schools around the country. Most interesting is that students with specific learning disabilities have an average or higher IQ when compared to nonhandicapped students. Therefore, their learning problem is in the area of mental processing.
Deficits in mental processing can wreak havoc on a student’s self-esteem and imbue low feelings of self-worth. This negative academic impact is quite devastating to the student. They are masters at demonstrating their myriad coping mechanisms by living up to their labels mentioned in the first paragraph.
Information is continually taken in and processed through our senses. Educationally speaking, hearing and sight are most important, with touch, taste and smell following close behind. These sensorial or processing deficits impact a student’s ability to be successful in school.
Students with learning disabilities have a psychological processing deficit in one or more of the major senses. For example, a student with normal hearing will listen to a set of instructions, only to miss most of them because he is still deciphering the first one. Another student with good eyesight may read fluently, but not comprehend enough information to pass a test. Hopefully, these students will be referred for testing.
When a child is evaluated for specific learning disabilities, he or she undergoes a battery of tests. A standard IQ test is given along with another test to determine processing preferences and deficits. An achievement test will be given to assess the student’s present level of academic functioning (compared to nonhandicapped students at the same age and/or grade).
The results of the IQ test (ability) are compared to the results of the academic test (achievement). A significant discrepancy between ability and achievement, in the presence of a processing deficit in one or more of the major senses, MAY indicate a diagnosis of specific learning disabilities.
Other factors are considered as well. These learning problems must not be due to socioeconomic or cultural disadvantages. The student must also demonstrate a need for special services. Nothing is more profound than the call of a student who has not had the opportunity to learn.
Once admitted to the special education program, the student will spend a specified amount of time with specialists who are trained to teach the child skills. The student will have a plan of action that the teachers will follow to optimize academic success. Processing problems will be addressed with respect to the curriculum.
Most often, the regular curriculum is used as an instructional base. The point is to move the student toward grade-level mastery of academic skills. With the direct instruction of learning strategies along with core curriculum skills, students with learning disabilities will learn to depend on their assets for success. When teachers adapt and modify curriculum for optimal student success, anything is possible!