Learning disabilities (differences) is a term used to include a heterogenous group of disorders that are intrinsic to the individual and are caused due to a central nervous system dysfunction. These difficulties may be manifested in the areas of: listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical computation. Learning disabilities occur in all cultures, nations and language groups, “it is a cross cultural condition.” These children have average to above average intelligence. The term learning disabilities (differences) includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia (loss of ability to speak due to brain injury).
In considering the identification of students for learning disabilities there WERE four criteria that must be confirmed in accordance with the Federal Register definition.
- Academic difficulties: The child with learning disabilities exhibits problems achieving at the proper age and ability levels in one or more specific areas of learning.
- Discrepancy between potential and achievement: The child may have apparent potential for learning, but perform significantly below his or her achievement level.
- Exclusion of other factors: The problem is not due to other causes.
- Central Nervous System Dysfunction: The brain is not damaged, but works differently in how it receives and processes information.
These criteria were changed according to IDEA 2004 – The new criteria include the Response to Intervention (RTI) as explained below: (taken from a report by the Council for Exceptional Children in January, 2007)
Identifying Students with Disabilities and Response-to-Intervention (RTI)
According to the IDEA 2004 regulations, districts have more leeway in determining how they identify students with disabilities. While districts may continue to use the IQ-Discrepancy model, they may also use other identification procedures. The regulations further provide guidance on evaluating students who are referred for special education. Key points are:
Methods to Determine Learning Disabilities
- Districts are not required to use the IQ-Discrepancy model.
- Districts must allow a process for identifying students with learning disabilities that is based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based interventions.
- Districts may use other research-based procedures to determine whether a child has a learning disability.
Comprehensive Evaluation for Identifying Learning Disabilities
- RTI does not replace a comprehensive evaluation.
- When evaluating students for learning disabilities, educators must use a variety of data-gathering tools and strategies, even if they are using RTI.
- Educators cannot rely on a single procedure as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education.
- Each state must develop criteria to determine whether a child has a disability.
Early Intervening Services (EIS)
Under IDEA 2004, districts can develop “early intervening services” for students in grades K-12. These services are provided for students who have not been identified as needing special education but who require academic or behavioral support to succeed in general education classes. The emphasis for these services is for students in K-3.
EIS reduces the need to determine that a child has a disability before providing support. Also, districts may use up to 15 percent of their special education monies to develop and implement EIS. The IDEA 2004 regulations further specify that:
- EIS provides for educational and behavioral evaluations, services, supports, and scientifically-based literacy instruction, as well as professional development.
- Districts that experience substantial disproportionate representation must use the maximum amount of funds to provide EIS, particularly for groups that were significantly over-identified for special education.
- At any time, a child can be referred for evaluation and the right to a free, appropriate public education.
- Children previously identified as disabled can receive EIS.
- EIS may not be used to delay the evaluation of a child suspected of having a disability.
- School districts must report to the state annually the number of students who receive EIS and the number of students who receive special education after receiving EIS.
Characteristics of students with learning differences
- Students with learning differences frequently have difficulty in one or more of the following areas: reading, handwriting, spelling, composition, and mathematics.
- Some students with learning differences are unable to engage in the mutual give and take that conversations between individuals require.
- Conversations with students with learning differences may be marked by long silences as these students struggle to keep conversations going. They are not skilled at responding to others’ statements or questions and may make task-irrelevant comments and make those with whom they talk uncomfortable.
- Some students with learning differences exhibit visual and/or auditory perception difficulties. They may have trouble solving puzzles or seeing and remembering visual shapes. They may also reverse letters. These students may also have difficulty discriminating between two words that sound alike or following orally presented directions.
- Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty with motor skills. They may seem to have “two left feet” or “ten thumbs”. They may also have difficulty with fine motor tasks and with coordinating their visual and motor systems.
- These students may speak in an immature or “babyish” way and have difficulty expressing themselves in conversations and group discussions.
- These students may appear unmotivated and may need extra prodding or help when beginning assignments.
- Students with learning differences may be disorganized and may often lose or misplace books, pencils, and homework.
Teaching strategies for students with learning disabilities (differences)
- Positive reinforcement through a carefully constructed behavior management plan can help create a safe and predictable classroom climate for students with learning differences.
- A multi-sensory approach to learning is extremely effective for students with learning differences. The opportunity to have information introduced aurally, visually, and kinesthetically can increase the possibility that the student will understand and remember information.
- Scaffolding or a method of task analysis may help them learn to create a product step-by-step. Dividing a task into smaller pieces can increase the student’s time on task and over time, can help the student begin providing scaffolding and/or task analysis techniques herself.
- When possible, provide the student , in advance, an outline of material to be covered in class. Allow the student to take notes on the outline to increase the possibility that the student will focus on the information you are presenting. When presenting information in chronological order, provide a time line that shows starting and ending points.
- Allow the student to tape record classes or lessons to use at home.
- Provide vocabulary lists for students with learning differences. These lists can include any new terms or information that may be unfamiliar to the student.
- Find a “buddy” for the student and allow the students to sit together and/or share class materials.
- Provide frequent oral location clues when reading materials. Redirect the student by pointing out page, paragraph, or measure numbers frequently.
- Seat the student with learning differences near the teacher so the teacher can monitor the student without alerting the entire class.
- Allow the student to demonstrate mastery of material by completing only the amount necessary to show competence.
- Allow the student extra time to complete assignments. For long-term projects, provide an outline of what should be included in the project. This can serve as a scaffold or a task analysis.
- Allow the student to take tests verbally by answering into a tape recorder.
- Provide drill and practice sessions, perhaps on computer, for the student to work towards mastery of a skill.
- Allow the student to use a word bank on assessments.
- Allow the student to use a highlighter on class materials to remember important words or concepts.
- Review and reinforce previously taught skills frequently. This daily review will remind the student of important skills and will help the teacher determine whether the students are ready to proceed with new skills.
- Provide students with learning differences with frequent feedback regarding progress. Many of these students have low self-esteem and a greater sense of frustration than other students. They need frequent reinforcement.
- When analyzing music or marking parts, provide a list of the multiple steps required. If possible, provide a visual model of the task as an example for the student to follow.
- Write or provide the students with a daily schedule. This can help the students anticipate tasks and prepare for activities, or put music in order according to the schedule.
- Place class materials in the same places each day. Follow the same routine and allow students with learning differences extra time to prepare for the beginning of class.
- Explain the differences between words that sound the same. For example, “do” and “due”.
- Provide extra time for students with learning differences to locate materials needed during a transition time in class. Let them know a transition is about to occur by using a visual or auditory signal.
- Teach students to monitor their self-talk. Have them practice taking deep breaths and repeating positive statements such as “I can do this. I will be able to understand it. Slow down and focus.” When directions become complex, ask the student to verbalize the steps.
- Be sure you have the student’s attention before giving directions. Pause and wait if you do not. Eye contact is important.
- Provide written directions to accompany oral directions as often as necessary. Make sure the students understand all vocabulary used. If necessary, ask the student to repeat the directions to you. If necessary, circle, underline or have the student highlight key words within the directions.
- Allow the student extra time to copy information from the board or an overhead projector if you are not providing a copy of the information.
CAST.org - CAST is a not-for-profit education research and development organization that uses technology to make education more flexible and accessible for all students, especially those with disabilities.
College Affordability: A Guide for Students with Disabilities: Affordable Colleges Online, an organization dedicated to providing free higher education tools and information for current and future college students and their families, has recently published a new resource for students with disabilities, titled “Making College Affordable: A Guide for Students with Disabilities.” Multiple experts in the field with experience in academia, financial aid, and law contributed to the content in this resource guide, including:
- Advice and resources for loans and scholarships available specifically for students with disabilities
- A comprehensive list of the best schools for disabled students, evaluated by each institution’s disability services
- Distance learning tips for students with disabilities
- Job resources for students with disabilities
- Additional helpful resources