What is Learning Disability?
Learning disability, which is also known as learning difficulty or learning disorder, is a classification including several disorders in which a person has difficulty in learning things in a typical pattern or traditional manner in which all other children are able to read write & learn. It is caused by an unknown factor or factors. The unknown factor is the disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive and process information in its' normal or natural way. It is a condition of inadequate development in specific area of academic, language, speech, or motor skills that is not due to mental retardation, autism, any physical disorder, or deficient educational opportunities.
The onset of the problem is at an early age. As its name suggests, the problem starts revealing its symptoms gradually as the learning process of the child begins. It is one of the most common disorder or problem out of many other difficulties faced by the school going children. However this doesn't mean that whatever problems children face in relation to their learning process or schooling, all those can be categories under learning disability. The disorder has its own characteristic symptoms that differentiate it from others. Children with this disorder are usually of average or above average intelligence, but have difficulty in learning some specific skills e.g. Mathematics, reading or writing, thus their progress gets impeded in school. This disorder can make it problematic for a person to learn as quickly or in the same manner as someone not affected by this problem of learning difficulty. In spite of the fact that these children posses average or above average intelligence, the irony is that they are being labeled and dumped as stupid, idiots, notorious and slow learners because of unawareness. Lack of proper attention, care and understanding doesn't allow these children to develop properly, in spite of having potential they remain under nurtured.
The National Joint Committee on learning disability (NJCLD) defines Learning disability as: 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 person and are presumed to be due to the dysfunction of central nervous system. Even though learning disability may occur concomitantly with other physical handicapping condition, emotional disturbances, or environmental influences like cultural differences, inappropriate instruction, but it is not the direct result of these influences or conditions. According to DSM-IV classification, it is a disorder in which academic achievement in reading, mathematics, or written expression is substantially below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence.
Kinds of learning Disabilities
Learning disability is a condition in which the child faces problem in reading, writing and learning in the way as other children of the same age group learn and perform. According to studies most of these children possess average or above average intelligence but are not being able to perform in school according to the level of intelligence they possess. The problem appears in different forms in different children. According to the manifestation of symptoms the disorder can be categorized into different types.
Learning disability can be categorized either by the type of information processing that is affected or by the specific difficulties caused by a processing deficit, however the later categorization is considered more often. There are four stages of information processing used in learning:
(a) INPUT of information - This means what we see, listen, feel, or read.
(b) INTEGRATION of information - Our brain organizes these information or the visual images, sounds, experiences or words into a meaningful format which we understand.
(c) STORAGE of information - The brain also stores the information received, to be used later on or when required.
(d) OUTPUT or RETRIVAL of information - Manifestation or bringing out the stored information in form of written expression, verbally or by acting it out.
Deficit in any area or stage of information processing can manifest itself in form of certain specific learning disabilities. It is possible that a person can have more than one of these difficulties at a time; this is referred as co morbidity or co-occurrence of learning disabilities. So, we can say that problem in information processing manifests itself in form of certain specific types of learning disabilities are discussed below:
READING DISORDER - Reading disability can affect any part of the reading process including difficulty with accurate and fluent word recognition, word decoding, reading rate, prosody (oral reading with expression) and reading comprehension. Symptoms of the disorder include difficulty with phonemic awareness- the ability to break-up words into their components, difficulty with matching letter combinations to specific sounds i.e. sound -symbol correspondence, inability to relate letters to their sounds and compose new words or remembering spellings correctly, letter reversal or complaining letters appear opposite or are moving away from the textbook and writing the same way , e.g. b - d, n- u, .The most common and one of the major form of reading disorder is DYSLEXIA.
WRITING DISORDER - This is a case of impairment in the ability to compose the written words, includes spelling errors, errors in grammar, punctuation, poor handwriting, that is serious enough to interfere with academic achievement or daily activities that require writing skills. This disorder is also known as DSYGRAPHIA, it is the term used to refer to all kind of problems associated with written expression.
MATHEMATICS DISABILITY - It is also know by the name of DYSCALCULIA. It causes difficulty in rapidly and accurately learning and recalling arithmetic facts or other mathematical concepts as quantity, place-value, and time. Difficulty in understanding and remembering mathematical formulas, organizing and sequencing of numbers, organizing numerical and word problems on the page, are some of the problems frequently faced by the child with this disorder. Dyscalculia is often referred to as having poor number sense.
EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE DISORDER - The child has difficulty in expressing himself/herself in speech. It is also called the disorder of speaking and listening or communication disorder. The child may seem eager to communicate but have inordinate difficulty in finding the right word for right object. By age 4 the child speaks only in short phrases, that to not properly organized to give any sense. Old words are forgotten when new are learned and the use of grammatical skills is below the age level. This may affect the child's ability of sentence formation.
AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER - Difficulty in processing auditory information, trouble in comprehending more than one task at a time and a relatively strong ability to learn visually.
PHONOLOGICAL DISORDER - Children with this problem can comprehend and are able to use substantial vocabulary, but their speech sounds very unclear, face proble of improperly pronouncing certain sounds for example - blue is pronounced as bu, treat is pronounced as teet, rabbit sounds like wabbit, etc. They have not learned or acquired the articulation of speech sounds such as - r, sh, th, f, z, l, ch, etc. Speech therapy is very beneficial in these cases and in mild cases recovery occurs by increasing age of the child.
STUTTERING - it is a type of disturbance in verbal fluency that is characterized by one or more of the following speech patterns - frequent repetition or prolongation of sounds, long pauses between words, substituting easy words for those that are difficult to articulate. Sometimes body twitching and eye blinking also accompany the disturbance in verbal fluency.
These disorders interfere with the academic, social and occupational functioning of the person and can prevent the otherwise capable person from fulfilling their potentials. These disorders usually occur in combination or it happens to be a case of dual diagnosis, for example child having dyslexia, also shows the symptoms of dysgraphia i.e. reading problem accompanies writing problem.
Signs of learning disability
The children having the problem of learning disability show certain specific characteristic symptoms that may vary in their degree of severity. Some of these symptoms have been discussed below:
(a) Difficulty in learning, remembering and writing alphabets in proper pattern and sequence.
(b) Doing letter reversal, like writing the letters in a way as they will appear in the mirror, for ex. B-b but they will write it d, C-) , etc.
(c) They have very poor reading and writing skills. They are very slow readers and their handwriting is not at all readable.
(d) They also make a lot of spelling mistakes as they have trouble in understanding and remembering the letter & sound correlation, the phonetics and phonograms, having problems in combining letters and sounds into words.
(e) They have difficulty in identifying and constructing rhyming words.
(f) They have difficulty in remembering the letters and numbers in correct sequence. They can make mistakes in counting, table, place-values, decimals, or even in writing A - Z correctly.
(g) They have difficulty in associating individual words with their meaning, not being able to use correct words to describe a particular object or express their feelings. Also have problem with pronunciation of words and sentence formation.
(h) Teachers or instructors can better identify children with learning disability when their writing does not seem to match their level of intelligence from prior observation. One of the common signs: sentences often containing a similar-looking, but unrelated words in place of the one intended, like want - what, say - saw, help - held, run - fun , to - too, etc.
Learning disability is usually identified and treated within the school system rather than in any mental clinic; so creating awareness among teachers as well as parents towards this problem will be a major step in the intervention program designed to deal with the problem. It can be done through mass media, following related literature, conducting seminars, lectures, parent-teacher meetings and group discussion, etc.
The treatment for learning disability can be done within special education programs in the schools, these educational approaches include:
Designing individualized education plan for these children, giving extra time and effort towards their improvement , understanding them and designing the lessons keeping in mind the child's academic strength and weakness and his/her basic requirement and interest level.
Focusing on instruction in listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in a logical, sequential and multisensory manner; such as reading aloud under close supervision.
Letter discrimination, phonetics analysis and letter sound correspondence, can be taught before explicit instruction in reading is attempted.
Help the child to understand the letter- sound correlation, helping him to remember which letter stands for which sound and making him practice it.
As children with such disorders have trouble in discriminating sounds, the researchers have developed special computer games and audiotapes that allow slow speech sounds, after intensive training with these modified speech stimuli for a month, children with severe language and speech problem have shown marked improvement.
Making use of special equipment like electronic spellers, dictionaries, word processors, talking calculators, books on tape; is also beneficial.
Rapid paced interaction between student and teacher should be opted; mistakes should be corrected immediately with explanation, frequent progress assessment should be done, long tasks should be broken into small parts followed by immediate reinforcement, modified testing procedure can also be opted for greater benefits
Quiet environment is also very beneficial for the learning of such children, parents and teacher should be very patient while dealing with such children.
Educating children and parent as well as teachers about the disability, addressing their emotional reaction to the disability and teaching them strategies to adapt, will be helpful in improving overall adjustment.
Though persons with these disorder usually find ways to cope with their problems or limitations, their academic and social development is nonetheless affected, sometimes quiet seriously. If left unaddressed, a person with learning disability may become functionally illiterate, able to function limited by their ability to read, spell, have their handwriting understood, or do arithmetic. Learning disabilities are a form of developmental disorders affecting people of extraordinary curiosity, imagination and intelligence - people of genius, often from a productive or functional point of view. Learning disabilities may contribute significantly, either positively or negatively depending on the way it is handled; to the performance level of the affected person. From psychological & emotional point of view learning disability affects self-esteem & promotes confusion and frustration, that ultimately contributes towards underachievement; so it definitely needs proper attention & intervention.