By Teachers, For Teachers
Learning disabilities (LD) are defined as a group of varying disorders that can severely hinder a student’s ability to ingest and apply information. Although learning disabilities are life-long, non-curable ailments, their effects can be mitigated through a series of interventions once identified.
Currently, more than 2.4 million students across the U.S. are diagnosed with a learning disability, accounting for 41 percent of all students receiving special education, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) data. Many of us are familiar with the most prevalent learning disorder, dyslexia – a language-based processing disorder that hinders reading, writing, spelling, and speaking – but there are handfuls more that educators may be unacquainted.
In turn, students may suffer because we, as their teachers, are unaware of the interventions necessary to assist them through their life-long challenge.
Dyscalculia. According to the National Center for Learning Disorders, dyscalculia “refers to a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math.” There’s no single way of defining how a student’s learning might be affected by dyscalculia — for some, they cannot process equations with multiple variables; for others, positive and negative numbers throw them for a loop; and for yet another group, simply keeping numbers in order presents a challenge. This doesn’t mean that they’re unintelligent or destined to fail. It just means that they are in need of workaround strategies. Be on the lookout for warning signs for these varying ages.
Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia refers to a learning disorder that affects writing. Writing is a funny task, if you think about it: It’s a combination of physical motor skills and complex mental processes. Dysgraphia might affect a student’s ability to put thoughts down, a student’s handwriting, a student’s spelling, or even a student’s ability to write numbers and letters in an organized line across a page. Like dyscalculia, there is no single way dysgraphia shows up in individuals, and there are numerous warning signs and treatment strategies available.
Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia refers to a disorder affecting motor skill development. Individuals with dyspraxia might have difficulty planning or executing specific fine motor tasks. The extent can vary: Some individuals might struggle with more complex duties like tying their shoes; others might find waving goodbye a grave difficulty. There are several different types of dyspraxia identified, including ideomotor, ideational, oromotor, and constructional. Even though this LD impacts motor skills, students with dyspraxia aren’t just affected in gym class: They may struggle engaging with and recording information or socializing with others.
Just as there are a wide variety of symptoms associated with these learning disabilities, there are also a wide variety of solutions. While an individual can never be cured of their disability, teachers, parents, and caretakers can implement a range of interventions to help compensate for their child’s deficiency.
Your job as an educator is not to be the lone soldier to diagnose and intervene with every student’s ailment. It can be extremely difficult to diagnose children since some problems – like ADHD and autism, which are not learning disorders – might be masked as such. To help, you want to surround yourself with a team of professionals who can appropriately design supplemental strategies that are customized to individual student’s needs. You don’t need to save the day – you just need to be an integral part of a much larger process.
Above all else, be optimistic about what can help your students. Start with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to get an idea of what treatments might be available, and consult with your school’s special education teachers to determine what may be best on a case-by-case basis.
What resources or strategies have you used to identify or intervene with a student’s learning disability? Tell us your experience by sharing a comment below and help us all learn!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.