Learning Disabilities: Helping Our Children
Learning Disabilities (LD) are considered neurological disorders that result in a difference in how a person’s brain is “wired”. Most educators define learning disabilities according to the federal law. U.S. Office of Education and Public Law 101-476 (Individuals with Disabilities Act) defines “specific learning disabilities” as:
“A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning disabilities which are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage”. (Kim pg 4)
Children with learning disabilities are smart or smarter than their peers, but may have difficulty with things like reading, writing, reasoning, and organizing information by themselves. A learning disability is a lifelong issue that cannot be cured or fixed with a snap of the fingers. Children who have the right support and intervention can succeed in school. Then later they will be able to go and be successful later in life. Children with learning disabilities need the support of parents, school and their community to be successful. Parents need to be able to encourage children with their strengths, know what their weaknesses are, and be able to understand the educational system to be able to work with professionals.
Learning Disabilities cannot be categorized into one diagnosis. Learning disabilities are caused by biological factors that are caused by differences in the structure and functioning of the nervous system. Many people, both in the local and professional community, use the terms handicap and disability interchangeably, but they are not. A learning disability means that preschoolers are unable to complete tasks in a certain way. Children with learning disabilities have a hard time functioning in areas such as sensory, physical, cognitive, and other areas. Handicap means that preschoolers are unable to function and cope in their environment. These children have impairments such as cerebral palsy or down syndrome. In 1991, the federal government amended the disabilities label to “Individuals with Disabilities Act” (PL 102-119). This act allowed states to be able to not identify with one of the thirteen federal disability labels, but to classify preschoolers with special needs. (Kilgo, pg 27) With the new changes
professionals were able to use new terms like developmentally delayed and at risk when identifying children.
Developomentally delayed is determined on the basis of various developmental assessments and/or an informed clinical opinion. Children starting at the age of three years old can now be identified for services. Delays can be expressed in a differnce between a child’s chronological age and his/her performance levels. Delays occur when a child does not reach his/her developmental milestones at the expected age level or time. If a child is slightly behind it is not considered a delay until he/she are lagging in two or more areas of motor, language, social or thinking skills. Developmental delays are usually diagnoised by a doctor or medical professional based on strick guidelines and take more than one visit to diagnose. Parents or childcare providers are usually the first to notice children not progressing at the same rate as other children. Testing will help to gauge a child’s developmental level.
At risk describes children with exposure to certain adverse conditions and circumstances known to have a high probability of resulting in learning and development difficulties. (Kilgo, pg 28) These children have not been identified as having a disability, but as children who may be developing conditions that will limit their success in school or lead to disabilities. There are three factors that can result in a child’s environment. The first is established risk/genetic. This could be where a child is born with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, or spina bifida. Biological risk means that a child has a history of pre- or post- natal conditions that heighten the chance of development. These could be conditions such as premature births, infants with low birth weights, maternal diabetes, and bacterial infections like meningitis or HIV. Enviromental risks are considered biologically typical, meaning they are enviromental conditions that are limiting or threating to the child’s development. All three at risk factors can result in cognitive, social, affective, and physical problems. (Kim, pg 34)
Some signs of learning disabilities in young children are:
• A toddler may reach developmental milestones quite slowly.
• The child may have trouble understanding the concept of time. Is the child confused by the use of words like “tomorrow”, “today”, and “yesterday”?
• Young children have a lot of energy, but some have an excessive amount of kinetic energy, known as hyperactivity.
• A child that has difficulty distinguishing right from left, may have difficulty identifying words.
• A child with a learning disability often masters several areas, while failing in two or more areas.
• A child that is perceived as disobedient may actually have difficulty understanding and following instructions.
Once a child has been identified as having a possible learning disability, assessments need to be completed. An assessment is the process of gathering information for the purpose of making a decision about children with known or suspected disabilities in the area of screening, diagnosis, eligibility, program planning, and/or progess monitoring and evaluation. (Kilgo, pg 90) During the assessment, evaluations should be accomplished with th e goal of identifying developmentally appropriate goals, identifying unique styles and strengths, looking at parent goals and outcomes for their children, reinforcing family’s competence and worth, and creating a sense of shared commitment between families, schools, and professionals. Families posses a wealth of information and should play a very active role in the decision making, planning, and evaluations of their children. Schools are required to foster a child’s education, offering and supporting the needs of each child through a series of individualized instructions and interventions. School districts must provide documentation stating that the student has received the required instruction by qualified personnel. These interventions help teachers and staff to educate and foster the needs of children with learning disabilities. Assessments are an ongoing process. The initial assessment should be used to screen, diagnose, and check for eligibility for services. Ongoing assessments are to focus on a child’s skill level, needs, background, experiences, and interests, as well as the family’s preferences and priorities. (Kilgo, pg 96) Over the years practice has shown that there is a link between assessments and curriculum to provide for the needs of the child. It is important to keep records of a child’s progress. A very useful way is through portfolio assessments. These portfolios can be considered a looking glass into a child’s growth. Portfolios also help teachers and team members to keep observations and comments about a child’s activities and behaviors. The information collected can help meet many of the required criteria for planning and monitoring.
An important responsibility of an educator is to have an environment that will both nurture and foster learning. When designing an environment childcare providers should use best practice guidelines from places like National Association of Education of Young Child (NAEYC) and National Association of Family Childcare (NAFCC). Environments should look at available space, age of children, visual appeal, safety and health, and organization. (Perri Klass, pg 46) Always remember that environments exert powerful influences on children and help to play a vital role in children’s lives. Activity areas should include gross-
motor, quiet/calm, discover, dramatic, therapeutic, and arts and crafts areas. Rooms should not have furniture that is used to separate centers or activities but should use things like lower lightening, parachutes hanging from the ceiling and area rugs to help children understand the use of different centers.
The main goal of childcare providers and educators is to provide the best possible services for children with learning disabilities by providing services “as early and comprehensively as possible in the least restrictive setting”. Services and interventions should be supported in the most natural environments that will include the child’s primary care giver. Individual Education Plans (IEP) play a large role in the education process of children with learning disabilities. These IEP’s require professionals, parents, and caregivers to work together as a team. They hold teams to accountability standards for the care of children with disabilities. A child’s IEP helps to furnish an instructional direction, sort of like a blueprint of care, to measure the effectiveness and progress of children. If an IEP is carefully written and appropriate goals are set, it will provide special education services to a child that will be reflected throughout his/her life.
In the field of early childhood education, the definition of special needs has drastically changed for children with learning disabilities over the years. We live in a very diverse society of languages, foods, music, values and religious beliefs that brings us the strengths of our nation. Every day the makeup of our society changes and so does the needs of our children, especially those of children with learning disabilities. Our community is seeing a growing need for services for children with learning disabilities. Young children with learning disabilities need to receive services at the earliest age possible. Parents need to remember that learning disabilities do not go away over night and for some children it takes years of recognizing, expressing, thinking, and problem solving to succeed at being the young adult that they are meant to be.
First Signs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2009, from First Signs: http://www.firstsigns.org/
Fuller, C. (2004). Talkers, Watchers, & Doers. Canada: Pinon.
Kilgo, R. G. (2005). Young Children with Special Needs second edition. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar learning.
Kim, H. (2004)., Learning Disabilities. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale.
Levine, M. (2002). A Mind at a Time. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Perri Klass, M. &. (2003). Quirky Kids. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Ross W. Greene, P. (2001). The Explosive Child. New York: Harper Collins Publishing.