There is a part of me that has always hated the term learning disabilities. It is a weird label to hang on a child because they don’t perform as expected in our education system as their intelligence level would indicate in the areas of verbal and non-verbal information. We emphasis reading, writing and arithmetic. We don’t emphasis art or music. We don’t tell a student who is tone-deaf or sings off-key that they have a learning disability. We don’t tell a student who is color blind or unable to draw that they have a learning disability.
I don’t like it but I know that it is real and that there are learning strategies, technology and teaching techniques that make a difference. I know because both of my children have a diagnosed learning disability and I have the same, but undiagnosed, learning disability.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario’s (LDAO) websites are excellent resources to learn more about learning disabilities and the kinds of supports that can help students with learning disabilities succeed in their education, their careers and their life. I say websites because in addition to the LDAO’s main site, they have developed website for students, parents and educators.
The LDAO’s official definition of learning disabilities is quite extensive. Learning disabilities is not an easy concept to define. It begins with this statement:
“Learning Disabilities” refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organisation or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning (a), in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. Learning disabilities are specific not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities (LDAO, 2015).
There is a lot to unpack in this introduction. Learning disabilities are not one thing and not every student with a learning disability is impacted in the same way. The focus is on verbal and non-verbal information and all the things you can do with this information. It is the next part, I think, that sometimes gets lost – the idea that there is an impairment in combination with average, above average and genius level abilities for thinking and reasoning. The impairment, for lack of a better word, is specific, not global. Because of this, learning and teaching strategies and technology can mitigate the impairment and allow student to learn, to create and yes, even to teach equal to students without learning disabilities.
My impairment is phonological processing. I don’t hear the small units of sounds that letters make when you say them, the phonemes. Because I can’t hear them, it is really hard to reproduce them. This hits me two ways – I can’t sound out words in text that I don’t recognize and I can’t spell by sounding out words. I have many strategies that I use so that this does not, now, slow me down.
But there is one area that this continues to hamper me. I can’t pronounce most of my tutors’ names. My poor tutors repeat their names, and it doesn’t help because if I can’t hear the sounds and I can’t reproduce them. We go through this elaborate dance where we figure out smaller words that I already know that make up how to say their name and I write this down and practice. I wonder if they think I am crazy; I don’t ask. It is embarrassing and frustrating but I do it because I believe that figuring out how to say their names is important and because I want them to understand that when I get it wrong, it is not because I don’t respect them or that I don’t care.
I can’t do anything about the term learning disability or my dislike of it; thankfully, there are a lot of things I can about the one I have.
LDAO. (2015). Official definition of learning disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-are-lds/official-definition-of-lds/
Photo credits: Photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash