Learning Disabilities

Students with Learning Disabilities/Differences

Do not think of yourself as a person with a learning disability. You are an intelligent student who learns differently. You have many skills and gifts that you can use to learn and succeed in college and throughout your life.

Stephen Covey tells a story you may have heard before. A computer in England was “accidentally programmed incorrectly. It labeled a class of “bright” kids as slow learners and a class of supposedly slow learners as “bright. That computer report was the primary criterion leading to the teachers’ images of their students at the beginning of the year.

When the administration finally discovered the mistake five and a half months later, they decided to test the kids again without telling anyone what had happened. And the results were amazing. The “bright” kids had gone down significantly in IQ test points. They had been seen and treated as mentally limited, uncooperative, and difficult to teach. The teachers’ paradigms had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the scores in the supposedly “dumb” group had gone up. The teachers had treated them as though they were bright. and their energy, their hope, their optimism, their excitement had reflected high individual expectations and worth for those kids.

The teachers were asked what it was like during the first few weeks of the term. “For some reason, our methods weren’t working,” they replied. “So we had to change our methods.” The information showed that the kids were bright. If things weren’t working well, they figured, it had to be the teaching methods…. Apparent learning disability was nothing more or less that teacher inflexibility.          — Stephen Covey –  p. 301

That final sentence probably made sense in the context of those two classes. The ”slow learners” were apparently just as bright as the other students but learned differently. That make sense. Students may have learning problems because:

  • There were born with a brain that works differently. Sometimes it is a slight difference in the anatomy of some section of the brain. Sometimes there is a little more or less of certain brain chemicals. Sometimes the nerves form connections in different ways.
  • Some children have a poor self-image. Parents and others have called them dumb, stupid, lazy, good for nothing, useless, and worse…. and the children believed them and still do.
  • Some children grew up with low expectations. Nobody in the family had ever been to college so no one expected them to do any different. Their parents may not have read them stories (perhaps they couldn’t read.) Their parents may have been struggling so hard trying to make a living that they had no time to work with the child who couldn’t understand the homework.
  • Some children have parents who are alcoholic, drug abusers, or mentally ill. These children sometimes raise themselves and younger siblings.
  • Some children attended poor schools and learned little more the basics. They may never have had a teacher share with them the excitement and joy of learning.

Only the first problem fits the usual description of a learning disability, but all of these students need help to survive in school.

If you think of yourself as intelligent, if you are determined to overcome any problem that comes your way, knowing you will succeed in school and do great things in life, that is the person you are and that is the person you will be.

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