3 Myths About Learning Problems That Are Hurting Kids and Families
Part 1 of 3 – By Jill Stowell – http://www.learningdisability.com
When reading, spelling, writing, or attention are difficult for smart students, school can seem like an endless “black hole.” And often parents and the rest of the family start feeling the same way.
The short article below helps parents begin to understand one of the many myths about why some smart kids struggle in school.
Have you ever gone to the doctor with a headache or other pain, only to be told that there is nothing wrong? How about your car? Ever take it in because it is “acting up?” You know that something is not quite right, but the mechanic can’t pinpoint the problem.
But you know that everything isn’t just right. There is something wrong, but the “expert” didn’t find it. Not yet anyway.
The very same thing happens with kids at school. There are clues that there is a problem…difficulty reading, spelling, writing, or paying attention. But often the “experts” say that nothing is wrong.
Here is the first myth – If you have not been diagnosed with a learning disability, you don’t have any learning issues.
It is un-true. It is false. It is a lie. And it is devastating to kids and families.
Here is what it can look like – Johnny is having a difficult time keeping up with his classmates. Johnny is smart, but can’t seem to read, spell, or write as well as the rest of the class. Johnny’s teacher recommends testing. The testing shows that he is behind, but only by a year. That may not be enough to label him “learning disabled” or to get special help at school. You see, for many schools, kids have to be at least 2 years behind their peers in order to qualify for special help.
Here is the problem – Research tells us that about 30% of all capable students will have some kind of difficulty processing information. But only 5% to 9% get diagnosed as “learning disabled.” The only reason some qualify and others don’t is based on how far they are behind.
But the root causes of the struggles are all the same, whether you “qualify” for special help or not.
Imagine a bunch of elementary school kids playing basketball against an NBA team. Someone comes along and gives extra help to all those kids who are shorter than 5 feet. But the poor kids who are 5’1″ or 5’2″ or even 5’10” get no extra help. They don’t “qualify.”
But would we say they don’t need extra help? Of course not. They have the very same issues as the shortest kids. They just don’t “qualify” for any extra help.
Learning issues aren’t as obvious as height issues. The very same auditory processing challenges, the very same memory issues, the very same executive functioning problems keep all of them from doing as well as they should in school. Missing these skills will make anyone struggle with learning.
When a capable child struggles in school, is tested and doesn’t qualify for help, the assumption is there’s nothing wrong. The only answer left is that the kid is lazy, unmotivated, or not trying hard enough.
But there is something wrong. The deficits are real. The weak or missing underlying skills will continue to affect performance until those skills are built and strengthened. Without addressing those skills, students will continue to struggle, continue to fall farther and farther behind. And unlike height, they won’t out grow it!
Meanwhile, the pressure is cranked up on poor Johnny who is already doing everything he’s been told to do in order to succeed. And it isn’t working.
Learning problems are hurting many more than those that are diagnosed. In fact, for every one child that gets extra help, there are 2 more who need help but won’t qualify.
This pronouncement, that there is nothing wrong, leaves Johnny with very few options. Poor Johnny doesn’t know what else to do. He has put in the extra hours, he has tried, and he isn’t lazy. He’s just failed so many times that he will eventually give up.
Over time, Johnny will start to assume that he just isn’t that smart. He will start to avoid situations where he finds it difficult or where he has failed in the past. He will severely limit his potential through the choices of things he will avoid. Often times, he’ll drop out. If he doesn’t, he’ll continue to “limp” along academically.
As a parent or a professional, there are 2 things you can do to help:
1. When you talk with others, listen for the “L” word. As soon as you hear the word “lazy,” your “alarms” should go off. Start looking for an undiagnosed learning problem.
2. Explain to parents that there is a very broad range of learning problems that don’t fall under standardized testing and suggest a more specialized assessment.
By using specialized programs that focus on building those specific underlying skills, any student with at least an average IQ can find learning to be much easier. The struggle can end.
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