by: Bridget Bailey
4.6 million, by most accounts, would be considered a substantial number. It becomes a completely different issue when you take this number and apply it to the amount of school-age children in the U.S. diagnosed with a learning difference. When speaking of such a high number of children, it is obvious why as a society we must now understand what these differences are, their implications, and how to accommodate them. It is estimated 20% of the entire American population that has some type of learning difference. This is why we need to talk about them, understand what they are, and how they can affect a child in school. LDonline.org defines a Learning Difference (LD) as "...a neurological disorder. In simple terms, a learning [difference] results from...the way a person's brain is 'wired.' Children with learning [differences] are as smart as or smarter than their peers. [However] they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways." Learning differences are not necessarily pejorative by definition but the advantages of being diagnosed with a learning difference are often overlooked. For example, many individuals with dyslexia (a type of learning difference) have been shown to have better three-dimensional spatial reasoning, understanding of abstract information and connections between concepts, and higher levels of creativity. Dyslexia is not the only form that children may experience. Below is a list of learning differences and short description of each.
- Dyslexia- As previously mentioned, Dyslexia is quite common. It is estimated that one in ten people have this particular learning difference and that 20% of school-aged children in the U.S. are diagnosed as dyslexic. Dyslexia is a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words, including poor word reading, word decoding, oral reading fluency, and spelling. It may also be referred to as a reading disability or reading disorder. It is not linked to IQ.
- Dyscalculia- is a mathematical learning difference in which a person struggles with solving arithmetic and understanding abstract mathematical concepts. Though it is not discussed as often as dyslexia, it is almost as common. An estimated 6 to 7% of elementary children may have dyscalculia.
- Dysgraphia- is a condition that causes trouble with written expression. For students with dysgraphia, holding a pencil and writing letters on lined paper proves to be difficult. Their handwriting tends to be unorganized and messy. Along with this, many struggle with spelling and expressing their thoughts on paper. Oftentimes, these children tend to be called "lazy", which they are not. Dysgraphia is not a result of laziness. Rather, it is a neurologically based processing disorder.
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)- is a common behavioral disorder where students struggle with focusing, staying on task, paying attention, and have difficulty controlling their behavior. Many have issues with impulsivity. ADHD is thought to affect 10% of school-aged children.
- High Functioning Autism (Asperger's)- is a syndrome related to autism and characterized by higher than average intellectual ability in conjunction with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities. More than 3.5 million Americans live with some form of autism.
- Auditory Processing Disorder- People with this disorder do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even if those sounds are loud and clear. They also struggle to tell where sounds are originating from, to make sense of sound order, or to block out competing background noises. It roughly affects 5% of school-aged children.
- Non-Verbal Learning Disorder- is a neurologically based disorder that is characterized by verbal strengths but those who are diagnosed struggle with visual spatial, motor, and social skills. People with this disorder may not always understand nonverbal cues like facial expressions or voice tone. Non-Verbal Learning Disorder affects .1% of the population and is seen in equal numbers among females and males.
Almost always, in each case, a learning difference diagnosis is for life. Children do not "outgrow it" as previously thought. There is no "cure" or quick fix to speak of. All students learn differently in some capacity and it is not uncommon for them to experience not one but various LDs. For example, someone may have both dyslexia and ADHD. That is why it is important to have the correct strategies inside and outside the classroom to ensure they have the necessary tools to succeed. Students with learning differences are whole individuals and not problems to re-mediate.
With the appropriate supports like smaller class sizes, individualized education, trained staff, and the correct accomodations, students with LDs can often find academic success rather than struggling to keep up. It is simply a matter of playing to their strengths to ensure they are truly becoming the best academic scholars they can be and at a school specialized in maximizing the potential of students with learning differences.
For more information on Learning Differences and how The Vanguard School can help with them, please click here or schedule a visit today.