Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Handling Students with Learning Disabilities

Practical advice on what the family/student and teacher/school can do:

"L.D." or "learning disabled" is a generic term that can apply to a wide variety of problems that are neurological in origin and which impair learning. It is helpful for teachers to remember that many learning disabled children, though often unsuccessful academically, are usually of average to above average ability (Albert Einstein, shown here, is a famous dyslexic, as is Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Graham Bell, and entertainers Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg and Jay Leno).

The following discusses some common L.D. types and what we should do as teachers:

1. "A.D.D" or "A.D.H.D" (Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) The most commonly diagnosed of all L.D. problems, both refer, as the name implies, to difficulties with attention spans in students. In the first case, students are predominantly inattentive. IN the second case, they are inattentive and hyperactive, which often creates real problems in the classroom.
Signs of possible A.D.D :

• easily distractible, with even the slightest things. Has difficulty refocusing once distracted
• has difficulty completing tasks, often shifting from one task to the other
• disorganization (keeping track of assignments, directions, often loses books, pencils)
• note taking and handwriting is poor
• often "phases out"/appears to daydream often

Signs of possible A.D.H.D:

• all of the above, but also:
• often blurts out answers, reacts before thinking
• engages in much activity, often accomplishing little
• can't remain in seat, often fiddles with things, distracts his classmates
• is volatile in personality, becomes both defiant on some occasions, apathetic in others
• is sensitive to criticism due to low self confidence, feels he or she is "dumb" or "bad"

Handling the A.D.D./A.D.H.D. child in the classroom:

Successful handling of children with attention deficit is usually a partnership between doctor, families, and the teacher. From the medical side, several drugs have been found to significantly help these students; the most frequently prescribed are Ritalin and Dexedrin. The effect of these drugs on A.D.D. children is usually pronounced, helping them concentrate better, and calming them down. Individual children require different dosages to maximize effectiveness, and often parents will solicit the teacher's help in analyzing behavior relative to dosages, and we should be supportive of these efforts. The most frequent problem with medical therapy is that students often forget to take their medicine on a timely basis. Other problems include taking medicine in the morning that has lost its effectiveness by the afternoon (though there are now time released pills that are helpful) and the understandable reluctance on both parents and students' parts to become totally reliant on medication, which leads to frequent adjusting of dosages.

The other side of treatment involves behavior modification on the part of the family and teachers.

The family and child can do the following:

1) Given the problems he or she has organizing, the child should keep an assignment pad for homework and upcoming events.
2) The family should establish inviolable routines in the household for when homework should be done, where it should be done, how much time it should take.
Homework should be done in a place free from noise and distractions.
3) The family should keep close tabs on their child's progress.
4) The family should remember that A.D.D. is an explanation, it is not a crutch or an "excuse". We ought to help families understand that the same amount and level of work is expected for their children; at the same time, we are willing to give assistance and make reasonable accommodations to help them achieve this work. We can cripple ADD children permanently by making excuses for them, requiring less of them or grading them differently. However, they will need us to do more to help them achieve these standards, and we ought to be willing to give it.

The teacher can do the following:

1) Establish routines in the classroom. When homework is assigned at random times in class, for example, it is predictable that A.D.D. kids will have a hard time keeping track of things.
2) A.D.D. kids should be made to sit in the front of the room, where they will be less distracted by other students. Being in the proximity of the teacher often helps them listen better. The teacher can give quiet, gentle correction when needed.
3) Writing assignments /directions on the board for students to copy is preferable. Give only one task at a time.
4) A variety of classroom activities during a block of class time is essential. Long lectures invite problems. That is simply good teaching, even apart from handling A.D.D. students!
5) Keep more frequent tabs on A.D.D. kids. Contact their parents more often--not just for bad news! Remember that parents of A.D.H.D. kids are often embattled. Positive phone calls would be deeply appreciated and likely cause great positive momentum in your class with their child.
6) Be patient with them. They may often need you to repeat instructions. They may miss things. Teachers can hold up expectations, even as they indicate they care for their students' welfare. Don't mistake an "I don't care attitude" for the real thing. This is often a defense mechanism for their felt inadequacy.
7) During test and quizzes, background noise, music, talking, laughing are terrible for most A.D.D. children. They have problems filtering out these distractions. A well ordered classroom is the best gift we can give ALL of our students.
8) Use graphic organizers when possible in having students complete reading and writing assignments—this helps in the organization of thoughts and in their attentiveness to detail. For a listing of all types of graphic organizers, go here: http://www.knights.pvt.k12.al.us/teachers/tools.html
9) Because of distractibility and organizational skills, students often work slower. Allowing students to come back after class to finish an essay or extended time for tests should be allowed when possible.
10) There are many other techniques and accommodations an experienced teacher may use to help his or her student with attention deficit disorders. You can find other suggestions on the internet, such as here.

2. Dyslexia
Dyslexia is perhaps the second most common learning disability. There are, as with other learning difficulties, more severe and less severe cases. Signs of dyslexia are usually that the student, who is otherwise a normal to strong student, may spell terribly. Letters are inverted ("b vs. d"), syllables are often off ("aminal" instead of animal) and often their reading is disjointed, skipping words, pausing at the wrong place, etc.

There are different types of this problem, but generally, we can help these students by doing the following:

• We should anticipate that when students are "under the gun" writing timed essays or taking tests, that there will be frequent misspellings. There are two ways of handling this: The first way is to minimalize the impact of spelling on grading. The second way, preferred, is to give the student additional time to "proofread" his or her work after school, after class, etc. with the dictionary in hand. We can insist on better spelling when time is less a factor (as the case when work is done at home), but it should not be a grade determining factor when work cannot be checked for accuracy.
• We should be careful when asking these students to read in class. They are often very embarrassed by their slow reading.
• There are several excellent sites for assisting teachers in helping dyslexic students, such as here.

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