Understanding Your Child's Learning Disabilities

When former President Ronald Reagan established October as National Learning Disabilities Month, he said: “In a sense, people with learning disabilities are most aware of the deep complexity of our mental processes, for they must struggle to make the connections that, for most of us, are effortless habits.”

How profoundly true this is. It is our community of parents and teachers who need education, awareness, and understanding of learning disabilities. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (ncld.org), a learning disability (LD) is a biological “processing” problem that impairs the student's ability to listen, think, read, write, spell, or do math calculations.

The most common type of LD is dyslexia (reading) and the others are dysgraphia (handwriting) and dyscalculia (math). LD often co-exists with conditions such as dyspraxia (motor skills) and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Reports indicate that almost 2.4 million school-age children in the U.S. are classified as having a specific LD. Almost half of public school students receiving special education services have a learning disability.

To learn more, Memphis Parent conducted an interview with Lyle Davis, director of education with Bodine School, and Paula Landrum, testing coordinator with the Dyslexia Foundation of Memphis.

MP: What are some common misconceptions about LD?
Lyle Davis: I would say there are several myths.

Myth 1: Children with learning disabilities have major cognitive deficits and certainly are not college-bound.

Truth: By definition, individuals with learning disabilities are not cognitively impaired and often can possess extraordinary talents and strengths in areas of spatial or conceptual reasoning. Most students who receive appropriate remediation become readers, are college bound and beyond. Additionally, many individuals with learning disabilities become extremely successful despite the deficit areas that isolate them upon identification…often they develop coping mechanisms for school that translate into creative problem solving techniques in the “real world.”

Myth 2: Children with learning disabilities cannot read or write well enough to function in a regular classroom.

Truth: Not so. Many noteworthy people throughout history have been documented with dyslexia. Among them are inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, singer Harry Belafonte, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, actor Robin Williams, to name a few. All of these professions require high-level print awareness and keen interpretation and expression of language.

Myth 3: Children with learning disabilities always reverse letters and numbers.

Truth: Some letter and number reversals are common among dyslexic students, but they are not the defining characteristic of students with learning disabilities. In fact, it is more interesting to examine WHY certain populations of students make those reversals and how it impacts written language and reading. What is more compelling is knowing that this is correctable.

MP: How does your organization help in the intervention process?

Lyle Davis: At Bodine, we offer intensive intervention for students with diagnosed dyslexia. We have a limited number of spaces between grades 1 and 8 and our maximum class size is 10 students. Teachers trained in Slingerland and Orton-Gillingham provide remediation after school or through the summer. Summer reading program, akin to our regular program with intensive, multi-sensory classroom intervention, is offered for four weeks in June. We also serve as the clearinghouse of remediation specialists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, speech-language pathologists for referrals. In addition, we offer school consultations and in-service training for schools.

Landrum: Our program at the Dyslexia Foundation is based on the work of Dr. Charles Shedd. It is a four-fold format of alphabetic-phonetics-structural-linguistics education that is taught in a multi-sensory manner. The work of Claire Worthington further developed the current curriculum into one that provides dyslexic children with a firm understanding of the English language. Since we train family members to work in our one-on-one tutoring program, they learn first-hand what dyslexic symptoms are and how to cope with them correctly. One way our program helps families cope is to recognize the need for time — time to process new information, time to analyze input, time to respond. Another thing is children learn they can learn; they just learn differently than the majority of the population. Acceptance and encouragement are incubators for achievement.

MP: What resources are available locally?

Landrum: Support & Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP) tnstep.org is a program that helps parents be aware of the federal and state guidelines for helping a child with a 504 or an IEP. They will train parents on how to deal with the school system in order to receive necessary accommodations or modifications for learning disabled children. For information, visit bodineschool.org and memphisdyslexia.org

Story Share $50,000 Writing Contest

Benetech, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), and the National Center for Learning Disabilities recently launched the Story Share Contest to primarily address needs of older beginning readers. Eleven cash prizes will be awarded in categories including beginning and intermediate reading levels, best series, and people’s choice best submission.

Prize levels range from $2,000 to a grand prize of $10,000.

“The goal is to encourage writers to create topical, high-interest content that piques the interest of teen readers and encourages them to continue learning,” notes Louise Kraft, the spokesperson for Story Share.

Books submitted will be available through free digital platforms including Benetech’s Bookshare and Route66 Literacy, as well as a new e-book reader/writer tool called Hoku (hokustory.com)

For details, go to storysharecontest.com


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