Learning Disabilities      by Judy L. Poole/ March 2009                                                                     

Introduction: My personal experience with learning disabilities and my goal to work with people with disabilities after completing my education is the reason I have chosen to write and discuss these issues. In 1999, when I returned to school, I was encouraged to enroll in the disability resource center at Las Positas College and to take the diagnostic exam because it would be a more accurate evaluation of my learning issues.  Unfortunately, I was undergoing a lot of personal stress in my life at the time and the learning specialist told me that the results of the diagnostic tests revealed that I was learning disabled and wouldn’t be able to succeed in many mainstream classes at the college. One of my instructors in the learning skills program encouraged in the classes that the learning specialist pointed out was difficult and I succeeded beyond their expectations.    I was hired by the coordinator of the disability program as a student assistant and assigned to help the disabled students with their class assignments, yet my self-esteem remained low and my stress level remained high, therefore I decided to enroll in a psychology class to learn about myself.  The psychology instructor who was also a therapist expressed concern about a learning disability when I encountered some difficulties with passing his exams. He explained he felt my learning issues was connected to my high stress level and offered to help me reduce my anxiety with information and tools he generously offered me. I reduced my anxiety level and with the support of my mentor and peers, I succeeded and graduated last year from Las Positas College with highest honors. Recently I was informed by the new learning specialist after the completion of my second diagnostic test that results proved I don’t have a learning disability, but I do have visual difficulties and age-related hearing loss and therefore I am eligible to receive the necessary accommodations in the disability resource program to help me succeed in my academic goals.

             The learning disability topics I will discuss in this paper are Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Hyperactivity Disorder and dyslexia.   I will discuss the causes, symptoms and treatments of these learning disabilities and how they can affect the lives of the people involved.

             The symptoms of learning disabilities may be physical, they may affect speech, hearing, visual and memory functions, yet are often invisible, which might impede detection and recognition of the disability difficult, and therefore delaying the diagnosis of the disability and initial treatment.  Any delays in the diagnosis and treatment can delay the transition of the child to becoming an adult, plus the consequences tend to impact all aspects of society which includes economics, government funding, education, and the private sector.  Learning disabilities are a neurological disorder where a person’s “brain is clearly not damaged, defective, or retarded, but in certain areas it processes information in a different way than it is supposed to” (Silver, 2006, pp. 3).

             Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, specifically the hyperactivity factor in this disorder “stems from a malfunction of the brain’s attention system, a diffuse linkage of neurons that hitches together areas controlling arousal, motivation, reward, executive functions, and movement” (Ratey, 2008, pp. 142).   Serena M. Shimabukuro, Mary Anne Prather, Amelia Jenkins and Patricia Edelen-Smith, the authors of a journal regarding the topic of students with learning disabilities who quoted from information offered by Larry B. Silver, in 1995 who had written regarding this disability, the journal authors also support Dr. John B. Ratey’s diagnosis also by writing “ADD/ADHD is a medically diagnosed disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity which occurs across home, work, and other social settings” (Shimambukuro, Prather, Jenkins, Edelen-Smith, 1999, pp.4). It is also thought to be “problems in regulation of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, believed to be an important factor role in the ability to focus and pay attention to tasks. It is also suggested “by genetic research that ADHD tends to run in families and 55 percent of diagnosed adults have one or more children with ADHD”. Dodson, 2008, pp. 2).

              The National Resource Center on ADD/ADHD which is a program of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a national non-profit organization refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, a guide used by professional clinicians and doctors for diagnosing AD/HD defining the symptoms and treatment of ADD/ADHD.   The ADHD inattentive symptoms include: failure to give close attention to details and careless errors, difficulty sustaining attention, inattentive, organization difficulties, avoiding or dislike of tasks requiring sustained mental effort, loses things, easily distracted, forgetful in daily activities. The hyperactive/impulsive symptoms include: fidgeting with hands or feet, squirming in chair, difficulty remaining seated, runs about or climbs excessively, difficulty engaging in activities quietly, acts as though driven by a motor, excessive talking, blurts out answers before questions are completed, difficulty waiting to take turns, and interruption or intrusion upon others (National Resource Center on ADHD, n.d. pg. 1, 2).

             There is no simple procedure in diagnosing children and teenagers with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it takes many steps and a comprehensive evaluation is necessary for establishing the diagnosis and omitting other causes, determining presence or absence of conditions that are simultaneous.  Evaluations require time and effort and should include an assessment by a clinician of the child’s social, school and emotional functioning and developmental level.  A family history is also required, in addition to an assessment from the child’s teachers and the child when needed. (CHADD, n.d., pp. 1).

             Teenagers who have ADD/ADHD have special challenges in the academic and organizational area and as these demands increase, the challenges increase also.  The challenges include peer pressure, discovering their own identity, independence which is common for adolescents. It is important that the essential current diagnostic criteria is used whether being diagnosed by a psychiatrist, pediatricians, psychologists and social workers to name a few professionals who diagnose ADD/ADHD.  Adults also have their own challenges with ADD/ADHD, they think of themselves as lazy, crazy, or even stupid so proper and immediate diagnosis is important to avoid devastating effects of this learning disability (CHADD, n.d., pp. 1.).

             According to the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) organization website, the treatment for this disorder includes: “parent training, behavioral intervention strategies, appropriate educational program, education regarding AD/HD, and medication when necessary. The organization emphasizes that positive behavior intervention can be critical and the most important method are consistency and positive reinforcement, where the child is rewarded for the desired behavior” (CHADD, n.d. pp.1.). 

             Dyslexia is another learning disability which can have devastating effects on the person’s self-esteem.  It is defined by a “cluster of symptoms,” resulting in difficulties with specific language skills, especially reading, they also experience difficulties with writing, and pronouncing words” (“Dyslexia Basics”, n.d., pp.2). Severe self-esteem issues, frustration with learning to the point of losing motivation because the person feels they are incapable of learning.  They also display symptoms of later than expected speaking, slow to add new words, rhyming difficulties as a toddler; in kindergarten and the lower grades, difficulty with learning connection between letters and sounds, reading single words displayed on a flashcard, confusion of small words such as “at” and “to”, word reversals such as “tip” and “pit”, difficulty in identification of words which rhyme, and recognizing words beginning with the same sound. (“Detecting Dyslexia,” 2008, pp. 1).

             The National Center for Learning Disabilities, an organization founded in 1977 by Pete and Carrie Rozelle as an organization known as the Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities and is led by dedicated parents who commit to a better outcome for children and adults who have learning disabilities. Diagnosing dyslexia must be done through a formal evaluation presented by trained professionals who evaluate a person’s ability to speak, write and understand spoken language. They observe specific areas of strengths and weaknesses in skills needed for reading; family history, intellectual ability, educational background, social environment and other factors which affect learning are also considered in this evaluation.  (What is Dyslexia), n.d., pp.2).

             Early diagnosis of dyslexia is very important in the treatment because if this disorder isn’t recognized early in a person’s life, it can have a very profound effect on their development.  The support of a teacher, tutor or other trained professionals is imperative in the treatment of a person who is dyslexic; it can assist the person in early exposure to oral reading, writing, drawing and practicing encouraging development of print knowledge, basis letter formation, recognition skills, linguistic awareness which is the relationship between sound and meaning; practice reading different kinds of texts such as books, magazines, advertisements, comics; multi-sensory, structured language instruction, practice using sight, sound, touch when introducing new ideas; modifying classroom procedures allowing for extra time completing assignments, assistance with note-taking, oral testing, other means of assessments; using books-on-tape, assistive technology such as screen readers, voice recognition, computer software and help with emotional issues arising from struggling to overcome academic situations.  Reading and writing are the fundamentals skills for daily skills, yet, it is vital to emphasize other phases of learning and expressing.  People with dyslexia, just like other people enjoy activities which tap into their strengths and interests and as multidimensional thinkers, visual fields such as design, art, architecture, engineering and surgery, which don’t emphasize language skills will probably appeal to them (“ What is Dyslexia” , n.d. pp. 2).

             Learning disabilities is a life-long struggle for many people, in fact, disabilities in general is a life-long struggle, but people who have the support of family, friends, teachers, and other professionals are able to succeed, overcome obstacles and become very successful in whatever they choose to pursue in their careers.  The students I worked with in the disability resource center at Las Positas have transferred to other schools, graduated and began their careers. Their self-esteem has increased immensely because they have received the tools and encouragement to help them succeed.  There is still discrimination towards disabled people, primarily because people aren’t aware there are learning disabilities as well as physical disabilities, so if a person doesn’t use a wheelchair or a cane or seeing-eye dog, they are considered not disabled.  Another issue people assume is that if a person has a physical disability, it also affects their mind, and they are isolated by society, unfortunately this is a stereotype which needs to be removed, we are all human, and should be treated that way, not by our disabilities.  One of the most important message the students in the diagnostic testing class receives from the learning specialist is everyone is capable of succeeding in their academic goals, they just need to adjust their learning methods and have access to the tools and methods to help them succeed.


Chinese version : 學習障礙