Learning Disabilities: Identification and Intervention

Learning Disabilities

If an individual is not benefitting from a regular education programme and is not socially disadvantaged, mentally retarded or pedagogically deprived, and shows no evidence of neurophysiological dysfunction, that individual is known as learning disabled (L. D.). Learning disabilities refers to disorder that interferes with the ability to store, process or produce information. They feel difficulties in attention, memory, learning, co-ordination, communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculating and emotional maturity. LDS are different from person to person.

Input related disabilities: These are the disabilities by which an individual’s brain does not get the required information genuinely from senses. Visual perception disabilities might be in distinguishing differences in shapes e.g., misperceiving a and b or p and q or 6 and 9. Some children have trouble with visual depth perceptions, they may fall off chairs or bump into things. Auditory perception disabilities might be in the area of distinguishing main differences in sounds, misunderstanding of different sounds e.g., hair, air, bell, bill. Some also face the problem of auditory lag.

Organisation related disabilities: When an individual is not in a position to integrate information, it is known as organisational disability. There can be sequencing disability when stimuli is confused e.g., writing 21 in place of 12; reading WAS rather than SAW. The individuals with this disability are not in a position to say what month comes after or before a particular month without starting from January. In this type of disability an individual is not in a position to understand the context. They may mix the meaning of phrases or idioms. Organization disabilities can result in difficulty, pulling multiple parts of information into a complete concept.

Memory Disabilities: Individuals with memory disabilities are not in a position to retrieve or store information. They have better long-term memory for storage of information but they have difficulty in short-term memory, the ability to concentrate on information and store it. They may learn information well by attending to it. Yet, they will not retain information once they stop attending to it.

Output related disabilities: individuals with this type of disability feel difficulty in getting information out of the brain through oral communication i.e., a language disability or through the use of muscles i.e., motor disability. They have difficulties with activities like running, climbing and swimming; they have poor handwriting, difficulty with written language tasks as spelling, spacing or punctuation.

Learning disabilities related to academic difficulties fall into:

(a) Reading disabilities (dyslexia).

(b) Written language disabilities (dysgraphia).

(c) Disabilities related to math (dyscalculia).

Dyslexia (difficulty in reading) is characterised by:

  • Difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition.
  • Poor spelling and decoding abilities.
  • Unable to work with sounds to blend as in /c/ /a/ /t/= cat or decoding sad /s/a/d.
  • Child avoids reading, when reads it is slow and laboured.
  • Child tends to substitute similar looking words, horse-house, from-form, clear-clean.
  • Letter and word reversal while reading b/d, was/saw.

Dysgraphia (difficulty in writing) is characterised by:

  • Dislikes colouring and drawing tasks, as applying consistent pressure to colour and stay within boundaries may be a challenge.
  • Handwriting is untidy both cursive or block letters.
  • Child may show strange wrist, body or paper positions and apply too much pressure while writing.
  • Writing process will be avoided.
  • Poor letter formation, reversals – letters like b/d, u/n, w/m. Numbers like 6/9, 2/5.
  • Poor spacing and line alignment.
  • Poor punctuation, with no full stop, capitals.
  • Disregard for punctuation marks.
  • Use of very poor grammar rules to write sentences and make them meaningful.
  • Incorrect placement or parts of speech.

Dyscalculia, difficulty with mathematics is characterized by

  • Difficulty to match, sort, group by size, shape and colour different objects like beads, wood contents.
  • difficulty in understanding comparative concepts e.g., big/small, tall/short, more/less.
  • difficulty in conceptualizing numbers e.g., 03 teachers, three pens, three bananas.
  • child may struggle with number order before/ after, between and sequencing.
  • concept of place value is not clear e.g., 45, five stands for five ones, 54 five stands for five tens.
  • cannot keep pace with other peers in class.
  • difficulty in time management.

Some children with learning difficulties are also suffering from Dyspraxia, difficulty with motor skills. The children have

  • difficulty in using eating utensils like spoon and fork or holding cup/ glass while drinking.
  • difficulty with eye movements they may move head instead of just eyes.
  • difficulty in walking, hopping, throwing and catching an object, riding a bike.
  • Difficulty in doing motor activities such as tying shoe-laces or buttoning and zipping clothing or practical’s in schools.

Intervention with Reading difficulties (LD)

  • Supplement written material with pictures.
  • Repetition while teaching a lesson.
  • Explain new terms, highlight what is most important.

Use examples to enhance comprehension.

  • Break written material into small sections.
  • Keep reading material short and simple.
  • Have the children take turns reading with the teacher.
  • Be patient and provide extra time for reading.

Intervention for helping children with language difficulties (LD).

  • Give children more time to speak.
  • Be concrete and clear when communicating with children.
  • Avoid sarcastic comments e.g. I have to wait for your response for hours.
  • Encourage children to describe words they are looking for.
  • Encourage children to respond in a single word or small sentence.
  • Be a good listener, teacher/parent.
  • Use shorter sentences and simple words while teaching students with LD.
  • Use pictures, gestures to supplement words, Teacher/Student/Parent.
  • Avoid as a teacher asking more questions.

Interventions for Visual-motor processing difficulties.

  • Allow children to trace rather than to draw free-hand
  • Provide templates to children to fill in.
  • Allow extra time for written works in class.
  • Offer a variety of writing tools (pens/pencils/crayons) to allow students to find one that is comfortable for them.
  • Set realistic goals for writing required for children.
  • Give less home work to the children.

Several studies have focused on the effectiveness of peer tutoring as an instructional arrangement in which the teacher pairs two students in a tutor-tutee relationship to promote learning of academic skills for the students with learning disabilities (Mercer, 1997; Maheady, Harper & Mallette, 1991).

Usually, learning-disabled children are resilient and are in a position to manage their own challenges of life. Learning certain Do’s and Do Not’s Can help them more.

  • Accept one’s learning disability.
  • Set realistic goals
  • Be open for asking help.
  • Be optimistic to get help.
  • Believe in internal locus of control.
  • Accepting that mistakes can help them to learn.
  • Make friendships – who will listen to them.
  • Don’t be pessimistic.
  • Don’t believe in fear of failure.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Don’t disconnect with siblings, peer groups, teachers, parents and community members.

Dr Mahmood Ahmad Khan is Professor, Dept of Education, Kashmir University