Learning Disabled Students: Teaching and Parenting

Introduction

“Learning disability (LD) is a general term that describes specific kinds of learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble learning and using certain skills; most of these skills affect reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and doing math” (NASET, 2004, p. 2). People with learning disabilities may have different types of the same condition, which varies depending on the difficulties they face. Also, a person may not have trouble with each of the mentioned skills, which means that he or she can be good at some skills and bad in others. In addition, the community where that person lives is very important. Parents, teachers, doctors, and friends are also crucial factors in their lives because they have to be positive influences and supporters. American society is used to seeing people with learning disabilities different or inferior to his or her peers. I would like to say that such a judgment is wrong; a person who has a learning disability may be smarter than a “normal” person. Despite the views that students with learning difficulties cannot learn as efficiently as students without disabilities, I believe that they are regular students as long as we use correct strategies for teaching them.

Therefore, I am focusing this research on studying the types of learning disabilities, perspectives, strategies for teaching students who struggle with learning deficiencies, and parent engagement in the education of their children that experience complications when learning. Extra attention will be paid to different perspectives on learning disabilities, such as the sociological, educational, cultural, and parents’ perspectives that all either facilitate or limit the learning process of children with learning problems.

Types of Learning Disabilities

There are many types of learning disabilities that may cause students some struggles; however, that does not mean that students experiencing learning complications are not normal. The first type of learning disabilities is dyslexia, which relates to difficulties with reading, meaning that children are challenged by word and print recognition. Also, they may have difficulties with identifying and comprehending words or have challenges with spelling activities. The second type is dysgraphia, which is associated with writing challenges, meaning that children have difficulties with writing. Children with dysgraphia may possess a complex set of informational skills; however, they cannot express their thoughts through writing. The third type is dyscalculia, which is based on a lack of math skills. Children with dyscalculia have trouble recognizing numbers and symbols as well as understanding basic math concepts. The fourth type is the visual processing disorder; it is based on the lack of visual skills, which means that children with VPD see letters and numbers as similar shapes, remember the spelling of familiar words incorrectly, cannot copy words, write inside the notebook lines, and cannot easily understand numbers or words written on paper (Learning Ally, n.d., para. 2).

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (2014), “individuals who have learning disabilities may be less observant in their social environment, may at times misinterpret social behavior of others, and may not learn as easily from experiences or social “cues” as their friends” (para. 2). In other words, children with learning disabilities are seen as less observant in their social lives, which might cause difficulties with learning new information and communicating with their peers. In my opinion, students with learning difficulties can learn as efficiently as their peers, but they require some support techniques to assist them in learning. According to Sheryl Burgstahler (2012), “today, many people with disabilities and their advocates consider disability a natural part of the human condition” (para. 1), which means that students with learning deficiencies can learn the same way as another student regardless of their difficulties. Another study mentioned that the “instructional strategy could help students with disabilities enhance their comprehension and reading” (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001, p. 280), which means that students with learning disabilities can achieve success with the help of some strategies that help achieve the same level of academic performance as their peers.

To conclude, there are many types of learning disabilities that can limit students’ potential to learn new information and acquire skills necessary for their future lives. However, regardless of the disability a student has, it is important to have a positive attitude towards teaching such children. Because individuals with learning disabilities tend to be less proficient in their learning environment, other students, teachers, and parents should become their helpers and supporters, guiding them throughout the learning process.

According to research conducted by the Learning Disabilities Association of America, as well as many other scientists, it is important to view learning disabilities as a natural phenomenon that should not limit students’ aspirations to become successful in life. Whether a student struggles with dyscalculia or a visual processing disorder, appropriate strategies are necessary to help them overcome possible difficulties.

Different Perspectives on Learning Disabilities

There are different perspectives on human performance in the field of education. This means that students have to be below or above the line of “average” performance. According to the study conducted by Smith (2014), “the mainstream of the American society sees human performance as the most effective description of an individual” (para. 3). This means that students with disabilities simply learn differently from “normal” students. In addition to that, this perspective makes them different from their peers, suggesting that they are inferior or deficient in their learning skills.

Many cultures see learning disabilities as something normal; a perspective supported by Artiles and Larsen (1998), who indicated that the “American society has become more diverse due to the merging of different cultures, and these differences contribute to many positive ideas about disability” (p. 6). Also, many of those cultures don’t think that a disability is something that will prevent a person from living a normal life. For example, in my country, we believe that each child is unique from others regardless of the disability he or she might have; it is also thought that the disability is given to us by God as mercy. One of my relatives has a learning disability, and our family spent a lot of time to support him in completing his education, and now he lives his life independently, and we all are proud of that.

In our world, we have many cultures, and each culture has different beliefs. The most important thing is that different cultures don’t hold the same beliefs. Telling others in the community about the child with a learning disability can also play a good role in supporting that child (Lynch & Hanson, 2004, p. 49). In other words, differences between cultures are key to accepting the issue of learning disability as something people could overcome and live with as they would without the disability. For example, one of my neighbors is from Brazil, and she has a child with a learning disability. I saw her how she supported him, and I was also helping sometimes, especially in learning math. Two months later, the child managed to improve his math skills, which proves that cultural belief plays an important role in overcoming a learning disability.

In terms of cultural perspectives, American society has different from other cultures views. In American society, exemplary and “dominant,” people see disability as a biological problem. Compared to other cultures, Americans see disability in children as bad luck or God’s punishment for the mother’s sins (Lynch & Hanson, 2004, p. 50). In other words, people outside the USA have a relatively good perspective on disability, which means that they accept it as a normal biological phenomenon that developed in a child. Such a view assists people in overcoming the disability and finding ways to help children live with it. In contrast to other cultures, Americans see it as bad luck or punishment for parents’ sins, which means that many of the implemented strategies might not be helpful for a child in overcoming his or her disability.

In terms of the sociological perspective, there are also many views on disability. The sociological perspective implies thinking about disability within the framework of specific individual peculiarities of people with some deficiencies, instead of focusing on their weaknesses or strengths. Differences in various types of disabilities are reflected in the nature of every society (Danforth & Rhodes, 1997, p. 358). In other words, sometimes, disability is just our perception of a specific child. Because of our positive beliefs as teachers or parents will impact learning, support will help children learn smoothly and reach a goal of overcoming their disability. Finally, our beliefs will make the world become a better place for all children regardless of the kind of difficulties they might have.

In terms of the teacher’s perspective, it is commonly accepted that a teacher is a key to students’ success. Educational stakeholders should to pay closer attention to teachers’ needs because the overall goal of education is expanding children’s skills and knowledge, and preparing them to becoming good citizens. According to the research conducted by Emery and Vandenberg (2010), special education teachers help educate high-risk children, which, in turn, puts teachers at risk too. Special educators are much more likely to develop low self-efficacy and be unsatisfied with their job because of the increased job pressure and burnout (p. 126). Therefore, special education teachers leave their jobs more often in comparison with other teachers, which subsequently contributes to the shortage of professionals in the field. However, special educators’ burnout has been proven to reduce with the implementation of appropriate intervention strategies such as mentoring, stress management, and community engagement.

Another study showed that special education teachers are more likely to leave their job, and younger teachers are more likely to leave than older teachers (Boe, Bobbitt, & Cook, 1997, p. 372; Ingersoll, 2001, p. 500). This means that special education teachers face many difficulties in their career and that they are at the highest risk of stress when teaching students with disabilities. According to the study conducted by Kaff (2004), “57 percent of special educators who were considering to leave their field mentioned student caseload and a broad range of disabilities within their caseloads as contributing factors” (p. 15). In my opinion, teachers working in this field have to be patient and try to resist the workload through finding appropriate resources to assist them in teaching students with learning disabilities.

Additionally, effective teaching strategies for children with learning disabilities should always include positive reinforcement. Every time a student achieves success in the given task, a teacher should give him or her appraisal to motivate for future accomplishments. On the other hand, it is important to find appropriate reinforcement strategies that will fit different students with various deficiencies. Another effective technique is facilitating group learning since it brings all students together and places them in the context of achieving a common goal. Because of the effective interactions within a group, children tend to perform better compared to their regular achievement levels. There will also be less behavioral problems if students work in groups. The only complication for teachers is finding enough time for guiding each group in their learning activities.

The study conducted by Al-Ahmadi (2009) within the Saudi Arabian cultural context mentioned that special education teachers’ perspectives have more positive outcomes than perspectives of general education teachers (p. 127). In other words, teachers in Saudi Arabia think that learning disabilities can be diminished through the implementation of a special program designed for groups or individuals. A great example for improving children’s learning skills is increasing the surplus of special education teachers. Because special education is a new educational area in Saudi Arabia, it is important to hire more professionals to help students with disabilities. Also, the ministry of education is opening public schools for students with disabilities to provide inclusivity for all. Al-Ahmadi supported my view about students with learning problems who can learn as effectively as their peers though extra support.

To sum up, there is a large variety of perspectives on learning disabilities, which ground on different views, opinions, and beliefs. In some cultures, learning disabilities are not regarded as something bad. Furthermore, it is often thought that disability in the family is good luck, so parents do everything in their power to facilitate children’s learning experiences and help them develop new skills. It is important to mention that governments should also play a significant role in helping students with learning disabilities overcome difficulties they face on a regular basis.

Special educators’ burnout is one of the prominent issues that limit students’ performance in the classroom. Because teachers that educate children with special needs are prone to stress, extra attention should be paid to retaining them in their positions and maintaining high levels of their self-efficacy. It is important to further study intervention strategies for “ameliorating burnout for those in other helping professions that share similar job characteristics, and offer promise for addressing special education teacher burnout” (Emery & Vandenberg, 2010, p. 127).

Successful Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

The most important step is treating LD students as regular students because it will make them feel that there are no differences between them and their peers. Also, such a strategy might help them understand direct instruction and make their comprehension clearer. After that, teachers have to break the learning process into small stages to make the learning easier. Also, using diagrams, graphs, and pictures can help student read, write, and speak better. Then, teachers should provide more intensive practices to help students think more clearly. Furthermore, teachers should push student to try new experiences to make them feel independent. Engaging students into group activities is another way of enhancing their skills as a group. The last strategy is focusing on students’ individual work, which will drive them to achieve the main goal of overcoming their struggles (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2014, para. 3). Providing auditory, visual, and information processing material will be helpful for children with learning disabilities. Also, teachers should facilitate the development of new skills in spoken and written language. In addition, mathematical skills are very important for logical thinking.

Some practical advice for teaching students with learning disabilities includes:

  • Giving immediate feedback;
  • Making learning activities short, if possible. It has been found that students with learning disabilities can become frustrated if the tasks take a lot of time for completion.
  • Repeating instructions;
  • Encouraging cooperative learning;
  • Providing concise terms and explanations.

Teachers should learn more about the types of disabilities their students have to get an idea about what specific difficulties they face on a regular basis. Apart from the practical teaching techniques, it is crucial to provide students with opportunities to socially interact and collaborate with their peers in various learning activities and assignments. By giving positive feedback about their performance, and encouraging all educational opportunities, teachers will be able to facilitate the learning process and improve students’ skills. Furthermore, teachers should develop consistent routines for students with learning disabilities, so that they are prepared for any learning activities occurring in the future. Lastly, it is advised to engage parents into the educational process to create a multi-dimensional approach towards meeting students’ needs. It is important to share teaching schedules, plans, and other information so that students’ performance at school corresponds with their learning activities at home.

How Should Parents Treat Their Children with Learning Disabilities

When your child has to do better at school but cannot manage it, it is important to continue encouraging and supporting him or her. All you have to do is make the child focus on the work and try to make him or her concentrate on what exactly should be accomplished. Parents’ treatment and support are crucial than anyone’s support. Thus, parents have to become guides for their children by giving them attention and help. It is very important to facilitate communication with children. This will make them do better at school and enhance their skills. The biggest problem is not the lack of knowledge, but the lack of attention parents pay to their children. Many parents think that problems will go away with time, although it rarely happens. Christian, Morrison, and Bryant (1998) stated, “researchers have reported that parent-child interactions, specifically stimulating and responsive parenting practices, are important influences on the child’s academic development” (p. 503). In other words, parents must pay close attention to their child, and they also have to focus on specific behaviors and skills. Also, they should integrate positive communication strategies to improve children’s academic development. Finally, families are the key to children’s success because without them, the child won’t have enough knowledge to become successful in life.

One of the most important components of parenting children with learning disabilities is overcoming the challenge of differentiating children that can’t do something from children that won’t do something. Thus, parents need to see the difference between behavioral problems and learning disabilities. On the other hand, children may show signs of difficult behavior when they are confronted with a task they cannot accomplish successfully. When a given task is too complicated for him or her, the child tends to withdraw from the activity and behave badly to compensate for the lack of ability. When children state that they hate the task, it is indicative of the possible learning disability. For instance, when a child loves music, literature, and drama but hates math, it is possible that he or she has dyscalculia.

Conclusion

I would like to say that all children have the right to be educated regardless of their faith, race, or type of learning disability. To achieve better education for all children, the whole community should support families who have children with learning difficulties. However, some cultures see learning disabilities as luck. Children who have LD can overcome their weakness in academic performance through implementing a range of strategies such as direct instruction or graphic organization that teach children different concepts.

The research has shown that the most important thing is knowing the culture of children’s parents in order to understand their problems and give them enough information about the most effective strategies for overcoming learning disabilities. Teachers’ perspectives are key to students’ success. If teachers have positive beliefs in their children and set high expectations for their performance, it is likely that the goal will be achieved. However, when a teacher has a negative attitude towards learning disabilities, it is likely that students’ learning skills will not be improved. Finally, the entire community should support each other in achieving a high level of academic performance for children with disabilities, and schools should play integral roles in guiding families and their children in terms of learning and awareness.

Further research on successful learning disabilities techniques is required to examine the topic in more detail. While this research explored cultural, sociocultural, and educational perspectives on how students with learning disabilities can be supported on their educational journey, there is the lack of in-depth information on how schools and parents can cooperate and work together to help the children in overcoming the struggles associated with learning difficulties. It may also be beneficial to connect sociocultural perspectives on learning disabilities with individual approaches to students’ education to develop a multi-dimensional approach towards helping students overcome their challenges.

Lastly, the problem of many special education teachers leaving their job remains unresolved. Because schools play a key role in helping students overcome their learning disabilities, it is crucial to retain professionals in their positions so that the educational process does not slow down. Techniques for reducing special educators’ stress should be further explored because they may also potentially improve students’ learning skills and contribute to giving them more knowledge.

References

Al-Ahmadi, N. (2009). Teacher’s perspectives and attitudes towards integrating students with learning disabilities in regular Saudi public schools. Web.

Artiles, A., & Larsen, L. (1998). Learning from special education reform movements in four continents. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 13, 5-9.

Boe, E., Bobbitt, S., & Cook, L. (1997). Whither didst thou go? Retention, reassignment, migration, and attrition of special and general education teachers in national perspective. The Journal of Special Education, 30(4), 371-389

Burgstahler, S. (2012). Promoting the success of students with learning disabilities through accommodations and transition support, technology access, and universal design. Web.

Christian, K., Morrison, F., & Bryant, F. (1998). Predicting kindergarten academic skills: Interactions among child care, maternal education, and family literacy environments. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 13, 501-521.

Danforth, S., & William, R. (1997). Deconstructing disability: A philosophy for inclusion. Remedial and Special Education, 6(18), 357-366.

Emery, D., & Vandenberg, B. (2010). Special education teacher burnout and act. International Journal of Special Education, 25(3), 119-131.

Gersten, R., Fuchs, L. S., Williams, J. P., & Baker, S. (2001). Teaching reading comprehension strategies to students with learning disabilities: A review of research. Review of Educational Research, 71(2), 279-320.

Ingersoll, R. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 499-534.

Kaff, M. (2004). Multitasking is multitaxing: Why special educators are leaving the field. Preventing School Failure, 48(2), 10-17.

Learning Ally. (n.d.). About us. Web.

Learning Disabilities Association of America. (2014). Social skills and learning disabilities. Web.

Lynch, E., & Hanson, M. (2004). Developing cross-cultural competence: A guide to working with children and their families (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

NASET. (2004). Characteristics of children with learning disabilities. Web.

Smith, D. (2014). Differing perspectives on disabilities. Web.