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What do Attention Deficit Disorder, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Dyspraxia have in common? Besides the fact that they are complicated words that all start with the letter “D,” they are examples of the many learning disabilities listed in web sites specializing on this subject.
As a bona fide dyslexic who has been involved for over forty years in the education “industry,” I can say that I have had a lot of experience with this topic. I can also honestly state that I have great reservations about how we see and how we manage “learning disabilities.”
Let’s start by looking at how the dictionary defines learning disabilities:
“Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.”
Another definition is: “A Learning disability is a condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the level expected of those of the same age, especially when not associated with a physical handicap.”
Wikipedia further defines it this way: “Learning disability is a classification that includes several areas of functioning in which a person has difficulty learning in a typical manner, usually caused by an unknown factor or factors. Given the ‘difficulty learning in a typical manner,’ this does not exclude the ability to learn in a ‘different manner.’ Therefore, some people can be more accurately described as having a ‘learning difference,’ thus avoiding any misconception of being disabled with a lack of ability to learn and possible negative stereotyping.”
Even though this last definition correctly separates “learning disabilities” from “learning differences,” let us group all learning “disabilities,” “difficulties,” “disadvantages,” “dysfunctions,” “deficiencies” and “differences” collectively as “learning challenges” for the sake of simplification in this article.
Now, in order to get a clear understanding of anything, one must understand the foundational premise upon which it is based. Perhaps an example is in order here.
If someone says that a child is tall, that statement’s meaning is entirely dependent on the perspective or foundational premise of the person making it. If the person making this statement is short, for instance, the statement means something quite different from what a tall person would perceive.
Differing perspectives therefore result in different perceptions and consequent expectations of others, including children.
Similarly, any assessment respecting a “learning challenge” is always founded on inherent perspectives and assumptions. I believe there are three main premises upon which “learning challenges” are determined which must be considered when seeking to understand them.
The first one is based on the fact that “God don’t make no junk.” Those believing that there is a God and that He makes no mistakes would surely know that there are individuals with greater and lesser attributes, but at the same time would understand that it is better to help one COPE with rather than FIX learning issues.
On the other hand, believing that we are all the product of some evolutionary processes, we would have a greater tendency to think that this individual is FLAWED and in need of REPAIR.
The second assumption is based on a premise that there is such a thing as a standard by which to measure students of a particular age.
Using this manner of thinking, any child not reading by age six, for example, is likely in need of remediation and, should this continue until after puberty, the child is deemed “deficient.” Little consideration is given for variations within the human population. Conformity is expected and advanced over diversity.
The third and likely biggest assumption made respecting learning challenges is how the children are actually challenged. That is, are they actually challenged by inherent issues or external ones?
This is where my experience kicks in. By the evolutionary standard, I am both outstanding and a failure. Compared to others, I am definitely my own person, paddling my own canoe in a stream all by myself.
It used to bother me that I wasn’t like everybody else. Now I celebrate the fact that God made me unique and expects me to make a difference by being different. This is much easier than trying to meet some external, nonexistent standard or expectation!
I am indeed “challenged” by this third foundational assumption. By any measure used to determine “learning challenges,” I would most certainly collect a few “titles” describing my many issues using special coding, BUT only within a school environment.
My collective ”learning challenges” may have disabled or disadvantaged me by preventing me from “fitting” within the school’s mold, but then, more importantly, made me unique.
By not fitting neatly into one of the school’s categories, students are labeled as having “learning disabilities” and children who do not fit the school’s mold are discouraged with or penalized with disparaging labels. However, do children really have “learning disabilities” or do they have “school disabilities”?
This is a very important question to consider. You may find your child is fine just as he/she is without need to ascribe some meaningless school-based title for his/her “learning challenges.” This is not to disparage genuine learning issues, but to state that outside of the typical school environment, many of the “learning challenged” are not really “challenged” but rather “different.”
I want to end by referring to a news story I read the day after writing this article, which accurately describes my teaching experience with “learning disabilities.” In it, a teacher was quoted as saying “an increasing number of kids are facing learning disabilities” to support her demands for more funding.
Question is, has the human race changed or devolved such that more and more children now have learning issues or could it be that an increasing number of children “failing,” is more indicative of increasing school failure?
Perhaps it would be more accurate to connect the increasing numbers of “learning disabilities” with increasingly questionable and challenging societal norms being taught in school. Maybe it is simply a matter of the increasing number of “learning disabilities” directly correlating to increasing funding levels?
I believe the entire issue of “learning challenges” needs to be seriously “challenged”!
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