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The Reasons Why All Programs Aimed at Treating Learning Disabilities Fail

Learning disability is not a disease; however, it directly impacts the life of a child or adult diagnosed with it. Even though numerous efforts are devoted to identifying students with learning disabilities and developing prevention techniques, number of children with learning disabilities tends to increase. The problem is similar to the eating disorders. However, there is one sufficient difference: eating disorders are effectively treated with the help of dietician and psychologist, while learning disabilities are much harder to detect and treat. Researchers hypothesize that learning disabilities are treated ineffectively because there is lack of understanding the causes of learning disabilities development. Teachers as well as parents do not pay enough attention to their children and fail to identify the development of learning disabilities on the early stage.

There are several definitions of learning disability as well as several explanations why learning disability develops. According to Linda Elksnin and Nick Elksnin, learning disability is a “chronic condition of presumed neurological origin which selectively interferes with the development, integration, and demonstration of verbal and nonverbal abilities”. Moreover, learning disabilities are referred to as distinct handicapping condition which can vary in manifestation and degree of severity. The learning disability affects the self-esteem, education, socialization, and daily activities. Children and adults with learning disabilities experience significant problems with listening, speaking, writing, reasoning, and social skills. It is believed that learning disabilities are caused by the central nervous system dysfunction, however, the causes of its development are not fully investigated. It was researched that learning disability can occur along with other conditions such as sensory impairment or mental retardation as well as in the result of socio-environmental influences (cultural differences or inappropriate instruction) (Elksnin, p. 4).

According to the report prepared by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, the responsiveness to intervention depends from individual to individual and there is no universal technique to prevent the development of learning disabilities (“Responsiveness to Intervention and Learning Disabilities”, p. 249). The underlining assumption of cause-effect condition in the context of learning disabilities is whether the teaching and learning processes contribute to increased learning and appropriate progress for children with learning disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 requires generation of data to inform instruction and identify students who may need special education and related services. The number of students with learning disabilities is increasing because insufficient attention is being paid to students with special needs.

Early intervention when the academic difficulties of students experienced for the first time are detected, the goal of prevention strategies should be on improving the achievement of students. Students who experience low achievement or are identified to be at risk of having learning disabilities should be provided with immediate quality instruction and remedial services. According to the report “Responsiveness to Intervention and Learning Disabilities”, the following techniques have proved to be highly effective: research based instruction support in general education, scientific interventions focused on individual student difficulties, use of collaborative approach by school staff for development and implementation of intervention processes, continuous monitoring of student performance, documentation of parent involvement, and systematic assessment of progress.

However, the implementation of the above vital intervention techniques is effective only at the early stage of identification. Douglas Fuchs and Caresa Young support the assumption that early intervention with children leads to the “stronger school performance and to fewer special education referrals (p. 9). Fuchs and Young raise important questions whether teachers need to implement scientifically validated instruction with fidelity, whether they can correctly identify students with learning disabilities, whether the school districts are ready to deploy more intensive instructions for such students, and whether the teachers are empowered to monitor the performance of children effectively. Current measures of learning abilities do not reflect the real academic performance. Reading performance, in particular, is predicted from IQ scores. However, there is a lot of reliable evidence pointing out that children with low IQ are not poor readers.

Another study revealed that poor results of intervention strategies are caused by the ignorance of the fact that learning disabilities are accompanied by academic and central auditory disabilities, hardships with language processing and sensory integration abilities (Kruger, Hugo and Campbell, p. 96). The authors point out that children with language disorders, learning disorders and sensory integration dysfunction cannot be viewed and treated in an isolated manner because all of above disabilities should be seen under an umbrella syndrome condition. It is assumed that multimodal approach for both diagnosis and intervention would be more effective compared to the current treatment options. The research conducted by Kruger, Hugo and Campbell supports the hypothesis that current prevention techniques are not effective and that is why the number of students with learning disabilities increases every year.

Children are more likely to develop learning disabilities compared to adult. Moreover, school students are less likely to receive adequate instruction that addresses their understanding goals and provides the necessary support to achieve academic performance (Moroccos, Hindin, Mata-Aguilar, and Clark-Chiarelli, p. 48). The current treatment methods are focused on providing instructional design and support which does not take into account the literacy challenges faced by students with learning disabilities. It is an established fact that students with learning disabilities are less likely to become strategic readers and writers, they are not able to use the comprehension strategies used by other students intuitively. As the result, students with learning disabilities get less knowledge from reading and writing. Some of the students experience problems with expressing their ideas and lack focusing and organizing skills. Are there any programs to help such students? Yes, there are many programs aimed at improving comprehension. Are these programs effective? No, these programs are not effective because they fail to take into account the individual problems of each student.

Stage and Milne conducted a research which revealed the attitude of students with learning disabilities towards institutional factors which affect their experiences. According to the research, all of the students developed their own sets of coping strategies that helped them to study at academic institutions. Notably, the strategies developed by students are very different from the strategies developed by scientists! This fact points out the failure of current programs to address the needs of students with learning disabilities. Many of the students described that they had to cope with the view of themselves intellectually and academically. They received no support even though their learning disability was evident. This is the reason why current prevention and treatment methods are not effective – they are not focused on students.

Moreover, the existing programs aimed at helping students with learning disabilities are harmful to some persons. This is because “remediation efforts are focused on the supported, specific disability rather than its interactions with other parts of the system” (Zera and Lucian, p. 108). The number of students with learning disabilities increases because there is no comprehensive assessment that explores the wide range of cognitive functions. Most of the teachers do not even notice that students experience learning difficulties. The personal self-organization allows the students to view their disability from a macro level. Self-organization offers a better, more complete and comprehensive explanation of learning disability by acknowledging the dynamic nature of brain adaptation. Ironically, students are more effective in helping themselves compared to scientifically-based prevention methods. However, not all students are able to overcome their learning disability without outside assistance. This is another reason why the number of students with learning disabilities increases.

Another aspect of the problem is related to the fact that students with learning disabilities experience social skill deficits (Kavale and Mostert, p. 31). Such students feel undervalued and it is harder for them to communicate with peers and get involved into social life. Children, in particular, have difficulty with the perception of the total social field, the perception of self in relation to the behavior of others (Cartledge, p. 179). Parents of children with learning disabilities believe that social skills are at least as essential for their children as academic competence (Elias, p. 53).

In conclusion, it is clear that the failure to treat learning disabilities is caused by the ineffective prevention strategies. There are special programs for students with learning disabilities, however, these programs do not address individuals and are too general in scope. In most cases, children with learning disabilities have to learn by themselves how to act in society and how to improve their academic performance. Social skills, in particular, are lacking among most of students with learning disabilities and they feel deficient because they do not how to associate themselves with the rest of society. Learning disorders are not treated effectively due to insufficient attention to students with learning disabilities.

Annotated bibliography

Cartledge, Gwendolyn. “Learning Disabilities and Social Skills: Reflections.” Learning Disability Quarterly 28.2 (2005): 179-183.

The article is an overview of the relationship between learning disabilities and social skills. The author provides the reflection on the problems experienced by people with learning disabilities and provides the recommendation on how to improve the situation.

Elias, Maurice. “The Connection between Social-Emotional Learning and Learning Disabilities: Implications for Intervention.” Learning Disability Quarterly 27.1 (2004): 53-67.

Maurice Elias talks about the connection between social-emotional learning and learning disabilities and provides recommendation for intervention strategies. The research covered by the author provides interesting insights on the problems experienced by people with learning disabilities.

Elksnin, Linda and Elksnin Nick. “The Social-Emotional Side of Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 27.1 (2004): 3-13.

The article provides a foundation for the research on learning disorders. Numerous studies are referenced. The authors focused on social-emotional side of learning disabilities. Definitions of learning disorders are provided as well as policy recommendation is given.

Fuchs, Douglas and Caresa Young. “On the Irrelevance of Intelligence in Predicting Responsiveness to Reading Instruction.” Exceptional Children 73.1 (2006): 8-39.

The authors question the effectiveness of intelligence in predicting responsiveness to reading instruction. The article provides very interesting insights on learning disabilities with the special emphasis being made on the assumption that IQ tests and other intelligences do not reflect the real problem of learning disorders. Moreover, the IQ scores proved to be ineffective measures of learning abilities.

Kavale, Kenneth and Mark Mostert. “Social Skills Interventions for Individuals with Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 27.1 (2004): 31-48.

The authors cover the development of social skills of individuals with learning disabilities. The conducted research reveals that people with learning disabilities experience problems with integration into social life because they feel themselves deficient.

Kruger, Retha, Kruger, Johann, Hugo, Rene and Nicole Campbell. “Relationship Patterns between Central Auditory Processing Disorders and Language Disorders, Learning Disabilities and Sensory Integration Dysfunction.” Communication Disorders Quarterly 22.2 (2001): 87-100.

The article covers the relationship patters between central auditory processing disorders and language disorders, between learning disability and sensory integration dysfunction. The authors conducted a research and found out that learning disabilities cannot be viewed separately. The effective treatment can be achieved, however, different aspects need to be taken into account.

Morocco, Nancy, Hindin, Nancy, Mata-Aguilar, Cynthia, and Nancy Clark-Chiarelli. “Building a Deep Understanding of Literature with Middle-Grade Students with Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 24.1 (2001): 47 – 64.

The article is focused on understanding the existing literature on middle-grade students with learning disabilities. The authors assume that the current prevention techniques are ineffective in preventing and treating students with learning disabilities. Information presented by authors is of high validity and can be used for broader research on learning disabilities among students

“Responsiveness to Intervention and Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly (2005): 249-269.

A very detailed overview of learning disabilities and prevention techniques. The article is presented in a form of a report prepared by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities. The authors provide an overview of prevention techniques and assess their effectiveness. In particular, the roles of teachers and parents are evaluated.

Stage, Frances and Nancy Milne. “Invisible Scholars: Students with Learning Disabilities.” Journal of Higher Education 67.4 (1996): 426-440.

The article covers the study investigating the feelings and self-evaluation of students with learning disabilities. In the result of the study it was revealed that most of the students with learning disabilities have learned how to cope with their problems without outside help. The research is based on information gathered from interviews.

Zera, David and David Lucian. “Self-Organization and Learning Disabilities: A Theoretical Perspective for the Interpretation and Understanding of Dysfunction.” Learning Disability Quarterly 24.2 (2001): 107-125.

The article covers the issue of learning disabilities in the context of self-organization. Students with learning disabilities receive no outside assistance and the only way to stay good learners is to develop self-organization techniques. The authors raised an importance question of ineffectiveness of programs aimed at helping student with learning disabilities