What is a learning disability in Education

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1.1.Brief history

Although the federal government's involvement in learning disabilities through task forces, legislation, and funding has only been evident since the 1960s and 1970s, we can trace learning disabilities' roots back to at least the early 1800s. Thus, learning disabilities may be one of the newest categories officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, but the origins of its conceptual foundation are as longstanding, or nearly as longstanding, as many of the other disability categories. EUROPEAN FOUNDATION PERIOD (C. 1800 TO 1920) During the European Foundation Period, there were two main lines of work relevant to the field of learning disabilities. First, several groundbreaking discoveries in the field of neurology occurred during this time. Second, toward the end of this period, significant seminal articles and books on reading disabilities were published. U.S. FOUNDATION PERIOD (C.1920 TO 1960) By about the 1920s, clinicians and researchers in the United States began to take an interest in the work of the Europeans who had been studying brain-behavior relationships and children and adults with learning difficulties. The U.S. researchers focused their efforts on language and reading disabilities and perceptual, perceptual-motor, and attention disabilities. EMERGENT PERIOD (C.1960 TO 1975) From about 1960 to 1975, learning disabilities began its emergence as a formal category. It was during this period that (a) the term learning disabilities was introduced; (b) the federal government included learning disabilities on its agenda; (c) parents and professionals founded organizations for learning disabilities; and (d) educational programming for students with learning disabilities blossomed, with a particular focus on psychological processing and perceptual training. SOLIDIFICATION PERIOD (C.1975 TO 1985) The period from about 1975 to 1985 was a period of relative stability as the field moved toward consensus on the definition of learning disabilities as well as methods of identifying students with learning disabilities. It was a period of considerable applied research, much of it funded by the USOE, that resulted in empirically validated educational procedures for students with learning disabilities. There was some upheaval with respect to professional organizations, but this unrest was relatively brief. TURBULENT PERIOD (C.1985 TO 2000) During the most recent period of learning disabilities history, several things have occurred that have solidified the field of learning disabilities even further, but several issues have also threatened to tear the field apart. Driving much of the concern for the latter issues is the extraordinary growth in the prevalence of learning disabilities. From 1976-1977 to 1998-1999, the number of students identified as learning disabled has doubled. There are now more than 2.8 million students identified as learning disabled, which represents just over half of all students with disabilities (USOE, 2000). Although some (Hallahan, 1992) have argued that there may be good reasons for some of this growth, most authorities acknowledge that there is a very good chance that many children are being misdiagnosed as learning disabled. Areas in which there has been further solidification are definition, the research strands of the learning disabilities research institutes, research on phonological processing, and research on biological causes of learning disabilities. Issues contributing to the turbulence in the field include concern about identification procedures, debate over placement options, and denunciation of the validity of learning disabilities as a real phenomenon by constructivists.

1.2. What is a learning disability?

The term of "learning disabilities" is relatively new. The originator of the term is Samuel Kirk (director of the Federal Office of Education's Division of Handicapped Children between 1963 and 1964 and founding director of the Institute for research on Exceptional Children at the University of Illinois) , term which is considered to design "a neurological disorder affecting children of normal intelligence, physical intactness, emotional health and average motivation", but who are facing troubles in using certain skills and achieving success at school and in everyday life. In the first edition of his research concerning the education of exceptional children in 1962, Kirk defined learning disabilities as follows: A learning disability refers to a retardation disorder, or delayed development in one or more of the process of speech, language, reading, writing, arithmetic, or other school subject resulting from a psychological handicap caused by a possible cerebral dysfunction and/ or emotional or behavioral disturbances. It is not the result of mental retardation, sensory deprivation, or cultural and instructional factors (Kirk, 1962.p.263) There is a large amount of children who are finding hard managing their skills in the process of learning, but those with learning disabilities are confronting severe learning problems that persist throughout their lives. The society we live in is harsh and often the problem of learning difficulties can be misinterpreted and identified with mental issues. Although a learning disability can often accompany such a problem, it is not a rule as specified in the definition given by Kirk. Precisely because of learning disability can be interpreted in more ways, defining this concept has raised some problems. In addition to Kirk's definition comes the Reauthorized Definition from 1997 from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: 1.IN GENERAL- The term „ specific learning disability" means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, or do mathematical calculation. 2.DISORDERS INCLUDED- Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. 3.DISORDERS NOT INCLUDED- Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarly the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, cultural or economic disadvantage.(IDEA Amendments of 1997,p.13) Learning disabilities can varie from one child to another. One child with LD may not have the same kind of learning problems as another. It is thought that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. There are several factors that could be blamed for such a disorder. Among these, the most important to remember are: genetic factors, organic factors and environmental factors. 1. Genetic factors Evidence has shown that learning problems run in families. There are maternal factors such as the use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy that are known to have negative effects; poor prenatal medical care and nutrition and prenatal injury or delivery complications can also be responsible. 2 .Organic factors Organic factors refer to dysfunctions that may appear in the central nervous system and damage the brain known as Minimal Brain Dysfunctions. 3. Environmental factors There are several factors in the child's environment thought to affect his abilities of learning, such as poverty, nutritional deficiences as well as inadequate learning experience. For example, in economic deprived families there exist the possibility the child is never given the opportunity to go to school, and so he is a „stranger" to the domain of linguistic and cognitive activities. Din nefericire astfel de cazuri sunt din ce in ce mai multe,mai ales daca ne referim strict la situatia actuala a tarii noastre. When it comes to the experience achieved in schools, researchers agree that poor quality teaching in schools may also cause a learning disability.There are cases when the use of inappropriate materials or a teaching style that does not allow the learner enough time to acquire basic skills, moving too fast can contribute to the unsuccessfull activity of the student. There are many cases when students are labeled by teachers and colleagues as lazy or stupid, but the only problem with these children is that their brains process information in a different way. So far no treatment has been found to "cure" this condition, although children can be helped to learn successfully with appropriate support from both parents but especially from teachers. However, it is necessary for a learning disability to be discovered in time.

1.3. Signs of a learning - disabled child

Many specialists refuse to test preschoolers for such condition, considering that they should first come into contact with the school enviroment and based on their results they can further determine if a child needs therapy or not.Others, on the other hand, say otherwise, the statistics showing that a correct and careful testing may have an accuracy of 82% to 95% in determining whether a child aged five or older suffers by such a disorder. On the other hand, those who suffer from severe Attention Deficit Disorder can be more easily recognized even before starting kindergarten. Indeed, it is difficult to establish if a child under school age is learning-disabled.

What are the first signs of learning disabilities?

Children with learning disabilities present a wide range of symptoms. These include problems in reading, mathematics, comprehension, writing, speech or cognitive abilities. Hyperactivity, lack of coordination and concentration of attention may also be associated with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities usually affects five general areas: • Speech: deviations in listening and speaking. • Writing: difficulty in reading, writing and spelling. • Arithmetic: Difficulty in performing arithmetic operations or in understanding basic concepts. • Cognitive difficulties in organizing and integrating thoughts. • Memory: Difficulty remembering information and instructions. The symptoms usually related learning deficiencies are: • poor performance group tests; • difficulty in recognizing size, shape, color; • difficulty in interpreting the concepts of time; • distorted self-image; • reversals in reading and writing; • general clumsiness; • poor visual-motor coordination; • hyperactivity; • slowness in carrying out tasks; • poor organizational skills; • easily confused by instructions; • difficulty with abstract reasoning and / or solving problems; • disorganized thinking; • often remains fixed on one topic or idea; • short-term memory .

1.4. Types of learning disabilities

Much research effort has been directed toward identifying different types of learning disabilities.The most obvious broad categories are those that identify the specific skill area in which the individual is having problems: -Dyslexia(severe reading disability): A specific language-based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonological processing abilities.These difficulties in single word decoding are often unexpected in relation to age and other cognitive and academic abilities; they are not the result of generalized developmental disability or sensory impairment. Dyslexia is manifested by variable difficulty with different forms of language,often including, in addition to problems reading, a conspicious problem with acquiring proficiency in writing and spelling.(Lyon 1995a, p.9) There are two types of learning disabilities in reading. Basic reading problems occur when there is difficulty understanding the relationship between sounds, letters and words. Reading comprehension problems occur when there is an inability to grasp the meaning of words, phrases, and paragraphs. -Dyscalculia (severe problems with arithmetic and mathematics) Learning disabilities in math vary greatly depending on the child's other strengths and weaknesses. A child's ability to do math will be affected differently by a language learning disability, or a visual disorder or a difficulty with sequencing, memory or organization.  A child with a math-based learning disorder may struggle with memorization and organization of numbers, operation signs, and number "facts" (like 5+5=10 or 5x5=25). Children with math learning disorders might also have trouble with counting principles (such as counting by 2s or counting by 5s) or have difficulty telling time. -Dysgraphia(severe problems with written expressions and handwriting) -Dysortographia(severe spelling difficulties); -Dysnomia(severe problems in recalling names,symbols and vocabulary)

Other disorders that make learning difficult

Difficulty in school doesn't always stem from a learning disability. Anxiety, depression, stressful events, emotional trauma, and other conditions affecting concentration make learning more of a challenge. ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), while not considered a learning disability, can certainly disrupt learning. Children with ADHD often have problems with sitting still, staying focused, following instructions, staying organized, and completing homework. Autism - Difficulty mastering certain academic skills can stem from Pervasive Developmental Disorders such as autism and Asperger's syndrome. Children with an autism spectrum disorder may have trouble making friends, reading body language, communicating, and making eye contact.


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