Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, defines learning disabilities (LD) as a "disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations."
The definition further states that LD includes perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. According to the law, LD does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; mental retardation, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
Also required is a severe discrepancy between the child's potential (as measured by IQ) and his or her current status (as measured by achievement tests).
It is unfortunate that in practice the LD child may be a student who does not fit into any other category but still has problems learning to read, spell, write, solve arithmetic problems, or function in school. This often makes LD a "dumping ground" for students who need remedial education.
How Many Students Have Learning Disabilities?
A wide range of prevalence estimates have appeared in the literature--anywhere from 1% to 30% of the general population-- perhaps reflecting the variations in definitions. The most widely agreed upon range is 2% to 3%.
What are Some Typical Characteristics of Students who Have Learning Disabilities?
Students who are learning disabled may exhibit a wide range of traits, including poor reading comprehension, spoken language, writing, and reasoning ability. Hyperactivity, inattention, and perceptual coordination problems may also be associated with LD, but are not examples of LD. Other traits that may be present include a variety of symptoms of brain dysfunction, including uneven and unpredictable test performance, perceptual impairments, motor disorders, and emotional characteristics such as impulsiveness, low tolerance for frustration, and maladjustment.
The major types of LD may be broken into disorders in four areas:
- Spoken language: Delays, disorders, and deviations in listening and speaking. --Written language: Difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling. --Arithmetic: Difficulty in performing arithmetic functions or in comprehending basic concepts. --Reasoning: Difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts.
What are the Educational Implications of Learning Disabilities?
Although there exist many teaching programs designed especially for LD children, Reynolds and Birch (1982) have suggested that the instruction required by most children who are called LD, educable mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, or behavior disordered is not readily distinguishable. A team approach is advocated to provide for their education in the mainstream setting.
Myers and Hammill (1982) underlined the importance for resource or special class teachers to match instructional systems in use in the regular classroom. Such an approach allows for discovering ways to modify the system for particular students as well as preparng them to return to the regular program.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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