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Characteristics of Learning Disabilities in Students (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Written Language Deficits

Many students with learning disabilities have problems with writing and spelling. When compared to their peers without disabilities, students with learning disabilities perform significantly lower across most written expression tasks, especially vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, and spelling (Newcomer & Barenbaum, 1991). Some students have a specific disability with written language.

Compounding the weak language base that many students with learning disabilities bring to the writing task is an approach to the writing process that involves minimal planning, effort, and metacognitive control (Englert et al., 1991; Graham & Harris, 1993). Many of these students use a “retrieve-and-write” approach in which they retrieve from immediate memory “whatever seems appropriate and write it down” (De La Paz & Graham, 1997, p. 295). They seldom use the self-regulation and self-assessment strategies of competent writers: setting a goal or plan to guide their writing, organizing their ideas, drafting, self-assessing, and rewriting. As a result, they produce poorly organized compositions containing a few poorly developed ideas (Sexton, Harris, & Graham, 1998).

Fortunately, the writing and spelling skills of most students with learning disabilities can be improved through strategy instruction, frequent opportunities to practice writing, and systematic feedback (Alber & Walshe, 2004; Goddard & Heron, 1998; Graham & Harris, 2003; Marchisan & Alber, 2001; Scott & Vitale, 2003; Williams, 2002).

Math Underachievement

Numerical reasoning and calculation pose major problems for many students with learning disabilities. Students with learning disabilities perform lower than normally achieving children with every type of arithmetic problem at every grade level (Cawley, Parmar, Foley, Salmon, & Roy, 2001). Deficits in retrieving number facts and solving story problems are particularly evident (Jordan & Hanich, 2000; Ostad, 1998). The math competence of students with learning disabilities progresses about 1 year for every 2 years in school, and the skills of many children plateau by age 10 or 12 (Cawley, Parmar, Yan, & Miller, 1998).

Given these difficulties, it is not surprising that more than 50% of students with learning disabilities have IEP goals in math (Kavale & Reese, 1992). As with reading and writing, explicit, systematic instruction that provides guided, meaningful practice with feedback usually improves the math performance of students with learning disabilities (e.g., Fuchs & Fuchs, 2003; Gagnon & Maccini, 2001; Owen & Fuchs, 2002; Marsh & Cooke, 1996; Witzel, Mercer, & Miller, 2003).

Social Skills Deficits

After reviewing 152 different studies, Kavale and Forness (1996) concluded that about 75% of students with learning disabilities exhibit deficits in social skills. Poor social skills often lead to rejection, low social status, fewer positive interactions with teachers, difficulty making friends, and loneliness—all of which are experienced by many students with learning disabilities regardless of classroom placement (Haager & Vaughn, 1995; Ochoa & Palmer, 1995; Pavri & Monda-Amaya, 2000). The poor social skills of students with learning disabilities may be due to inability to perceive emotions of others, specifically nonverbal affective expressions (Most & Greenbank, 2000).

Some students with learning disabilities, however, experience no problems getting along with their peers and teachers. For example, Sabornie and Kauffman (1986) reported no significant difference in the sociometric standing of 46 learning disabled high school students and 46 peers without disabilities. Moreover, they discovered that some of the students with learning disabilities enjoyed socially rewarding experiences in inclusive classrooms.

One interpretation of these contradictory findings is that social competence and peer acceptance are not characteristics of learning disabilities but outcomes of the different social climates created by teachers, peers, parents, and others with whom students with learning disabilities interact (Vaughn, McIntosh, Schumm, Haager, & Callwood, 1993). Researchers have begun to identify the types of problems experienced by children with learning disabilities who are ranked low in social acceptance and to discover instructional arrangements that promote the social status of students with learning disabilities in the regular classroom (Bryan, 1997; Court & Givon, 2003; Vaughn, Elbaum, & Schumm, 1996).

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