Characteristics of Learning Disabilities in Students (page 3)

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

Attention Problems and Hyperactivity

Some students with learning disabilities have difficulty attending to a task and/or display high rates of purposeless movement (hyperactivity). Children who consistently exhibit this combination of behavioral traits may be diagnosed as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Behavioral Problems

Some students with learning disabilities display behavioral problems in the classroom. Research has consistently found a higher-than-normal rate of behavioral problems among students with learning disabilities (Cullinan, 2002). In a study of 790 students enrolled in K–12 learning disabilities programs in Indiana, the percentage of students with behavioral problems (15%) remained consistent across grade levels (McLeskey, 1992). Although these data definitely show increased behavioral problems among children with learning disabilities, the relationships between the students’ behavior problems and academic difficulties are not known. In other words, we do not know whether the academic deficits or the behavioral problems cause the other difficulty. And it is important to note that many children with learning disabilities exhibit no behavioral problems at all.

Regardless of the interrelationships of these characteristics, teachers and other caregivers responsible for planning educational programs for students with learning disabilities need skills in dealing with social and behavioral difficulties as well as academic deficits.

The Defining Characteristic

Although students who receive special education under the learning disabilities category are an extremely heterogeneous group, it is important to remember that the fundamental, defining characteristic of students with learning disabilities is specific and significant achievement deficits in the presence of adequate overall intelligence.

The difference between what students with learning disabilities “are expected to do and what they can do . . . grows larger and larger” over time (Deshler, Schumaker, & Lenz, 2001, p. 97). The performance gap becomes especially noticeable and handicapping in the middle and secondary grades, when the academic growth of many students with disabilities plateaus. By the time they reach high school, students with learning disabilities are the lowest of the low achievers, performing below the 10th percentile in reading, written language, and math (Hock, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1999).

The difficulties experienced by children with learning disabilities—especially for those who cannot read at grade level—are substantial and pervasive and usually last across the life span (Price, Field, & Patton, 2003). The tendency to think of learning disabilities as a “mild” disability erroneously supports “the notion that a learning disability is little more than a minor inconvenience rather than the serious, life-long condition it often is [and] detracts from the real needs of these students” (Hallahan, 1998, p. 4).

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