How Can Learning Disabilities Be Prevented
Prevention is usually described as primary, secondary, or tertiary, depending on when and why preventive action is taken. The prevention of learning disabilities may involve all three types.
Primary prevention means keeping the disability from occurring in the first place. Primary prevention in learning disabilities might involve reducing the chances of brain injury, improving teachers' skills in instruction and behavior management, or teaching parents child-rearing skills. For primary prevention to work, the strategy must be aimed at reducing or eliminating the cause(s) of learning disabilities or protecting against causal factors.
For example, it was too late to do primary prevention of the difficulties noticed in kindergarten by Jamal's teacher. After problems emerge, it is too late for primary prevention.
We caution that even if primary prevention is implemented—including good instruction—learning disabilities will occur. Primary prevention may reduce the number of children who have learning disabilities or lessen the severity of the disabilities, but it will not eliminate learning disabilities (the same statement can be made regarding primary prevention of any type of disability; see Kauffman, 1999, 2003). Thus, primary prevention is important in keeping the prevalence of learning disabilities as low as possible. However, it is a mistake to assume that it will reduce the prevalence to zero.
Secondary prevention means correcting the disability after it occurs, or at least keeping it from getting worse. Remedial instruction is a secondary preventive strategy. In fact, most of the interventions for learning disabilities involve secondary prevention, because the child's learning problems have been noticed and the aim is to correct the problems or prevent them from getting worse. If a special education teacher works not only with students already identified as having learning disabilities but also with others who are struggling academically but have not yet been identified, the teacher may be practicing secondary prevention, both with labeled students and those not labeled as having learning disabilities.
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