Problems with Academics: Communication and Learning Disorders
Pretend that you are a child in a second-grade classroom. You have an above-average IQ and you are motivated to learn. When you try to read printed text, however, you can't make sense out of the words and sentences. The print says, "Pam saw the dog play;' but you invert the m in "Pam" into a w, you reverse the letters in "saw" to read "was," and you leave out the I in "play." To you, the sentence reads, "Paw was the dog pay." What sense does that make? After struggling day after day, you begin to give up. While other children are reading their books, you just sit and look around. And because so much of the information and instruction given in school involves reading, you are falling behind in most of your subjects. The teacher thinks you have an attention deficit, your classmates call you "stupid," and your parents wonder if you are just lazy. Inside, you know they are all wrong, but you can't figure out why you are having so much trouble. Actually, you are showing signs of a reading disorder—but it may be a long time before you get an official diagnosis and any real help with your difficulties in school.
Unless you have experienced a communication or learning disorder yourself, it is hard to imagine the frustrations that children with these problems feel every day in school. They are just as smart as other children and can learn just as fast as other children, but in some specific area they have significant difficulty with language or learning. They fall behind in school, they may feel rejected by their classmates, and their self-esteem plummets. Many withdraw, show signs of depression or anxiety, or act out in school. Among adolescents with learning disorders, the high school dropout rate is about 40% (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
The table below describes the main communication and learning disorders. In communication disorders children have significant difficulty producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding what other people say (Mash & Wolfe, 2005). Learning disorders (often referred to as learning disabilities) involve diffficulties with specific skills such as reading, mathematics, or writing. With both types of disorders, children tend to have average to above-average intelligence. They should be capable of learning quickly in school, but their disorder slows them down and disrupts their performance. Communication and learning disorders are also highly connected.
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