Problems exhibited by Students with LD

Life in the classroom is different for students with learning disabilities (LD) than for their classmates. Students with LD display many atypical characteristics that tend to interfere with their behavior, performance, and learning abilities. and are frequently inconsistent in their abilities. What s/he can do today s/he may not be able to do tomorrow. They also differ from their classmates by engaging in fewer task-orientated behaviors, having lower self-concepts, and being less socially mature. Their social adjustment is important to understand because it has an affect on the individual’s ability to achieve academically.

Mainstreaming might hinder a student’s ability to succeed academically. When students with LD are pulled out of their regular education classrooms to go to the resource room, it creates social problems for the student which in turn affects their ability to learn. The student is removed from friends in the regular education class and sometimes made fun of for being in the "dummy" class down the hall. Another problem arises when the student reenters the regular education classroom in the middle of a lesson being taught. The student with LD does not follow what is going on, therefore, s/he ends up just sitting there or pursues disruptive behaviors.

Student with LD frequently have a short attention span. The student might even be labeled as having an Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). Fouse and Morrison (1997) found that teachers in mainstream classrooms may have little experience with ADD and , therefore, have unrealistic expectations for these students. This, in turn, often sets the children up for failure. Children with ADD may begin to think that there is no point in trying because their efforts rarely seem to make a difference. They perceive themselves as inadequate students unable to complete satisfactorily with peers (p. 442). Many of these children end up becoming class clowns.

Learning disabilities may lead to emotional distress. Gorman (1999) stated that students with LD, as early as Grade 3, have negative academic self-concepts that may be generalized from low self-views in specific academic subjects (p. 72). Learning disabilities have also been linked to greater anxiety and depression in children. Students with LD tend to experience more stress and frustration during adolescence due to an increased rate of academic failure and a lessened degree of self-esteem (Wong, Wiest, & Trembath, p. 58, 1998). Specifically, they tend to feel that events are happening beyond their control (Gorman, p. 73, 1999).

A case example by Gorman (1999) illustrates the negative effects that learning disabilities may have on emotional functioning. Joel, a fifth grader, was writing well below what was expected of children his age. He consistently turned in "sloppy and careless" work. His teachers also complained that Joel was very restless and inattentive in class. His parents had noticed that he had become moody. As a result, Joel was teased by his classmates because of his difficulties and received negative feedback from his teachers. He consequently felt bad about his abilities and thought negatively of school. His restlessness and inattention could be indicators of anxiety or frustration experienced as a result of his difficulties. Fine motor coordination ability may also have been hindering his work completion.

Although reading, math, social studies, science and English are separate disciplines, students with LD exhibit similar difficulties across the combined curriculum. Since all subjects incorporate aspects of the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, skill deficits in these areas affect students’ ability to succeed across the curriculum.

Contrary to popular belief, reading skill deficits are not all task specific. Children at early elementary levels suffer with a variety of reading problems that interfere with a person’s ability to build ideas and images and to relate new information to existing knowledge. Without intervention, reading skill deficits worsen as students with LD grow older and continue to impact academic success in secondary and post secondary settings.

Writing skill deficits often involve the networking system of the brain. A lapse in signals traveling throughout the human brain, directly affects grammar, hand movement, coordination, and memory. For example, a child with an expressive language deficit, might be unable to compose or complete a functional grammatical sentence (National Institutes of Health, 1993). Students may also have difficulty producing speech sounds, understanding spoken words and phrases, or simply using language skills to communicate. Young children often display a problem of expression within their speaking patterns. Speech and language problems can be some of the earliest indicators of a learning disability. A three year old child may consistently speak in two-word phrases. S/he may hand you a ball, when asked for a bell. Problems such as these can be misinterpreted, and categorized as a hearing impairment. Receptive language deficits can make a student seem inattentive. The misuse of sounds, words, and grammar can make even the simplest form of directions seem impossible.

Students with LD usually face their most difficult challenges succeeding in content area classes such as social studies. It is common in content area classes for the majority of the information to be presented through lectures, independent activities and seatwork. These instructional practices are the most difficult for students with LD because they do not have the skills needed to get useful information and comprehension from class lectures (Hudson, 1997).

Some of the symptoms that a teacher may observe in the regular education classroom may include poor performance on group tests, reversals in writing and reading, hyperactivity, slowness in completing work, disorganized thinking and a low tolerance for frustration, to name a few (McFarland, 1998). Students with LD often have poor peer relationships. Negative behavior usually results in lost opportunities such as attending field trips and participating in special activities.

Many aspects of speaking, listening, reading, writing, and arithmetic overlap and build on the same brain capabilities. Consequently, it is not surprising that people can be diagnosed as having an LD that affects more than one academic area (Elbaum, Vaughn, & Hughes, 1999). The ability to understand language coincides with the ability to speak. Any disorder can interfere with the essential skills needed to succeed academically across the board. A single gap in the brain’s operation can disrupt many cognitive functions.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the problem areas for students with mathematical learning disabilities are in calculation and reasoning. Specific factors that contribute to this are: problems in spatial relationships, visual perception, symbol recognition, language and reading problems, cognitive strategies, and social/emotional behavior.

In the areas of spatial and visual perceptions, difficulties may be present if: a) counting must be learned by manipulating objects instead of pointing to them; b) objects in sets tend to be individually counted, instead of grouped; c) geometric shapes are not perceived as complete; d) specific letters, numbers, shapes and forms cannot be copied; e) number patterns or sequences may be difficult to differentiate; and f) evidence of handwriting difficulties are present (Lerner, p. 498, 1999).

Language and reading skills affect math achievement. Mathematical terms (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), may cause difficulties for the student with LD. Language and reading skills are needed to recall, use, and compute the numerous steps involved in math calculation and math reasoning. Also, students may lack the skills and strategies required to perform specific tasks and the ability to assess a problem in order to solve it. As a result, strategies for remembering and retrieving information, organizing information, self evaluating, and problem solving are affected (Miller & Mercer, 1997).

Social and emotional characteristics of students with LD may have a profound impact on their overall performance. Anxiety is a constant companion, due to fear of failure and low self-esteem. Therefore, the ability to learn, apply, and solve math may be impaired. This results in confused thinking, disorganization, and learned helplessness (Miller & Mercer, 1997).

As with any content area, science for the student with LD is a double edge sword. On the positive side, science is often approached using a "hands on" format, which involves participating in actual activities. Students learn by "doing" and for a while the student feels connected to a successful learning experience. Unfortunately, informational text filled with unfamiliar vocabulary words, make it difficult for many students with LD to keep up with their peers. Moreover, science books tend to skim over a wide variety of topics. For students with processing deficiencies, bits and pieces may be memorized, but comprehension is lost. Compound this with poor writing skills, and assignments are not completed, or worse, not attempted. As a result, motivation is lost and negative behaviors surface.

Students with LD have many characteristics that prevent them from having functional relationships or being socially integrated with their peers in a regular classroom. Cullinan, Sabornie, and Crossland (1990) give a great definition of what it means to be socially integrated. They say "to be socially integrated means that a child is a member of a group where he or she a) is socially accepted by peers, b) has at least one reciprocal friendship, and c) is an active and equal participant in activities performed by the peer group." (p. 340).

Students with (LD) are very vulnerable to criticism by others. They frequently misinterpret what other people say to them taking it as a threat and then acting aggressively to the statement (Cullinan, Sabornie, & Crossland, 1990). They also have a tendency to be more immature and act inappropriately. The inappropriate behavior causes other students to reject him/her. S/he may then have difficulty making friends, resulting in poor relationships. The lack of friendship leaves students with LD feeling lonely and can lead to depression. It is noted that students with LD have lower self-esteem than students without LD (Heyman, 1990).

A lot of this has to do with the idea that low academic achievement has a correlation to poor self-esteem. Heyman believes that until the student can understand and accept their disability they will not progress in forming functional relationships. It is important to help students with their self-esteem as it can be a defining role in their future (Lerner, 1997). Students with LD seem to be rather poor at learning from previous experiences. In the Cullinan et al. (1990) article, the term "performance deficit" is used. Performance deficits occur when the student knows how to perform a certain behavior but does not do so appropriately. They also have problems reasoning in a deductive manner. This occurs when the child does not seem to have the appropriate answer in his or her repertoire. The student with LD has a difficult time ignoring distractions and can get absorbed in them. Cullinan et al. describe this as behavioral excess. These occur when a student does a behavior so frequently that it starts to interfere with learning.

All these characteristics lead to poor relationships and social skill deficits. Janet Lerner (1997) warns: "A social skill deficit if probably one of the most crippling type of problem a student can have." (p. 312). We need to take all these characteristics into consideration and find and use strategies that will help students with LD make more friends and have better relationships in the regular classroom.