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Learning Disabilities: Sorting Fact From Fiction

About Disabilities - Causes of Disabilities icon_podcastsThe following is a transcription of the podcast, “Learning Disabilities: Sorting Fact from Fiction (audio).”

In this podcast, Dr. Sheldon Horowitz answers questions about some of the myths and facts connected to learning disabilities (LD). He also talks about key qualities shared by successful individuals. And, learn how parents and educators can help students with LD to stay motivated and positive.

This is the second in a three-part series developed with the Student Success Collaborative.

Karen Golembeski: Welcome. This podcast series is brought to you by the Student Success Collaborative. The Student Success Collaborative is made up of City Year, One Global Economy, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Teachers without Borders, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The Student Success Collaborative and this podcast series are funded by the Cisco Systems Foundation.

My name is Karen Golembeski and I’m the assistant director of education programs at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. This podcast is part of a three-part series on the basics of learning disabilities with questions provided by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and Teachers without Borders’ networks of educators across the country.

Our guest today is my colleague, Dr. Sheldon Horowitz. He is the director of LD Resources and Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities and he’s essentially our in-house expert on LD.

Today’s podcast is on the topic of learning disabilities, sorting fact from fiction.

Welcome, Dr. Horowitz.

Even though [students identified with] learning disabilities make up 50% of the students receiving special education services in the United States, many myths about learning disabilities still exist. Will you sort some of the facts from fiction for us?

Sheldon Horowitz: Sure. I’d be happy to speak about some of the mythology, some of the misunderstandings about learning disabilities. It’s true that almost half of all children who receive any kind of special education services in the United States are classified as having specific learning disabilities. And it is pretty remarkable that there’s still so much confusion about what LD is and is not. As recently as 2010, there was a Roper poll survey done where we learned that individuals, parents, educators and others, still confuse learning disabilities with other disorders including mental retardation, below-average intellectual functioning. They even confuse LD with sensory impairment such as blindness and deafness. And [they] attribute learning disabilities to laziness and lack of motivation. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Learning disabilities are, in the words of a renowned researcher, islands of weakness in a sea of strength. One of the graduating high school seniors with learning disabilities who is this year’s Anne and Allegra Ford Scholarship winner whose essay you can read on our LD.org website describes her brain as a computer with a glitch—still able to process information, still able to get the job done, but in ways that are different and often unexpected. Average students liken their learning disabilities, their struggles with learning, to driving a car with a missing gear in the transmission. Or figuring out how to get somewhere when street signs are confusing or the rules of the road change depending upon where they are and things change from one block to the next. And listen to what one young student told me about his learning disabilities. He said that learning disabilities are what I have, and not what I am. So the take-away message here is that [having] learning disabilities is not a prescription for failure but rather a hurdle or a set of challenges that once understood by the person, by his parents, by individuals, teachers in school, can be worked around with targeted instruction, meaningful accommodations, high expectations, and a network of support.

Karen Golembeski: I’ve often heard you advise those with learning disabilities to become successful and comfortable with talking about their learning disabilities and what they need from others to be successful. Why is it so important to let people know about your learning disability?

Sheldon Horowitz: It’s a very good question. If you were to look around the room and just try to pick out someone who you thought had learning disabilities, what would you be looking for? Would it be someone who was left-handed, someone wearing glasses, someone who you knew avoided doing math or someone who wasn’t a particularly avid reader? The truth is that there isn’t a sure-fire list of characteristics that typify everybody with learning disabilities, and LD manifests itself differently in different people. It’s not necessarily something that you notice unless the person with the learning disability is doing something like reading or spelling or math or those kinds of tasks that would demonstrate the kinds of trouble that they have that model their particular areas of weakness. People wouldn’t know about the presence of a learning disability necessarily unless it was made mention of and it could easily be mistaken for a reluctance to read, or a poor math learning ability, or spelling errors, or note-taking problems that were reflective not of the LD, but that were translated improperly as laziness or even a lack of effort.

During school years, the school is responsible for seeking out students with LD and making sure that they have the instruction and the support they need to succeed. However once a student has graduated from high school and moved on to college or to the workplace, the responsibility to disclose the presence of a learning disability and ask for help lies completely with the individual. This is a very important distinction, and for more information about when to share the presence of a learning disability, to whom you might share, how it’s best done, visit the LD.org website.

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Tags: id-ld