The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Learning Disabilities

Learning  disabilities and testing to detect them  has  come

under  scrutiny  lately because it seems to have  gotten  out  of

hand.   What started as a good idea became mired in  bureaucratic

regulations  and  laws  to  the point  where  the  test  and  the

associate  paperwork became more important than the  student  and

his  needs.   There  is a parallel in medicine.   The  doctor  no

longer looks at the individual patient and attempts to understand

him.   Instead  he  places his faith and  diagnosis  in  numerous

impersonal tests.  His tests, he feels, are much more valid  than

what  the  patient says and how he feels.  The   student  with  a

learning disability or a patient with an affliction is no  longer

unique  requiring a unique approach. Rather he is  a  statistical

entity requiring a computer printout solution of his problem.

The result of this kind of thinking is vividly  demonstrated

by the experience of New York’s prestigious Dalton School.   This

school  received  a large endowment for early  identification  of

learning disabled children.  What they looked for they found.  In

one  three-year period, 36% of 5-year-olds with a mean IQ of  132

were  labeled  as needing remedial help.   Remediation  means  to

correct  something that is wrongly learned.  Since they  had  not

started to learn the curriculum, how could they be wrong?

The parallel in medicine is that if the doctor gives  enough

tests, he will eventually find something irregular.  In fact,  if 

every  person  in the country, whether sick or  not,  were  given

enough  tests,  there  would be  something  irregular  found  for

everyone.   The  “healthy average” is a  statistical  abstraction

which   never  exists  in  the  real  population.   Most   people

understand  their  bodies well enough to know when  something  is

seriously  wrong.   Nobody has a perfect body but that  is  okay.

That is why people choose different professions.  We are not  all

going to be tennis champs or astronauts.

The  same can be said for children’s learning.  None  of  us

came  out of the womb perfect but we have learned to  compensate.

We do it so well that we assume that is the way everyone  learns.

Our  learning styles, temperaments, and ways of compensating  for

our  limitations all affect how we learn.  No way is  necessarily

better  than another–they are just different and  unique.   What

makes us unique also makes us think differently and come up  with

unique solutions to problems.   If we were all tested so that  we

could  be  given the same uniform curriculum, we  would  be  like

robots without an original thought among us.  Such a system could

not produce original thinkers like Feynman and Einstein.
The  teacher’s job is to provide the program best suited  to

each  child.   A good teacher can tell you more about  a  child’s

learning style than any test.  When a good teacher finds a  child

not  learning, she finds another way to teach that child so  that

he  does  learn.   She has a repertoire of skills  and  needs  no

specialist  to  tell  her that the child is  not  learning.   She

already knows that.  The learning disability specialist functions

best when she is a resource for the teacher and provides her with                  

information to help her and her students succeed.  The  solution,

especially  for  very  young children, might merely  be  for  the

teacher  to  slow the program down and to wait  for  the  child’s

normal development to catch up.

If  your kindergarten child is being assessed by a  learning

specialist with screening tests, find out what is the purpose  of

the  tests and what the school is going to do with  the  results.

Some  children  do not take tests well.  Some children  are  very

cautious and do not relate well to the stranger giving the  test.

As a result, many of these tests results are not valid.  You  are

your  child’s advocate.  Protect him so that he keeps his  unique

view of the world and eventually can contribute in his own unique

way.  Do not lose confidence in him as a learner.

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