For centuries, the education of children with learning disabilities has been a problem and a challenge. Many methods of teaching have been proposed, yet every day there are new techniques and strategies on how to achieve the maximum success of these children. The problem of educating a child cannot be solved quickly and easily, rather it requires much careful analysis and research. Workers in this field are developing new theories on a day-to-day basis. All the methods proposed seem to be the answer, yet the problem is not yet solved. Meanwhile, we must determine the best strategies for the most effective method of teaching a child with learning disabilities.
Children whom we are discussing are those who are sometimes thought to be unprogressive or otherwise not achieving as well as they should at their age level in school. They are usually average children who experience extreme difficulty in learning how to read or to do mathematical problems, or who have difficulty in handling a pencil, buttoning buttons, or tying shoelaces. They can be harshly teased by their classmates for clumsiness or “stupidity,” and are frequently labeled as “disciplinary” problems by their teachers because they may act up in class in an attempt to blend in their lack of preparation. Their disabilities are often not recognized and many times these children grow up and go through life, still impaired, still making adjustments, never having been helped because the nature of their disability had not been recognized. Children with learning and behavioral difficulties have a lot in common with all children. They rarely exhibit any kinds of learning and behavior characteristics that are not also seen in the typical child. For example, many times they cannot tell the difference between similar letters or numbers.
Many children also exhibit visual perceptual problems during their early exposure of reading instruction, but most children soon learn the appropriate visual discrimination and the associated letter sound, etc. However, it is the children that continue to experience these problems that are diagnosed as having learning difficulties. The proper identification of a learning problem is only the first step in the redemption process. Before the data obtained from testing and from subjective observations can have prescriptive value, it must be properly interpreted and analyzed correctly. There are so many cases where children are labeled as immature or unenthusiastic and they are given no special attention or care. When the term “immaturity” is used by educators to describe a child, the description does not in any way offer insight into the source of the child’s disability or problem. Today, there are so many terms that are used to refer to children who have difficulties comprehending materials and who have atypical behavioral skills. These include terms such as handicapped, disabled, exceptional, impaired, disordered, special, and developmentally delayed. These are general terms, however, it is those terms that actually specify the problem that often get confused. Placing a label on this child is telling those around the child to treat him in a different way than other children. There is substantial research that teachers act differently toward children for whom they have low expectations. Over time, the child’s behavior and achievement conforms to the teacher’s expectations. By labeling a child, not only will the educator deal with the child differently, but also other children will also immediately act differently toward the child because they think something is wrong. By other children acting differently this will eventually cause a change in the way the child perceives himself. The child will look at himself in a different way. He will think of himself as bad. Now that he is labeled he is no longer an individual, his uniqueness is lost. Labeling the child does not explain why he doesn’t learn, and it does not indicate the actual problem. To label a child is to take away his identity .
In order for the actual problem to be pinpointed, the child has to go through a series of examinations and evaluations. After the child is tested he is directed to the type of class that will give him what he is missing. It is at this point where we hope that there will be a successful remediation and that this child will eventually be able to enter the mainstream (an attempt to keep a learning disabled child with a peer group in the appropriate grade). The type of classroom that the child is placed in emerges from the reports of the various special disciplines and from the actual evaluations and assessment tests. The child is looked at informally whether he is cooperative during sessions and the length of his attention span. He is also evaluated formally through a variety of tests. When placing a child there are many things to consider. The child’s ability in language skills is an important area in determining his intelligence; that is, being able to count to ten or recite the alphabet, enumerate the days in the week and the months of the year. In addition, the evaluators often prefer to get an idea of whether the child is familiar with his/her surroundings. Questions such as, determining the day of the week, are often helpful to see whether or not the child is alert. Many of the informal tests are dependent upon the child’s age. A child who is five would surely be expected to know less that a child who is ten years of age. Another factor that interests many evaluators is the child’s ability to identify shapes, colors, and body parts. The final part of most of the informal testing techniques is to test the child’s writing abilities. First the child is asked to write simple things such as his name, address, birthday, telephone number, etc. The smallest facts that would be considered the least important usually end up determining the child’s placement. If his writing is extremely large or small, it is often an indication of an emotional problem.
Questions about the family and the child’s background may give the evaluator a good idea of what type of environment the child is growing up in. Often it is ascertained that one’s environment has a large affect on his performance. Lastly, the child is asked to either repeat a story that he saw on television or on the street. If the child is unable to do this it indicates to us that either the child doesn’t understand what he is watching or what he understands, or that he is just unable to express his recollection and thoughts. The formal tests are more clinical. The child is asked to complete a puzzle so that the evaluator can get a sense of the child’s visual-motor skills. The complexity of the puzzle used is determined by the age of the child and the reason for referral. Then the child is usually given all sorts of visual and mathematical tests. After the testing, both formal and informal, is complete, then, depending on the child’s performance, he is either continued forward or backward to assess the exact grade level of what he has accomplished. He may be lacking in some areas and ahead in others. There are often many problems in pinpointing the exact method of teaching which would best fit the child’s needs. Many schools work together to find the best methods, and they share information which they feel might help other schools to successfully teach these children.
Today, throughout the educational system, there are many techniques used to teach children with learning problems. Things cannot just be taught to them; rather they must be fully presented to them through visual materials. It is important to allow for all kinds of expression, not just the basic reading/writing techniques. There are so many ways to teach them, there is no one simple solution to the problems of the learning disabled child. The teacher is where it all begins. His/her attitude toward the children and his/her desire to teach has been proven to be the factors in the success rate of the students. The teacher must want these children to achieve their best. If the teacher doesn’t care, it is basically guaranteed that these children will be unsuccessful and develop a negative attitude toward themselves. If the teacher does not expect a lot from the student it could result in reinforcing the child’s learning and behavior problems. The focus in a special classroom should be much different than the focus in a normal class. In today’s school the focus is the outcome, not the effort that the child puts in. It is said, when teaching special education children we must take a different approach. We must focus on their strengths, on those areas in which they are most successful. If a child is not successful academically, however he is a good athlete, we must give him the confidence that he needs by praising his athletic abilities. Everyone needs positive feedback in order to build self-confidence and in order to be successful.
Throughout the development of the educational system, children with disabilities were placed in special classrooms. However, lately, the trend has been changing and it has been moving toward integrating the children into a regular classroom. Programs that integrate children seem to eliminate the stigmatizing effects of segregated programs, and follow the least restrictive feature of the law. The immediate problem in providing an integrated setting for preschoolers is that most public schools do not offer programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. Therefore, preschoolers with disabilities are generally placed in segregated classrooms. Some investigators report that integrated classrooms are effective. Others think that more research is needed to evaluate the quality of services for young children with disabilities in integrated settings. There are so many other means of teaching children with learning disorders. Programs that are home-based, where the parents become the child’s primary teacher, have been suggested and have many advantages. Here the parent must be fully involved and much time must be dedicated. In center-based programs, the parent (or school-arranged transportation) brings the child to a central facility. The services at the facility are geared specifically toward children with disabilities. Combination services are flexible programs that provide services at home and in a center. These are only a few examples of the types of services that are offered to learning disabled children. As technology advances more programs have been devised and are continuously progressing.
Overall, it may be concluded that the method of teaching and assessing a learning disabled child is determined by the capabilities of the child himself. There is a growing concern for children and youth with learning disabilities who have extreme difficulty both academically and in other areas despite their mental capability. The inquiry of the youngster who encounters extraordinary difficulty in learning, however, is not in anyway new. Throughout the years, children from all different surroundings and backgrounds have experienced difficulties in learning. Researchers and investigators have been trying to solve this problem. However, as of now, we may only come to one conclusion, that the best way to teach these children is to bring them up in a surrounding where they learn to develop a positive attitude toward themselves. The child must want to thrive and achieve his best. Whichever teaching method is chosen, whether it is mainstreaming or home-based, and the educator must have high expectations in order so that the child will gain self-confidence. This is only a guide, for it is clearly not a solution. It is most likely that a solution will never be found but rather we must work with each child as an individual so that he/she may reach his/her potential and achieve maximum success.