People with learning disabilities and disorders can learn strategies for coping with their disabilities. Getting help earlier increases the likelihood for success in school and later in life. If learning disabilities remain untreated, a child may begin to feel frustrated with schoolwork, which can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and other problems.1
Usually, experts work to help a child learn skills by building on the child's strengths and developing ways to compensate for the child's weaknesses.2 Interventions vary depending on the nature and extent of the disability.
Special Education Services
Children diagnosed with learning and other disabilities can qualify for special educational services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) requires that the public school system provide free special education supports to children with disabilities.3
In most states, each child is entitled to these services beginning when he or she is 3 years old and extending through high school or until age 21, whichever comes first. The specific rules of IDEA for each state are available from the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.
IDEA states that children must be taught in the least restrictive environments appropriate for them. This means the teaching environment should be designed to meet a child's specific needs and skills and should minimize restrictions on the youngster's access to typical learning experiences.
A child who qualifies for special education services should receive his or her own Individualized Education Program, or IEP. This personalized and written education plan4:
- Lists individualized goals for the child
- Specifies the plan for services the youngster will receive
- Lists the specialists who will work with the child
Qualifying for Special Education
To qualify for special education services, a child must be evaluated by the school system and meet specific criteria outlined in federal and state guidelines. To learn how to have a child assessed for special services, parents and caregivers can contact a local school principal or special education coordinator. Parents can also visit these Web resources:
Interventions for Specific Learning Disabilities
Below are just a few examples of ways educators help children with specific learning disabilities.
- Special teaching techniques. These can include helping a child learn through multisensory experiences and by providing immediate feedback to strengthen a child's ability to recognize words.
- Classroom modifications. For example, teachers can give students with dyslexia extra time to finish tasks and provide taped tests that allow the child to hear the questions instead of reading them.
- Use of technology. Children with dyslexia may benefit from listening to books on tape or using word-processing programs with spell-check features.
- Special tools. Teachers can offer oral exams, provide a note-taker, and/or allow the child to videotape reports instead of writing them.
- Use of technology. A child with dysgraphia can be taught to use word-processing programs or an audio recorder instead of writing by hand.
- Other ways of reducing the need for writing. Teachers can provide notes, outlines, and preprinted study sheets.
- Visual techniques. For example, teachers can draw pictures of word problems and show the student how to use colored pencils to differentiate parts of problems.
- Use of memory aids. Rhymes and music are among the techniques that can be used to help a child remember math concepts.
- Use of computers. A child with dyscalculia can use a computer for drills and practice.
- Quiet learning environment. To help a child deal with sensitivity to noise and distractions, educators can provide the youngster with a quiet place for tests, silent reading, and other tasks that require concentration.
- Alerting the child in advance. For example, a child who is sensitive to noise may benefit from knowing in advance about such events as fire drills and assemblies.
- Occupational therapy. Exercises that focus on the tasks of daily living can help a child with poor coordination.
A child with a learning disability may struggle with low self-esteem, frustration, and other problems. Mental health professionals can help the youngster understand these feelings, develop coping tools, and build healthy relationships.
Children with learning disabilities sometimes have other conditions such as ADHD. These conditions require their own treatments, which may include therapy and medications.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Language-based learning disabilities: Benefits of speech-language pathology services. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/LBLDslpBenefits.htm
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2011). NINDS learning disabilities information page. Retrieved June 26, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/learningdisabilities/learningdisabilities.htm
- Department of Education. (2010). Building the legacy: IDEA 2004. Retrieved January 28, 2011, from http://idea.ed.gov/
- National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. (n.d.). 10 basic steps in special education. Retrieved January 28, 2011, from http://nichcy.org/schoolage/steps
- International Dyslexia Association. (2008). Dyslexia basics. Retrieved June 21, 2012, from http://www.interdys.org/ewebeditpro5/upload/BasicsFactSheet.pdf (PDF - 43 KB)
- Learning Disabilities Association of America. (n.d.). Dysgraphia. Retrieved June 16, 2012, from http://www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/parents/ld_basics/dysgraphia.asp