3 minutes reading time (514 words)

What Does It Really Mean When A Child Is Learning Disabled?

Students who struggle in school are often misunderstood. On Monday, they might turn in work that is beautifully written and thoroughly done. Then on Tuesday, their work is practically illegible, only partially complete, full of misspelled words and grammar mistakes. I believe this is where the expression, “LD means lazy and dumb,” comes from. (Forgive me for even putting that in writing! It is one of my pet peeves. One can never know how hard a person is working.)

LD (learning disabled) actually means this is a person who is intelligent, but for some reason is not able to perform at a level that shows how smart they are. Many, many LD students work three times as hard as a student who does not have the same struggles. Yet, the quality of the product is often different from one day to the next. The inconsistency in work can be attributed to many things. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Problems with working memory. Read my earlier post on working memory and the one on cursive handwriting to understand how working memory issues can affect the quality of the final product.
  • Difficulty with reading. If the assignment requires reading for the purpose of teaching oneself or finding an answer, many LD students do not have the skills to make that happen. Therefore, the final product is often of poor quality due to exhaustion or trying to do multiple tasks at once (remember the question, read to find answer, hold answer in memory, write answer down, form the letters correctly, etc.).
  • Lack of enough practice before being asked to show mastery. Many times students are introduced to a new concept and immediately asked to show that they can do it on their own. Once they do master it, they can do the work just fine. But until then they might turn in low quality work.

What can you as a parent do to help?

Working memory problems can be helped by dividing the task up into steps and writing each step down before proceeding. For example, if your child is asked to write a quote analysis in literature, she should first write down the steps to a quote analysis. Then, she should attempt to write the analysis. This keeps her from having to keep so much information in working memory.

Reading problems can be alleviated by either reading the material to them or relying on technology solutions such as Natural Reader or digital books (like on Kindle or Nook).

If the problem is lack of enough practice, then practice is the answer. Unfortunately, this means you may have to help your child significantly on a particular type of problem before expecting him to do it on his own.

There are many reasons for inconsistent quality of work. Do not make the mistake of assuming your child is not trying. Try to figure out what is keeping them from producing their best work. Then take the necessary steps that lead to improvement. You may need to engage the help of your child’s teacher and the school psychologist.


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#1 Johnny Harris 2012-01-03 03:27
This is so so so true...I wish I had a firmer understanding of working memory my first couple of years teaching. I would not have been so hard on my students! This is really good information that should be shared on a much broader scale. It seem so simple to for teachers to break down these sorts of assignments...u nfortunately, many schools, especially, public, cannot or will not provide these sorts of accommodations.

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