I have a confession to make. When I first started working at The Literacy Center (TLC), what I expected is different from what I got. I assumed that I would be helping people who weren’t able to read due to poor life choices, (i.e. quitting school), or those who had a rough childhood, (i.e. parental neglect).
It didn’t take me long to realize that the reason for not being able to read well may be due to lots of factors. Sure, one or both of my original thoughts may be a factor, but it usually goes much deeper than that.
It wasn’t long into my training before I realized that I didn’t have the whole story, and my assumptions were only the tip of the iceberg. A vast majority of our students suffer from learning disabilities (LD). The trouble with LD is that it isn’t a disability you can see. If someone has a physical challenge, it is obvious. Therefore, the best way to help him is pretty obvious, too. For instance, if someone is in a wheelchair, a ramp is an obvious option in lieu of stairs. If someone is blind, Braille is the obvious solution for written communication. Learning disabilities are solely cognitive, so how to help overcome their challenges is more difficult.
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America website, 60% of adults with literacy problems have an undetected or untreated LD (http://ldaamerica.org/support/new-to-ld/). That number is astounding. That’s 6 out of every 10 of our students with an undetected LD! Considering a majority of TLC’s students have an undetected or untreated LD (that doesn’t take into consideration for the students who have a LD diagnosis), I knew I needed to learn more.
Perhaps the most well-known LD is dyslexia. However, that seems to be grossly misunderstood. Many people incorrectly believe that dyslexia is solely reading words backwards. To oversimplify, a person who is dyslexic has trouble de-coding a word. Dyslexic students see things the same way as someone without dyslexia, but the translation from what they see on a page gets jumbled in their brain. Here is a great video that discusses the neuroscience behind dyslexia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zafiGBrFkRM. There are many activities that can help a student better deal with dyslexia, and one of the best proven methods is a multi-sensory method, such as Orton-Gillingham.
Dyscalculia is another common LD. Dyscalculia involves a wide range of difficulties, but commonly it involves the inability to process various math skills. Visual spacing is another component of dyscalculia, which results in a person having trouble processing what they see. Some dyscalculia warning signs in adults include trouble figuring out alternative solutions to problems, difficulty estimating, such as time, bills, and distance. To assist a student who has dyscalculia, it may help to outline math problems with proven logic. This method is beneficial because it teaches how to learn math, instead of instruction based upon memorization.
There are an abundance of learning disabilities. There is no cure for them. Students who suffer from learning disabilities can only learn how to live with them. Our job, as educators, is to be flexible. One single method never works for all of our students. We must be able to change our lesson plan to fit what a student needs and what works best for a student. Learning and practicing various methods not only helps us grow as teachers, but it ensures the success of our students. It is also beneficial to help the student see the LD as a learning difference, not a disability.
For more information on various learning disabilities and tips on how to teach those who suffer from learning disabilities, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities website at http://ncld.org/ or the Learning Disabilities Association of America website at http://ldaamerica.org/.