“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”- Scott Hamilton
Problems with learning are often caused by a learning disability (LD). We are probably more familiar with the ones which cause difficulty in reading (dyslexia) or in problems with math formulas (dyscalculia). There are many others such as having problems with interpreting symbols and maps which is a visual processing disorder and another one where interpreting sounds causes difficulty in understanding the spoken language (auditory processing disorder).
But whatever the disorder, it is essential to remember one thing: a learning disorder simply means that a person’s brain is wired differently and certain information processing takes a different route from that of the majority of the population. They may take longer but they will get there with some encouragement from you. A famous example is Erin Brockovich, the consumer advocate, who was brilliant at passing oral tests at school but could not pass the written tests. Here are 10 things to keep in mind if your loved one has a learning disability.
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”- Chinese proverb
1. They need our support
People with learning disabilities are much more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their normal peers. One report estimated that up to 36% of those with learning disabilities are likely to have problems compared with 8% of the normal population. We have to make sure that they the best possible support at home and at school. They are more likely to suffer from sort of discrimination at school and later at work and may be disadvantaged because of this problem.
2. They can get special tests at school
Once a student is recognized as having a problem with a certain ability, there are special test procedures which can make it a more level playing field when it comes to final exams. This applies to students who dropped out or who felt that the exams were far too difficult in their standard format. It is well worth it to take these tests because having a high school credential means you can earn up to $568,000 more in your lifetime.
The best known ones are the High School Equivalency exams such as the GED (General Educational Development). Depending on their disability, students taking these exams can avail of a talking calculator, large print formats, more time, use of a scribe, exams in auditory format and private facilities.
3. They need help to conquer the stigma
Having a label slapped on you, just because you learn in a rather different way, can be demoralizing. We know only too well that ignorant people call them mentally retarded and that they cannot learn anything. This leads to learners themselves trying to hide their disability and they also may suffer from low self-esteem. Unfortunately, a learning disability is also a life disability and many adults struggle with shopping lists, paying bills and budgeting, and filling out application forms. We can help by correcting ignorant people and telling them to be better informed. This is one of the great advantages of social media as we can teach people a few things!
4. They must get special educational needs
In many countries, children can avail of special educational needs (SEN) so that they can maximize their learning. Parents can support their children best by collaborating with the teachers and making sure that both parties are fully informed about problems, progress and expectations. In the UK, the scheme allows the older ones from 16 – 25 to be fully involved in deciding what their priorities and needs are so they get a more custom built learning path. A key element is encouraging kids and teens to discover new ways of approaching a learning task.
5. They need to be encouraged to vote
The recent elections in the UK were an interesting example of how the Dimensions charity was able to raise awareness about learning disabilities. For far too long, people with these disabilities were intimidated by the procedures to actually register to be able to vote. Even an online registration form can be quite challenging. In the last election, about 60% of people with learning disabilities found they could not vote because of the difficulties they had in registering. The majority (70%) of those interviewed said they definitely wanted to vote. These charities are helping people overcome the obstacles and thus empowering them to become full members of the community. They do that by organizing Easy-Read presentations and mock voting so that the whole procedure is less intimidating. Help your loved ones by going along with them to these sessions.
6. They are more likely to come from a disadvantaged background
The University of Lancaster in the UK has done a very interesting study which shows that children with learning difficulties are much more likely to have suffered domestic violence. They also found that they came from unhappy homes where conflict reigned and they were more likely to be poor. Unemployment among parents and low educational achievement were other factors which contributed to the problem. Before you judge a colleague’s performance too harshly, it might be worthwhile reflecting on their background and the enormous obstacles they faced at home and in society.
7. They are more likely to suffer from other disorders
Sometimes, a learning disability is just one condition of a wider range of disorders. For example, we know that kids who have learning disabilities are 33 times more likely to have autism and they are 8 times more likely to have ADHD. The importance of getting any of these conditions properly diagnosed cannot be stressed enough. If you have a loved one in difficulty, do not think they will grow out of it! Take action and help them.
8. They may have visual and hearing problems
Many children are wrongly diagnosed with a learning disability and/or with ADHD, when in reality they are only suffering from eyesight or hearing problems. This is one of the first things that parents should do when they suspect that there is a problem. They should have these simple tests done so that they can be ruled out or treated straightaway with visual and hearing aids. This is another practical way you can help your child or partner.
9. They may never have discovered their disability as children
Many adults never had their disability diagnosed or even properly treated and may have been unaware of what the real problem was until they entered the workplace. These problems become acute when the worker has to do a training session, give a presentation, write a report or write an error free email. Progressive organizations make sure that modified training manuals are available so that employees do not feel threatened or discriminated. Ideally, there should a department within the HR section which can deal effectively and sympathetically with these problems. At home, you can discuss what they can do and assure them of your support.
10. They may have to struggle with disclosure
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 63% of those surveyed know someone who is affected by LD. The problem for many sufferers is whether to make a disclosure or not. It is not a legal requirement but there are many issues they have to consider. Will they be demoted or put on a lower pay scale? Will other workers resent the fact that a worker may receive an accommodation? It is depressing to note that disability discrimination charges are increasing all the time.
But there are solutions and many workplaces could do a lot more to help. For example, they can give dyslexic sufferers verbal instructions while those with auditory problems can receive everything in writing. Software for creating graphics, voice-recognition software, talking calculators or extra large computer screens together with large print manuals can all make a world of difference.
There is so much we can do to help our loved ones. We should be on guard to identify a possible learning disability and be there to support them when they have to make a few changes so that they can function better at school or at work.
Featured photo credit: Opportunities Fair 2012 aimed at people with learning disabilities/ Guy Evans via flickr.com