Neurodiversity (the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits) is a natural occurrence in the human race. Teaching students with learning disabilities in the classroom can be tricky and especially difficult.
Students with learning disabilities in the classroom
Through medical and psychological studies, we have labeled some of these diversities as learning disabilities because of the unique differences these processing styles pose on the educational experience.
Some of the most common learning disabilities are:
This disability causes difficulties in the student’s ability to read and understand text in a variety of ways, including difficulties in recognizing how words break down phonetically or difficulties in differentiating word sounds.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, while not technically a learning disability, the behaviors exhibited by those struggling with ADHD, particularly the difficulty in commanding attention, does cause difficulty in learning in most people with this diagnosis.
Math is a major area of education that is affected by learning disabilities because of the extensive amount of structure and rules that are utilized to manipulate numbers. People with dyscalculia may struggle with putting numbers in numerical order, solving math problems, conceptualizing time, measurements, or creating estimates.
A disability that causes complications in the physical act of writing by affecting posture, holding a pencil, or controlling fine motor skills. These difficulties are particularly difficult to overcome because of how exhausting it can be to push through these boundaries to complete an assignment. Students with this disability may also struggle with organizing their thoughts in written expression. Their writing may seem redundant with poor basic sentence structure and grammar.
This is an umbrella term for a variety of processing disorders that may impede on a student’s ability to comprehend, store, and recall sensory data. This deficit will affect each student in a way that is unique to them and their neurotype, making it even more crucial that this student receives individualized, tailored education.
Patience is vital
Regardless of the individual obstacles each student may face, the answer to helping these children succeed is with the time and tools of a patient and dedicated educator. All members of the students’ support team will need to remember that it is normal for people of all ages and neurotypes to struggle with a few educational topics. This is a time of life where the colloquialism slow and steady wins the race absolutely applies.
Once a parent, caregiver, or educator recognizes the child is struggling it is best to intervene quickly to ensure the child does not begin to feel shame, guilt, dread, or develop insecurities in their ability to learn. This can be best achieved by creating a working relationship with your child’s educator. Circumnavigating these negative feelings in the beginning will bring a quicker resolution to educational difficulties as the child continues with confidence and a love of learning. Thankfully, there are a variety of time-tested tactics our educators use to produce positive outcomes with struggling students.
What are some educational tactics to help children with learning disabilities?
- Direct instruction tailored to the child with vernacular and an approach that meets them where they are.
- Multi-sensory approaches that cater to students who learn best auditorily, kinetically, visually, or with a mix of many learning styles.
- Breaking larger assignments into smaller steps for students who become overwhelmed with large tasks.
- Providing consistent, quality feedback for children who lack confidence in their work, or need boundaries to maintain focus and concentration.
- Use diagrams, or pictures to illustrate and solidify what they’re hearing or saying in words.
- Provide ample assignments that the child is able to complete independently to promote confidence in their ability to succeed.
- Prompt the student to use learning strategies that work best for them and engage the student in processing the information, for example; How is this strategy working in this problem? or Where else might you use this strategy to solve a problem?
In order for children with learning disabilities to become successful, they require specific and direct instruction early in their educational career to prevent the child from falling behind or becoming discouraged from the learning experience altogether. If the student begins showing signs of frustration, anger, or dread when beginning to work on their assignments there are other tactics that may be used to help alleviate these behaviors as well.
Help children build emotional resilience
Students with learning disabilities may also struggle with a myriad of emotional difficulties as they navigate a world that doesn’t quite fit the way their mind works. It is important to teach these children how to take care of themselves through self-regulation, by being aware of their body’s signals to know when it’s time to take a break, have a snack, take a nap, or perhaps try again another day. These lessons are best learned at an early age as the child develops their self-identity and sense of independence.
However, as important as it is to provide direct support, it is equally important to follow the child’s lead. Once the student has shown they are ready to take on the assignment on their own, give the child the opportunity to work independently utilizing self-directed learning, so they may practice learning independent of guidance in the future.
By creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere around these students, it is possible to teach them to love learning, regardless of the difficulties they face. However, it is important to allow these students to fail on their own as well, as they will naturally face failure in their educational career. The best way to prepare these children for independence is to allow them to make mistakes and teach them how to cope with the emotional repercussions of failure while finding an alternative way to approach a difficult subject to secure a successful result.
Time has shown that with the support of family and dedicated educators, these struggling students are able to enjoy a successful and rewarding educational experience and move on to a fulfilling adult life. Learning disabilities make it more difficult to learn new information, no doubt, but they do not make it impossible. Students, teachers, and parents alike will need to practice patience and persistence while the student works through their difficult subjects to prepare them for an independent adult life of endless learning and a love of education.