Exceptional Children

By Horowitz, Sheldon H. | Children's Voice, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Exceptional Children


Horowitz, Sheldon H., Children's Voice


Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Ensuring School Success for Children with Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities: What They Are, and What They Are Not

Even though some 3 million school-age children are classified as having specific learning disabilities (LD), this category of special need is often widely misunderstood. Surveys of both parents and educators confirm that many people mistakenly link LD with mental retardation and disorders of mental health and believe that, left alone, children are likely to outgrow LD over time.

Let's set the record straight:

* The term specific learning disability refers to one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, and affects a person's ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

* LD does not include problems primarily due to visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, although students with such diagnoses can also have learning disabilities.

* LD does not include problems that result primarily from mental retardation or emotional disturbance, although, again, children who experience such difficulties can also have learning disabilities.

* LD does not include problems that result primarily from cultural, environmental, or economic disadvantage.

* Learning disabilities are real! Although they often aren't observed until a child is doing school-related tasks, a proven biological basis for LD exists, including emerging data that document genetic links for LD within families.

* LD is common, affecting an estimated 4%-6% of the public school population. And if you include individuals who, for a number of reasons, struggle with reading, the numbers are considerably higher.

* Learning disabilities are lifelong. That said, individuals with LD can learn to compensate for areas of weakness and, with early, effective support, can be highly successful and productive members of society.

Serving Students with LD: It's the law!

The quality of services and supports children receive in school are key to their learning success. Working together, general and special educators are charged with ensuring that all children receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting.

Although states and school districts have considerable latitude in how they meet this challenge, a few important federal laws underlie their efforts:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for special education services for children and youth, ages 3-21, with disabilities. It ensures each child receives a free, appropriate public education based on his or her individual needs, and it specifies 13 possible educational disabling conditions; including specific learning disabilities. It also guarantees a number of important rights-timely evaluation, access to all meetings and paperwork, transition planning, and related services-for children with disabilities and their parents or guardians.

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