Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Perceived Control and Adaptive Coping: Programs for Adolescent Students Who Have Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Perceived Control and Adaptive Coping: Programs for Adolescent Students Who Have Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study explored the effect of a coping program and a teacher feedback intervention on perceived control and adaptive coping for 98 adolescent students who had specific learning disabilities. The coping program was modified to build personal control and to address the needs of students who have specific learning disabilities. The teacher feedback program emphasized use of effort and strategy in the face of difficulty. One-way analyses of covariance of student responses indicated a greater perceived control of external situations and increased use of productive coping strategies for the group who received the coping program. There was no change in internal control of feelings or of use of non-productive coping. These results were maintained over the two-month follow-up period. The study provides preliminary evidence that it is possible to facilitate positive change in both sense of control and coping patterns for students who have learning disabilities.


It is increasingly acknowledged that, even with skilled teaching, students who have learning disabilities are likely to experience lifelong difficulty in some areas of academics, such as reading and spelling (Raskind, Golberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999; Reiff, Ginsberg, & Gerber, 1995). Consequently, there is a call for a focus, not only on literacy or numeracy, but also on building the coping resources and sense of personal control that are known to be crucial to achieving school and life success for those who have learning disabilities (Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 2002; Rodis, Garrod, & Boscardin, 2001; Westwood, 2004).

Research in the fields of self-regulation, academic motivation, and attribution has also shown the importance for students who have learning disabilities to be proactive in response to difficulty (Alexander, Graham, & Harris, 1998; Borkowski, Weyhing, & Carr, 1988; Nunez et al., 2005). Importantly, such responses are being found to be independent of level of learning disability (Hellendoorn & Ruijssenaars, 2000; Nunez et al., 2005; Raskind et al., 1999; Sideridis, Mouzaki, Simos, & Protopapas, 2006).

A major determinant for success for adults who have learning disabilities has been found to be the ability to cope adaptively, and in particular to take personal control in the face of the challenges their learning disabilities present. In their research involving successful adults who had learning disabilities, Reiff et al. (1995) found that such "taking control" was the key factor for this successful group. This finding has been corroborated by a longitudinal study of people who have learning disabilities (Raskind et al., 1999). The successful adults in both studies set goals, persevered, accessed help when they needed it, used effective strategies for coping with stress, and were self-aware and creative in finding alternative strategies in the face of difficulty (Goldberg, Higgins, Raskind, & Herman, 2003; Raskind et al., 1999; Reiff et al., 1995). The success achieved by these people occurred in spite of continuing difficulties with reading, spelling, and some areas of mathematics (Raskind et al., 1999; Reiff et al., 1995). According to Raskind et al. (1999), the attributes listed above are more powerful predictors of success than "numerous other variables, including IQ, academic achievement, life stressors, age, gender, ethnicity, and many other background variables" (p. 48).

Although sense of control is likely to be a key psychological resource for students who have learning disabilities, many of these students are at risk of passivity in the face of difficulty, which manifests as learned helplessness (Bender, 1987; Borkowski et al., 1988; Nunez et al., 2005; Sideris et al., 2006). Students who have learning disabilities frequently attribute success to luck rather than to their own ability or effort (Miranda, Villaescusa, & Vidal-Abarca, 1997). …

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