By Elisa Calgaro / November 20, 2019
October was the learning disabilities awareness month. Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Approximately about 20% of the total public school population is identified as having a learning disability (LD) or attention issues (src. NCLD.org). Despite the fact that these disabilities are more common than one may think, they remain one of the least understood and most debated disabling conditions that affect children. Indeed, the field continues to be beset by pervasive, and occasionally contentious, disagreements about the definition of the disorder, diagnostic criteria, assessment practices, treatment procedures, and educational policies.
Learning and attention issues are brain-based difficulties in reading, writing, math, organization, focus, listening comprehension, social skills, motor skills or a combination of these. Learning and attention issues are not the result of low intelligence, poor vision or hearing, or lack of access to quality instruction but are related to genetics, trauma or adverse childhood experiences and toxic exposure or environmental factors, especially for ADHD.
However, all these barriers could be easily overcome, first of all by raising awareness. Learning and attention issues can look like laziness or lack of intelligence. 78% of parents believe that their children can improve and do well at school if they work hard enough and almost 50% believe that they can grow out of learning disabilities independently. Among educators too there are discrepancies. 33% of them think that what is considered as a learning disability or an attention issue is actually just laziness and 61% don’t feel confident in recommending that a child should be evaluated for learning issues.
Raising awareness helps definitely to alter these statistics and in this way allow children to get the right support and reach their potential. Equipping teachers and empowering parents is a key for this process. Teachers do not feel they have the right resources, tools and support first to identify learning issues properly and later to meet the different needs of their students. At the same time parents don’t have enough information on learning disabilities and so they can’t be of effective help for their children. Only 11% of parents have heard of dyscalculia and when if we consider dysgraphia this percentage is around 13%, having only 19% of parents that consider bad handwriting as a possible sign of a learning issue (Horowitz, S. H., Rawe, J., & Whittaker, M. C. (2017). The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities) How can we also raise awareness?
First of all, do not underestimate possible signs of learning or attention issues, for example: does your child read at a lower lever than his/her peers? Does he/she struggle too much for improving handwriting? Does he/she have a hard time “getting” Math concepts? Doesn’t he/she want to go to school or can’t he/she sit still? These can all be possible warning signs that should be considered. Secondly, do not hesitate to ask for help: professionals, teachers are there to help you. The sooner you act, the earlier LDs can be identified. Finally, do not be afraid of talking about it. The greatest hurdle a person with a learning disability often had to overcome is the stigma and public perception, labeled lazy or incompetent they begin to hide their disability and struggle in silence.
It is always important to remember that those children are as smart or smarter than their peers, we must give them the right attention and support to unleash their full potential.