A recent survey of 2,000 Americans by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) reveals how very much most people still need to learn about learning disabilities. I was especially troubled to read that 30 percent of those surveyed said they had made jokes about themselves having a learning disability when making an error in reading, writing or mathematics.
To many people, learning disabilities are a laughing matter that can be readily corrected. Why else would 55 percent of those surveyed think that wearing corrective eyewear would be enough to “fix” a learning disability?
The NCLD survey also found that one-third of people thought that prospective employers can ask job candidates if they have a learning disability. This is against the law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and further shows how much the general public needs to be educated about disabilities.
About 4.67 million Americans over the age of six have learning disabilities; that’s about 1.8 percent of the U.S. population. 66 percent of those surveyed did say they would like more information about learning disabilities than schools provide. Writing in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews quotes NCLD executive director James H. Wendorf who states that “Better informed parents will recognize markers earlier and become more effective advocates for their children.” People do want to know more about learning disabilities and get their kids, and maybe even themselves, help and support.
Speaking of which, here are five things too many people don’t know (thanks to the NCLD’s Demystifying LD: 18 Facts You Need to Know):
1. Learning disabilities have a genetic component and are often found in families. In contrast, the survey revealed a lot of confusion about the causes of learning disabilities: 22 percent thought too much screen time can cause them; 31 percent thought poor diet could be responsible; 24 percent attributed learning disabilities to childhood vaccinations.
2. Learning disabilities are lifelong. People can learn to compensate for dysgraphia, for difficulties in writing skills (certainly computers have been a boon in this regard), but parents needs to know that children will not just grow out of having a learning disability. Therefore, early diagnosis is very helpful, so a child can receive the accommodations she or he needs as soon as possible and also know that her or his struggles with penmanship are not because of being “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.”
3. Learning disabilities are diagnosed by a trained professional (in public schools or private practice) after careful evaluation and testing of a child. There is no medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose a learning disability. It’s also important to note that learning disabilities can often co-exist with other neurological disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
4. Visual, hearing or motor disabilities are not learning disabilities (though those with dyspraxia can have challenges with certain motor skills).
5. Learning disabilities are not due to cognitive delays (yet 43 percent of those surveyed believed that learning disabilities and IQ are correlated). Emotional disturbance and psychological issues, as well as economic, societal and other disadvantages, can cause problems for students that may seem similar to learning disabilities — but such factors do not cause learning disabilities.
The NCLD survey also found that 90 percent of respondents knew that dyslexia is a learning disability but only 80 percent could correctly define it. Most people were far less familiar with other types of learning disabilities, including dysgraphia, dyscalculia (which affects math skills) and dyspraxia. As Mathews writes, “this may be because so many of us know someone whose reading difficulties have been blamed on dyslexia or have seen the many television shows dramatizing that disability.”
While it’s good that there is more public awareness about dyslexia, we need to make sure that accurate information about it and other learning disabilities is known. There are too many long-standing myths and misperceptions about learning disabilities to count; Education Week cites this 2010 Roper poll that also showed “widespread confusion.”
With the start of a new school year upon us — whether you’re a parent, a student, a teacher, a relative, a friend — why not take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can about learning disabilities?
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