Good educational programming should involve at least these two methods to address the child’s learning disability. The first is to ensure the right Accommodations are being used to ensure the student’s skills and knowledge are being evaluated rather than evaluating their disability. For example, if a child’s learning disability was found in the efficiency function of processing speed, causing problems in how quickly they are able to complete a task, a useful accommodation would be to give them extra time to complete a test. Secondly, we also want to teach students the necessary Strategies that support their learning disability. For example, reading textbooks is part of life for many older students. Therefore, if a student with a learning disability in the area of working memory came to see me, I might teach them 'Pause, Paraphrase and Summarize', a reading strategy for making sure a student keeps track of their comprehension while reading a text book.
Are we pushing our kids too hard or not hard enough? It’s a fine line to walk as we encourage children to be the very best they can be. Some suggestions for finding the right balance are:
•Set realistic expectations – It’s important to set high expectations for children, but be realistic about the expectations. Unhealthy expectations that children can’t possibly live up to are heavy burdens and can cause significant stress.
•Praise effort not just achievement - Praising effort encourages children to try hard in the future. If we only praise achievement, we teach kids to not try unless they are sure of success.
•Allow them to take risks and make mistakes – this is where resilience is born!
•Encourage children to lead balanced lives - Teach children to make good decisions about how to spend their time. Getting the proper amount of sleep, food, exercise and leisure time will probably leave everyone feeling a lot less stressed out!
A good psychoeducational assessment needs to be comprehensive enough that it isolates various cognitive functions, pinpointing both the strengths and weaknesses of the person being tested. Testing that is not comprehensive enough will not yield the information necessary to accurately understand why the child is struggling. Without proper isolation, the recommendations given may not be of any value to your child. A good psychoeducational assessment will save an enormous amount of frustration for the child, parent and teacher. It will pinpoint and provide strategies that make learning easier for the child. Parents are reminded that their health insurance will often cover a portion of the cost of testing.
Many parents worry about whether being labelled “learning disabled” will negatively affect their child or whether their child will be singled out in some way. Parents are right to be concerned about these things. Therefore it’s important to look at both the pros and cons of such a diagnostic label.
One of the most obvious positive effects of being labelled “learning Disabled” is that the label communicates a large quantity of information about your child’s learning needs in a concise way and allows educators the opportunity to give extra support to the student. Educators can develop an individualized education plan, implement accommodations, and offer extra learning support or specialized services to help the student succeed in school - at least the best that the school can provide given their limited resources. In most schools, without the label (or code), a student cannot get access to the supports they need (e.g., extra time on exams, use of computer technology, use of readers or scribes).
Another thing to consider is that the learning disabled child is quite possibly struggling without a clear understanding of the reasons why they struggle. This leaves kids in a position where they must come up with their own reasons as to why they are struggling such as, ‘I am not smart’, or ‘I’m stupid’. These false labels can cause significant damage to a child’s self-esteem. Often times a diagnosis and label can bring insight, awareness, understanding, and in many cases, even relief!
However, parents have good reason to be concerned about such a label. Labeling can lead to adults lowering expectations for students. Such a diagnosis may cause some adults to think the child cannot do what is required and lower their expectations. If a student feels as though teachers and parents do not believe in their ability, then neither will the student. Such a scenario can create a vicious cycle, which ultimately sets the student up for failure.
Another important consideration is that such a label has the potential, for some people, to focus attention on the child’s “problems” while overlooking the great qualities, strengths and unique characteristics afforded to the child.
While there are some possible problems with being “labelled”, the benefits far outweigh the risks. While perhaps an imperfect system, labels seem to be a necessary aspect in special education. There is no question that there is a need to identify and label learning disabled students in order to give them the educational and emotional tools they need to succeed. However, we need to ensure that we are using the label as a tool to help children succeed, rather than to define them. Every child is unique, with needs and abilities specific to him or herself. We must be diligent and not let the use of a label obscure that fact.