by Kori Hamilton
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)
Student has difficulty reading. Struggles to connect letters to sounds. May also have messy penmanship or a hard time spelling . Confuses math symbols. Mixes up details of a story, or the sequence of events. Cannot get organized. Has unexpected problems learning to read, speak, write, or do math.
Does this sound like someone in your class? If so, keep reading.
LD stands for learning disability. The above signs are often connected with learning disabilities, which can cause students to have trouble learning or using certain skills. Learning disability is a general term used to describe these challenges. Specific terms for learning disabilities you may also hear include:
- dyslexia (which affects reading),
- dysgraphia (which affects writing), and
- dyscalculia (which affects math skills).
LD is one of the more common disabilities you’ll encounter in the classroom. Almost 1 million children (ages 6 through 21) have some form of a learning disability and receive special education in school. So it’s likely that you’ve worked with many students who have a specific learning disability.
Not every child who struggles with reading, writing, or math has a learning disability. However, it may be worthwhile to investigate, particularly if the student unexpectedly exhibits a combination of these symptoms, which in turn can hinder academic growth and affect school behavior. If you suspect that a student has a learning disability, it’s important to know that the school is required to evaluate the student and, if eligible, provide special education services.
How do you address the learning needs of your students with LD? We’re pleased to offer 7 practical suggestions that you can use right away in your classroom.
- Get informed. Learn about the different types of LD and how each affects individual learning and behavior. The more you know, the more effectively you can respond. Start with NICHCY’s fact sheet on LD. Dig deeper by visiting the organizations listed in the resources section of the fact sheet—there are several organizations that offer materials especially for teachers.
- Be proactive and supportive. Recognize that you can make a real difference in this student’s school success! Find out what the student’s strengths and interests are and place emphasis on those areas and abilities. Understand that the student’s disability isn’t intentional and that you can do a lot to offset its impact on learning.
- Make sure the student has AIM (if needed). AIM stands for accessible instructional materials. Students with reading difficulties especially need AIM, because then they can make full use of class materials, the textbook, and workbooks. AIM is so important for students with print disabilities, there’s a national center you can contact to find out more, including who to contact in your state. Visit the National AIM Center’s Teachers Page at: http://aim.cast.org/learn/stakeholder_focused/teachers
- Make accommodations. Accommodations are small changes you can make to your instruction, assignments, and other classroom business that will help a student with LD learn and succeed in your class. Accommodations can be made in how instruction is presented, how students are expected to respond, the amount of time given to complete tests or assignments, or the setting itself. Examples of accommodations for students with LD include: breaking down tasks into smaller steps, extending time to finish assignments or tests, enabling the student to use AIM, letting a student borrow notes from another, and allowing the student to write on the computer rather than with pen to paper. Read more at: http://www.ldonline.org/article/8022/
- Get that student organized! Teach your student the basics of organizational skills, study skills, and learning strategies, all of which help give the student an effective structure for learning. Give the student lots of opportunities to practice these skills, and provide positive feedback. Find out more about “what works” at: http://nichcy.org/schoolage/effective-practices/meta80resources
- Help the student succeed on tests. There are different testing modifications that will allow the student with LD to showcase what he or she has learned. These tend to be the same as, or similar to, the accommodations provided in class (e.g., extra time to finish, allowing verbal responses). Find out the testing modifications that your state recommends and permits for students with LD, and provide them during testing. For more info, contact your State Department of Education or visit: http://www.cehd.umn.edu/nceo/TopicAreas/Accommodations/StatesAccomm.htm
- Collaborate with parents. Work together with the student’s parents to create and implement an educational plan tailored to meet the student’s needs. Parents can also tell you a great deal about the student’s interests, difficulties, and skill areas. Regularly share information about how the student is doing at home and at school.