Tuesday, 1 October 2013

On Learning Strategies for Children with Learning Disabilities

On Learning Strategies for Children with Learning Disabilities

Reprint of my article published by MedHelp.org on Sept 14th

As any parent knows, learning comes in many forms and from many sources. Each learning experience is as unique as the child participating in it. This applies to those with a learning disability as much as it does for typical children, and possibly even more so. There are a couple of theories pertaining to intelligence and learning that have special significance when applied to children who are known to learn differently in one or more areas. The first of these is Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which postulates that there are many different types of intelligence. These include linguistic (good with words), logical-mathematical (good with math or logic), spatial (good with maps, art, and visualization), kinesthetic (good at dancing, sports, or crafts), musical (good with patterns, music, and identifying sounds), interpersonal (good at understanding others), intrapersonal (good at understanding themselves), and naturalistic (good at identifying and understanding animals and plants). To Gardner, intelligence is more than a standardized test score, which typically only measures linguistic and logical-mathematical proficiency, and while each child has the capacity to develop each of these intelligences, they may be especially talented in one or two areas.

            This idea is something that likely makes a lot of intuitive sense to you. In fact, while this theory has not had a lot of empirical evidence to back it up yet, many school systems accept the idea of multiple intelligences and are looking to encompass more types of intelligence in their classes. Think about it: While your child may have serious difficulty reading a book or doing algebra, they are good at baseball or soccer, playing the violin, drawing, or making friends. It is obvious that some children are better at some things, while others are gifted in other areas. This is the idea that Gardner captures in his theory of multiple intelligences – that intelligence is a process created out of a person’s biological, psychological, and social influences that can be activated to create products that are of value to a culture, whether that be a physical product or an intellectual one. Some of the reforms that this idea could prompt include increasing emphasis on nature, art, and music in the curriculum, developing a child-centered approach, and developing the child’s potential, rather than forcing all children to master the same information. Educators must find ways of instruction and teaching that work for each student, in order to maximize their learning potential.

            The second theory that is especially relevant to children with learning disabilities is the idea that people are not intelligent based on any specific innate characteristic, but rather on how well they learn the material and adapt to the instructional style at hand. People’s intelligence is not just because of their potential or talent. Intelligence relies on the learning style of the child, and there are five main variables that impact learning style. There is the environment, which consists of the amount of noise in the room, the light level, temperature, and seating arrangement. There are the emotional aspects of learning, such as motivation, persistence, responsibility and amount of structure. There are the sociological aspects, such as who the individual prefers to work with, and the perceptual-kinesthetic, such as whether they learn best by hearing, seeing, manipulating the material, reading, etc., and if they prefer to stay still or move while concentrating. Finally, there are the cognitive aspects, such as how long they need to process information, and how much detail they need to understand a new concept. Those who best match their learning environment to their personal learning style are most successful at processing and retaining new material.

            Of course,  it may not be reasonable to adhere to these approaches 100% of the time. In reality, teachers cannot work solely within a child’s intelligence, or there would be children who would do nothing but music or mathematics. Similarly, in a classroom of twenty or thirty children, the teacher will not be able to accommodate each child’s individual learning style all of the time. However, when it comes to children with learning disabilities, information about the child’s particular intelligences and learning styles may be incredibly useful. After all, a child may have a learning disability in one area and be well above average in another. For a child who has a hard time with math, but may be very musically intelligent, singing the multiplication tables may help them learn. Or a child who learns best working alone, in the morning, may be able to work on their most difficult subject then. Every child is unique, but for children with learning disabilities in particular, it is critical that the parents make sure that their child’s individual strengths and needs are being attended to in school to optimize their learning. 

Image Credit: Kirsten Skiles - http://www.flickr.com/photos/70269549@N00/2688559195

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