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Chapter 6

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Carleton University
PSYC 3505

Chapter 6 – Learners with Learning Disabilities Definition • 1960's Samuel Kirk proposed the term learning disabilities • Previously child was likely to be referred to as minimally brain injured Minimal brain injury - a term used to describe a child who shows behavioural but not neurological signs of brain injury; the term is not as popular as it once was, primarily because of its lack of diagnostic utility • Historically the diagnosis was based on questionable behavioural evidence rather than on more solid neurological data • Minimal brain injury was not an educationally meaningful term • It offered little help in planning and implementing treatment • Slow learner described the child's performance in some areas but not in others • Dyslexic described reading abilities • Perceptually disabled: perceptual problems might be only part of a puzzling inability to learn • Interest grew as a result of growing awareness that a large number of children were not receiving needed educational services o Tested within the normal range of intelligence so they did not qualify for classes for children with intellectual impairments • Support is offered by The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada The United States Federal Definition • Definition that is based on the federal government's definition • General - specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written • Disorders include - perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia • Not included - learning problem that is primarily the result of: o Visual, hearing, or motor disabilities o Mental retardation o Emotional disturbance o Environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage The National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities Definition • National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities came up with an alternative definition • Thought it was necessary because of their dissatisfaction with the following factors of the federal definition: o Reference to psychological processes • Processing of visual and auditory information, or the making sense of this information was the underlying cause of academic problems • Training students in visual- and auditory- processing skills in isolation from academic material would help them conquer their reading problems • Researchers determined that these perceptual and perceptual-motor exercises did not result in benefits for students' reading achievement o Omission of the intrinsic nature of learning disabilities • No mention to causal factors • NJCLD considered learning disabilities due to central nervous system dysfunction o Omission of adults • Not just a disability of childhood but, rather, a lifelong condition o Omission of self-regulation and social interaction problems • Often experience difficulties in self-regulation and social interaction o Inclusion of terms that are difficult to define • Such as perceptual handicaps, dyslexia, and minimal brain dysfunction o Confusion about the exclusion clause • Is vague with respect to whether one could have both a learning disability and another disability o Inclusion of spelling • No need to mention spelling since it was included in the definition of writing •NJCLD definition o Group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities o Intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction and may occur across the life span o Problems in self-regulatory behaviours, social perception and social interaction may exist o Do not by themselves constitute a learning disability o May occur concomitantly with other handicap conditions or with extrinsic influences, not the result of those conditions The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada Definition •2002 •Definition o Disorders that affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information o Affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning o Distinct from global intellectual deficiency o Impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering, or learning o Include: language processing, phonological processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, memory and attention, and executive functions •May interfere with the acquisition and use of: o Oral language o Reading o Written language o Mathematics •Difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, social interaction, and perspective taking •Tend to be life long but the way they are expressed may vary over time •Suggested by unexpected academic underachievement or achievement which is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support •Due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors or injury that alters the brain functioning •Not due primarily to hearing and/or vision problems, socio-economic factors, cultural or linguistic differences, lack of motivation or ineffective teaching - further factors may complicate the challenges •May co-exist with various conditions including attentional, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions •Success requires early identification and timely specialized assessments and interventions •Interventions need to be appropriate for each individual's learning disability subtype, and include the provision of a minimum of: o Specific skills instruction o Accommodations o Compensatory strategies o Self-advocacy skills Identification Procedures •Using achievement-ability discrepancy or response to intervention as a means of identifying students as learning disabled •In Canada - each province or territory establishes the criteria Achievement-Ability Discrepancy •Exhibit a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability •IQ-achievement discrepancy was used - comparison between scores on standardized intelligence and achievement tests IQ-achievement discrepancy - academic performance markedly lower than would be expected on the basis of a student's intellectual ability •Many different statistical formulas o Considerable objections o Statistically flawed o False sense of precision o Tempt school personnel to reduce to a single score the complex and important decision of identifying a learning disability •Some have objected to using IQ-achievement discrepancy because IQ is not a strong predictor of reading ability •Idea of discrepancy is practically useless in the earliest elementary grades • Not expected to have achieved very much so it is difficult to find a discrepancy •Wait-to-fail model because this delay in identification •No research basis for using discrepancy definitions Response to Intervention Or Response To Treatment Response-to-intervention (RTI), Response-to-treatment - a way of determining whether a student has a learning disability; increasingly intensive levels of instructional intervention are delivered, and if the student does not achieve, at some point, she is determined to have a learning disability or is referred for special education evaluation •RTI involves the following components: o Students are provided with generally effective instructor by classroom teacher o Progress is monitored o Those who do not response get something else or more o Progress monitored again o Still do not respond - either qualify for special education or for special education evaluation • Ensures that the student's low achievement is not simply due to having received ineffective instruction Prevalence • 4% of children ages 8-11 • Public schools have identified 5-6% of students aged 6-17 • Largest category of special education • Half of all students that the public schools have identified as needing special education are learning disabled Increase in Prevalence • Since 1976-7 the size of the learning disability category has more than doubled • Reflects poor diagnostic practices as children are being over identified • Might be due to social and cultural changes that have raised children's vulnerability to develop learning disabilities • Children living in poverty doubled • Causal relationship between the decrease in the numbers of students who are being identified as intellectually impaired or disabled and the increase in the numbers of students who are being identified as learning disabled • School personnel often bend the rules to apply the label of learning disabilities rather than the more stigmatizing label of intellectually impaired Gender Differences • Boys outnumber girls by about three to one • Due to their greater biological vulnerability • Might be due to referral bias • Boys are more likely to be referred because of other behaviours that bother their teachers • US Federal Government's figures indicate that all exceptionalities are more prevalent in males Causes • Little neurological evidence of actual damage to brain tissues • Central nervous system dysfunction • Signifies a malfunctioning of the brain or central nervous system • Accumulating evidence for structural and functional differences between the brains of those with and without learning disabilities • Structural differences: size of the various areas of the brain • Functional differences: activity in the brain • How did the person come to have the neurological dysfunction? o Genetic, teratogenic, and medical factors Genetic Factors • Learning disabilities can be inherited Familiality studies - a method of determining the degree to which a given condition is inherited; looks at the prevalence of the condition in relatives of the person with the condition • 35-45% of first-degree relatives of individuals with reading disabilities have reading disabilities •Risk for having reading disabilities goes up for children who have bother parents with reading disabilities •Same degree of familiality with speech and language disorders and spelling disabilities •Due to environmental factors •Pass on their disabilities through child-rearing practices Heritability studies - a method of determining the degree to which a condition is inherited a comparison of the prevalence of a condition in identical twins versus fraternal twins •Identical twins are more concordant than are fraternal twins for reading disabilities and speech and language disorders •Evidence implicating genes located on chromosomes 6 and 15 in reading disabilities Teratogenic Factors Teratogens - agents, such as chemicals, that can disrupt the normal development of the fetus; a possible cause of learning disabilities and other learning and behavioural problems Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) - a range of abnormalities associated with the mother's drinking alcohol during pregnancy; defects range from mild to severe •Lead is another factor •Exposed to levels of these substances that are not high enough to result In intellectual impairment but are high enough to cause the learning disabilities Medical Factors •Can also result in the intellectual impairment, depending on the severity of the condition •Examples: premature birth, pediatric AIDS Assessment •Four types o Standardized achievement assessment o Formative assessment o Informal assessment o Authentic assessment Standardized Achievement Assessment Standardized achievement assessment - a method of evaluating a person that has been applied to a large group so that an individual's score can be compared to the norm or average •Achievement deficits are the primary characteristic of these students •Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Second Edition (WIAT-II) o Assess achievement in all the areas pertaining to the US federal definition •Designed the test so it could be used in conjunction with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to look for discrepancies between achievement and ability •Achievement tests focused on specific areas •Limitation - cannot be used to gain much insight into why students have difficulty •Three methods of assessment - formative, informal, and authentic- better suited to the philosophy that evaluation is more useful to teachers if it can be translated into education recommendations Formative Assessment Formative assessment - measurement procedures used to monitor an individual student's progress; they are used to compare how an individual performs in light of his abilities, in contrast to standardized tests, which are primarily used to compare an individual's performance to that of other students • Measures a students behaviour to keep track of his progress • Less concerned with how the student's performance compares with that of others and more concerned with how the student performs in light of her abilities • Five features in common: o Assessment is usually done by the teacher o Assesses classroom behaviours directly o Observes and records the student's behaviour frequently and over a period of time o Formative evaluation to assess the pupil's progress toward educational goals • Sometimes referred to as criterion-references testing Criterion-references testing - assessment wherein an individual's performance is compared to a goal or standard of mastery; differs from norm-references testing, wherein an individual's performance is compared to the performance of others o Monitor the effectiveness of educational programming • Model of formative evaluation is curriculum-based assessment (CBA) Curriculum based assessment - a formative evaluation method designed to evaluate performance in the particular curriculum to which students are exposed; usually involves giving students a small sample of items from the curriculum in use in their schools; proponents argue that CBA is referable to comparing students with national norms or using tests that do not reflect the curriculum content learned by students • Two other distinguishing characteristics o Designed to measure students' performances on the particular curriculum to which they are exposed o Compares the performance to students with disabilities to that of their peers in their own school or own school division Informal Assessment • Ask students to work on their academic achievement as the teacher takes note of what the students do well and where they have difficulty Informal reading inventory (IRI) - a method of assessing reading in which the teacher has the student read progressively more difficult series of passages or word lists; the teacher notes the difficult level of the material reads and the types of errors the student makes • Estimate the appropriate difficulty level of reading material for the student • Error analysis of the student's work as a way of pinpointing particular areas in which the student has difficulties Error analysis - an informal method of teacher assessment that involves the teacher's noting the particular kinds of errors a student makes when doing academic work Authentic Assessment • To assess students' critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in real-life situations Authentic assessment - a method that evaluates a student's critical-thinking and problem-solving ability in real-life situations in which she may work with or receive help from peers, teachers, parents or supervisors • Example of authentic assessment is portfolios Portfolios - a collection of samples of a student's work done over time; a type of authentic assessment • Allow for a broader-based evidence of student's work • Can be of particular value for culturally diverse students, for whom traditional standardized tests may not reflect their true abilities Psychological and Behavioural Characteristics • Two important features of this population; people with learning disabilities exhibit a great deal of both interindividual and intradindividual variation Interindividual Variation • Heterogenity • No two are exactly alike • Makes it a challenge for teachers to plan educational programs Intraindividual Variation • Children with learning disabilities also tend to exhibit variability within their own profiles of abilities • Individual variation in students with learning disabilities • Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities - test is rarely used today Academic Achievement Problems • Academic deficits are the hallmark of learning disabilities • Reading o Poses the greatest difficultly for most students with learning disabilities o Three aspects of reading: decoding, fluency and comprehension Decoding - the ability to con
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