What are Learning Disabilities and Learning to Live with Them: My Son's Story

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Prologue: My Three Sons


Learning disabilities affect adults and children alike in larger numbers than might be realized. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Peterborough, one in ten Canadians is affected by a learning disability.[1] According to the U.S. Department of Education, learning disabilities affect about 5% of all children enrolled in public schools.[2] Self-esteem, school success, and as an adult job success and societal integration are all negative aspects which can affect the lives of those living with these learning differences. Al though I would not consider myself an expert, I have vast experience dealing with children having these learning differences.


My middle son, although not learning disabled, has been identified by our school board as intellectually gifted. School is very easy for him because of his unique set of learning differences including an incredible ability to focus despite enormous distractions and a unique set of cerebral neurons with advanced capabilities in the storage and retrieval of information. He does not often become bored as his independence allows him to discover his own avenues of extra learning. He also actively participates in extracurricular programs, such as the Queen’s University SEEDS program which allows him a three to five day stay at the University exploring an academic subject at an advanced level with other like-minded children his age.


My youngest son struggled somewhat in his early school years, lagging behind in the areas of reading and math. His learning style is very unique requiring extreme body motion to assimilate information. He is an extreme kinesthetic learner. Studying for tests and memorizing speeches provides entertainment value, watching him as he paces back and forth while recalling answers or memorizing text. It seems his brain is hardwired to his muscular movement. During his primary years, he received tutoring through a specialized program at our local learning disabilities centre. Until grade three, he received tutoring in the area of reading through this same organization. Extra work at home in reading drills and reinforcement in areas of math not comprehended in the classroom also contributed to his later success in the classroom. The extra home work was not always appreciated at the time but later success in the classroom made it all worthwhile. My youngest son is now working above grade level in most areas, is confident in the classroom and although new math concepts still can provide an extra challenge, he faces these difficulties with new fervor. He desires greatly to succeed and works hard to ensure success happens!

My oldest son was diagnosed with a ‘learning disability’ in grade six. His learning difference stems from an inability of his brain to visually assimilate information at a rapid pace. He has what is referred to as a visual processing disability. In other words, he processes visual information at an extremely slow rate. For him it means that he reads text one word at a time. Most of us can read words in a group and make certain predictions as to what comes next to increase reading speed. We recognize phonetic patterns and apply that knowledge to read unfamiliar words and to easily learn to recognize the same word when we see it again later. Slow visual processing resulted in my older son’s reading acquisition to be very slow. His dyslexia became more aparent as text became smaller and the amount of text increased.


[1] Learning Disabilities Association of Peterborough. www.ldaptbo.com . Feb.1, 2012

[2] Kenyon, Rochelle, Ed.D. Bridges to Practice: Florida’s Focus on Adults with Learning Disabilities. www.floridatechnet.org/bridges/factsandstats.pdf . Feb.1, 2012




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Oldest Son in Particular


Reading will always be a challenge for my oldest son as will writing and spelling as he can only focus on one word at a time. Copying notes is very slow, as he can only remember one word per look at the board.


Grade six seemed to be the crucial year when his problems came to a head. Prior to that year, extra help at home with mom and dad helped him over many hurdles. He worked very hard with mom on reading drills to gain better reading fluency. Written work took a lot longer for him providing additional frustration but with someone helping to scribe for him, the pressure was reduced. Grade six was a heartbreaking year for him. He was depressed and despondent often. As a bright child, he found it frustrating and degrading that he couldn’t keep up with his classmates. His self-confidence dropped even further and although he had never found school enjoyable, his frustration peaked in this year. He fidgeted in class tremendously to relieve the stress and was reprimanded often. It was strongly implied he had ADHD which since sitting still in a desk had never been his forte may not have seemed illogical to most educators. One of his teachers finally suggested that it might be worthwhile for my husband and me to get psychological testing done for him on our own. Worried about our son’s extreme frustration and depression we took that route. He had been receiving tutoring at the same Learning Disabilities organization as his younger brother. A ‘Computers for Literacy Program’ focussing on reading skill acquisition paired with the use of assistive computer technology such as Kurzweil, Word Cue and Inspiration had been helping him since halfway through Grade four. They also provided my husband and me with the guidance to find a psychologist and advocacy to deal with any arising school board issues. It was through his psychological testing that we discovered his visual processing speed was in the 5th percentile of the population while his auditory processing was in the 99th percentile of the population. This huge discrepancy in abilities helped to solidify the position that he was dealing with a true disability negatively affecting his school performance. As his intelligence quotient also tested as slightly above average, this also contributed to his classification.


Some parents fight to not have their children given an exceptional diagnosis with the school system but it has provided two of my kids with resources essential to their success and well-being at school. My middle son has [1]received extra programming to feed his intellectual giftedness while my oldest son has received assistive technology and program support which is contributing to his success at school. He uses a school assigned laptop having Kurzweil and Word Cue for spelling and reading text to him. He writes many of his tests in school using Kurzweil to read the test to him utilizing his superior auditory skills. He also receives extra time for tests and assignments when necessary to give him the ‘time frame’ in which to be successful. Especially in English, novels are presented to him in auditory format so he can listen while reading which greatly enhances his ability to concentrate on the story itself rather than on individual words improving his comprehension dramatically.



[1]Crouse, Scott L. Uncovering the Mysteries of your Learning Disability. 2009


Defining Learning Disability


Scott Crouse states, “A learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding and using language spoken or written which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, spell, or do mathematical calculations.”[1]

There are two main parts to a learning disability:

  • processing differences;
  • discrepancy

A person with a learning disability processes information differently than the general population. Some kinds of information get stuck or lost while traveling through the brain. Think of yourself traveling through deep snow. Each step is difficult and you take much longer to reach your destination on top of dealing with the frustration of stumbling and slipping. A person with a learning disability is always working in deep snow and the frustrations that go along with this terrain.

In addition, a person with a learning disability has a discrepancy between their ability to succeed and their actual achievement. Persons with a learning disability can be just as smart as the person next to them but their grades do not show this ability. Despite appearances, this discrepancy is not due to laziness, lack of ability or anything else. Persons with a learning disability learn differently than others.[2] They do not have a disease which can be cured. Learning disabilities are not outgrown. The LD person must develop lifetime strategies to cope and be successful.

Information processing refers to the following brain activities:

  • how the brain takes in information;
  • how the brain uses this information;
  • how the brain stores this information in memory;
  • how it retrieves this information;
  • how this information is expressed.

Persons with a learning disability, have difficulty with one or more of the above activities. Information in certain parts of an LD brain gets ‘bogged down’ which is why some information is slower and more difficult than other information types for an LD person to learn. In the area of the brain affected, the LD person never acquires the ‘automatic pilot’ which allows a person to learn new information without being consciously aware of the act of learning.[3]



[1]Crouse, Scott L. Uncovering the Mysteries of your Learning Disability. 2009

[2]LDInfo. www.ldinfo.com/learning_disability.htm. Feb. 1, 2012

[3]www.psychologists.biz/Processing_Speed_Disability.html. Feb 1, 2012


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Screen shot from 'Inspiration', a program used as assistive technology for many learning disabled children and teens.
Screen shot from 'Inspiration', a program used as assistive technology for many learning disabled children and teens. | Source
Dyscalcula can also be a result of slow visual processing.
Dyscalcula can also be a result of slow visual processing. | Source


Persons with a processing speed disability often have difficulties in one or more academic areas due to the slow processing speed. This slow processing speed affects many learning areas such as:[1]

  • oral or verbal fluency often resulting in slow speech and/or delays in responding especially to open-ended questions;
  • slow reading speed (dyslexia) which affects reading comprehension due to the person’s need to focus on the mechanics of reading rather than the meaning of the words being read;
  • writing speed which affects the ability to efficiently and quickly write coherent text due to the impairment in the ability to use words and grammar construction correctly;
  • lack of math fluency may result in lower achievement in math computations and/or math reasoning also affected by poor vigilance (sustained focal attention) and deficits in working memory capacity;
  • social function of the LD person may be affected as they feel social pressure to perform ‘faster’.

Slow visual processing speed including dyslexia often benefit from the following interventions at school and at home:[2]

  • quiet reading area;
  • audio books;
  • large print books;
  • lack of penalty for spelling (in school grading);
  • laptop for writing;
  • multi-strength methods of teaching (activities centered on strengths such as kinesthetic, auditory, athletic, artistic etc.);
  • using logic rather than rote memory in school evaluation;
  • use of assistive technology such as Kurzweil (for audio reading of text and tests), Word Cue (for spelling) and Inspiration (graphic organizer for writing activities);
  • restrict copying of notes by providing photocopies when possible;
  • allow the dictation of creative stories.

My middle son suffers from primarily a visual processing problem and has benefitted tremendously from most of these accommodations. Most of them are included in his Individual Education Plan (IEP) that is updated each school year.


[1]www.psychologists.biz/Processing_Speed_Disability.html. Feb. 1, 2012

[2] Cossette, Gale E. Ph.D. Specific Learning Disabilities: A Neurological Disorder. www.slideshare.net/mobile/MyGaley/specific-learning-disabilities . Feb. 1, 2012.


Epilogue

My oldest son is a likable, now well-adjusted person enrolled in a university oriented high school program. He struggles at times with the tremendous effort it costs him to succeed but he persevered none the less. He still receives tutoring from our local Learning Disabilities Association in Peterborough and will upgrade certain courses in the summer to solidify his learning where needed. He has appeared on our local news openly discussing his LD and does not hide his need for extra support in school. He recently spoke with a group of elementary aged students in a SoAR (Some Assembly Required) program which prepares students to enter high school confidently and successfully. He confidently and with charm and grace answered all of their questions. I am proud of the young man he has become. Thankfully, his visual perception did not impede his ability to play football which provides a physical outlet for him. He just passed his G2 driving test on the first try! School will always be a test of his endurance but he will persevere and be successful in whatever his future goals may be.

Rudy is a great movie that tells the story of a boy who sidesteps the odds, learning disabilities, lack of size, speed and short supplies of finances and familial support to achieve his ultimate dream of playing for the Irish.
Rudy is a great movie that tells the story of a boy who sidesteps the odds, learning disabilities, lack of size, speed and short supplies of finances and familial support to achieve his ultimate dream of playing for the Irish. | Source

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Comments 16 comments

Lizam1 profile image

Lizam1 4 years ago from Victoria BC

Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I work with a lot of adults with "invisible" disabilities who have been poorly served by experts and educators. One of the differences in their lives that helps them stay in school/housing and not fall through the cracks is a loving and understanding family. Your children are fortunate. best wishes.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment. It has taken a lot of time and commitment to ensure my two learning -challenged kids got the support and extra home schooling to be successful and happy at school. Giving up my full- time teaching position has been so worth it when I see how far these boys have come!


Ardie profile image

Ardie 4 years ago from Neverland

Teresa, your son's story is so well told through your words. I feel like I know him, understand him, and applaud him for his efforts and his ability to overcome his learning disability. Thank goodness for great parents and a school system that cares enough to make sure students with all abilities succeed. I am going to show this article to my friend. She just mentioned to me that her daughter (5th grade) just got an IEP because she needs tests and papers read to her. Her daughter understands the material but just can't take a written test on her own - the reading skills arent there. I hope your son's story will help my friend and her daughter realize success CAN happen :) Thank you so much for sharing this.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Your welcome Ardie. We are so proud of Connor and all that he's accomplished. Tell your friend to persevere. The key to success is as much home support as possible. Utilize any and all resources available. A local learning disability association can be a fantastic place for support and help. As a result of the help we received from our local chapter I am now on their board of directors to 'give' back. I wish your friend and her daughter all the best. They have a good friend and resource in you. If you have any other question don't hesitate to contact me. It sounds like your daughter's friend requires similar supports to my son Connor!


girlpower profile image

girlpower 4 years ago from eugene oregon

wow what a great, informative hub, well thought out and so easy to understand,i have been in the support to developmentally disabled adults for 35 years, and some of them were learning disabled, and your one hub had more useful information in it that many papers and resource books i have read over the years. i think it was well understood as well, i think textbook people did not live through it like you did and put it all together as you saw how they developed. the most useful was how to address and see improvement, like quiet environment, audio, large print...so many of my clients had mid range IQ's but the stigma of going 12 yrs in reg or special ed classes where no one addressed the issue, wow your hub is very helpful. kudos to you, i will follow you, my hubpages name is girlpower and it tells the story about 35 yr of working with people with disabilities and now i am disabled, i got ms and was forced to retire, now i write novels, sleep late and at 55 am happier than i had been in years, i used to work long hours, as outreach worker for dd adults who live in their own apartments, who were much like teenagers that had apartments, i have no children but i found out how to work well with all their variety of diagnosis but some of them could have been helped so long ago if the school system knew what you know. you can read my story at girlpower and listen to some of my folk songs and read my story "God lives in a nursing home in Wisconsin


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Kudos to you girlpower for being one of the.seemingly tireless workers helping kids and adults alike with learning and developmental issues. As an occasional teacher, I see the exemplary efforts of the educational assistants who work so closely with these kids getting paid so little but accomplishing so very much! I am overwhelmed but the comments received thus and I appreciate your high praise. You learn a lot working first hand with kids having learning differences. I was devastated seeing especially my oldest son suffer which was a powerful motivator for learning! Thank you and I will check out your hubs. Glad to hear your ms has not dampened your spirits. I wish you all the best in coping.


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 4 years ago from California

Wow! Amazing and very informative Teresa - I truly applaud your unconditional love and devotion, not complicated but so many parents seem to be in a state of denial somehow, which makes the struggling child feel that much worse! Support, praise and look for the strengths not the weaknesses. Rated up, interesting and useful!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Chatkath. The compliment means a lot . I never thought twice about working towards what Connor needed to succeed but he is the true hero for his continual perseverance to succeed to the best of his abilities in a manner that works for him.


Clare C 4 years ago

Hi Thank you so much for this. I have spent the last 8 years trying to get someone to take notice of the fact that in my opinion my son had a learning difficulty which I considered to be borderline ADD because I couldn't put a finger on the problem. I was continuously told that there wasn't a problem but I knew that the amount of additional work myself and his Granny were doing with him was masking the problems. He's now in secondary school and his difficulties have become more and more apparent especially as a young teenager trying to exert his independence. Thanks goodness for a lovely psychologist who listened to my concerns and who tested my son a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I got the educational psychologists report back and, as with your son, my son has very, very poor visual processing speeds but average/high average scoring in the other areas tested such as auditory comprehension etc. I have been having huge behavioural problems with my son including aggression towards me because of his frustration, absenteeism from school, migraines and depression and I am convinced that a large part of this has been down to his inability to cope with the workload presented in its current format. I have just gone and got a copy of the Dragon software but will look at the software that you have mentioned as well. Thanks so much for sharing your story I will read some of it out to my son this evening as he had himself convinced that he was stupid and that there was no way he was going to college. After getting his results explained to him yesterday he asked me on the way to bed was there any course he could do at college that was more practically based - My heart jumped for joy - not that he has to go to college - but because I hope he now believes that if its what he wants its achievable.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

I am so thrilled that you were finally able to find the answers to your son's school challenges. Connor also went through years of thinking he was not very smart and his frustration also manifested itself behaviorily in the classroom. We found one on one tutoring has worked wonders for him. I also made sure I was part of the initial development of his I.E.P. In Canada I know his psychological report can follow him to college or university and he can get similar accommodations as he receives now in highschool. If you have any questions at all please don't hesitate to contact me through this hub or through email available on my profile page. With his psyc Ed report he should be able to have an individual education plan providing accommodations to reduce the stress of his workload. I am so glad you persevered until you found the answers you needed. Your son will still need you as an advocate at least for the time being. Keep pushing his school to get him the accommodations he deserves. He can be very successful. My son has hopes of going to University and is working very hard to achieve that goal! Good luck and please contact me with any questions. I'd be honored to assist in any way!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

This is a great explanation of a learning disability. Very in depth information. And having a true testimonial makes it very real. I know this article will be helpful as is circulates. Great job!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

thanks Rebecca. it was often hard seeing him struggle when we were first figuring out how his brain "works". knowledge is golden and having had him tested was so useful in understanding how his brain works and what was required to help him succeed.


D2monds 4 years ago

Thank you Theresa for sharing your story. I too am going through the same thing with my 28 year old son. I didn't learn about his learning disablity until he was in the 5th grade. I had him in a private school when I found out this out. Of course I did use every resource that was available to me to assist my son. I had to pull him out of private school to enrolled him in a public school to assist him further. However, I wish I could say he made progress. I recently turned to the Department of Rehabilitation for assistance to assist him with his job assistance and speech because he also studders. They really reached out to my son to assist him. However, my son was very hard to work with. He ignored calls and letters sent to him throughout the program. I had no idea he was doing this until the job coach alerted me to my son's behavior. I really don't know what else to do. He stays in his room all day on the computer and watching television. I wanted him to attend a support group with me as well as speaking with a psychologist, however he refused. I have given him words of encouragement letting him know that I want to help him and love him and that I'm behind him. He just doesn't care what I say. I'm very concerned and at my wits in.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

It sounds like you have done everything in your power to help your son. It is heartbreaking to see them suffer through the years of feeling inadequate and not as worthy as their peers. At some point, however, the child or in the case of your son, the adult has to make a concious decision to take the help offered. All you can do at this point is continue to offer to be there when he needs help. I feel very much for your situation D2monds. It is definitely not easy. It may come to the point where you have to make a decision based on tough love. You will know what is right for you and your son when the time comes. Keep loving and encouraging him to seek the help he needs to succeed.


SQIAR 10 months ago

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Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 6 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks. It is worth all the effort to help your kids. My son in this post is now in his third year of university. We are so proud of his accomplishments.

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