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How to cope with learning disabilities and attention deficits

Updated on July 15, 2011

I have written several articles here on hubpages about my assistant, Kari, who works for me at my bed and breakfast: House For Sale, Keeping it All Together, and Broken Dishes. She exhibits several behaviors which prevent her from functioning on a level that her intelligence alone could handle. To use some popular labels, I would characterize her as obsessive compulsive, impulsive, depressed, and having attention deficit disorders. However, she is extremely intelligent and capable of functioning at a high level for periods of time. If conditions are conducive to her learning capabilities, she functions quite well as long as there is not too much pressure on her.

Prior to working with Kari, I was a special education teacher and learning specialist in the high schools in Chicago, where I worked with many students who suffered with the same behavior problems as Kari. Most were not as intelligent as she is and, of course, didn't have the life experience that she has at age 32, married and with children. After observing and determining just what their behavioral problems were, my main concern was to identify their individual learning styles and design strategies to cope with and compensate for those problems.

Every individual has their own learning style and most fall under one of the following general categories, with some degree of variation:

1. Visual Learners(those who learn by seeing)

These individuals tune in on body language and facial expression to fully understand. If taking a class or attending a meeting, etc, They tend to sit at the front of the room to avoid visual obstructions (e.g. people's heads). They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flip charts and hand-outs. During a lecture, classroom discussion or meeting, they often take detailed notes to absorb the information.

2. Auditory Learners (those who learn through listening)

These individuals learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.

3. Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners (those who learn through moving, doing and touching)

Tactile/Kinesthetic persons learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.

Some people learn best by using a combination of the above learning styles. The delineation between each style is not so clear cut and they definitely overlap. I tend to be a visual/tactile/kinesthetic learner, so I have always learned best by sitting up front, making diagrams and outlines, and taking notes. The note-taking also brings into play the tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (muscle memory), as do hand-on activities. I have developed many more ways of helping myself to learn efficiently over the years.

The advantage of identifying your learning style

If you feel you would like to learn more efficiently and retain more information, because your method of taking in information and storing it in the brain also affects your memory, the first thing you need to do is identify your learning style or styles. An adult can probably do this for himself; however, most children would benefit from working with a learning specialist. Using strategies involving your learning strengths is a good thing, but this is not to say that you should avoid the areas that you are weak in. For example, I do not learn as well auditorily as I do visually, but I do spend time trying to strengthen my auditory skills.

The next step is to develop strategies for utilizing your strengths and strengthening your weakness. There are many listed on the internet and in various publications that can help you get started. I've listed a few below. From there you can create some of your own, which are unique to you as an individual.

Examples of strategies that may work for you taken from Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences (

Visual Learners:

  • use visual materials such as pictures, charts, maps, graphs, etc.
  • have a clear view of your teachers when they are speaking so you can see their body language and facial expression
  • use colour to highlight important points in text
  • take notes or ask your teacher to provide handouts
  • illustrate your ideas as a picture or brainstorming bubble before writing them down
  • write a story and illustrate it
  • use multi-media (e.g. computers, videos, and filmstrips)
  • study in a quiet place away from verbal disturbances
  • read illustrated books
  • visualize information as a picture to aid memorization

Auditory Learners:

  • participate in class discussions/debates
  • make speeches and presentations
  • use a tape recorder during lectures instead of taking notes
  • read text out aloud
  • create musical jingles to aid memorization
  • create mnemonics to aid memorization
  • discuss your ideas verbally
  • dictate to someone while they write down your thoughts
  • use verbal analogies, and story telling to demonstrate your point

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners:

  • take frequent study breaks
  • move around to learn new things (e.g. read while on an exercise bike, mold a piece of clay to learn a new concept)
  • work at a standing position
  • chew gum while studying
  • use bright colors to highlight reading material
  • dress up your work space with posters
  • if you wish, listen to music while you study
  • skim through reading material to get a rough idea what it is about before settling down to read it in detail.

Multiple Intelligences

Having a learning disability or an attention deficit does not mean that a person is not intelligent. Either one may affect the efficiency with which you use your intelligence, but they do not imply that one's intelligence is operating on a low level. On the contrary, many geniuses and famous people have had learning disabilities and attention deficits. Some examples are: Albert Einstein, Nelson Rockefeller, Galileo, Thomas Edison, Mozart, John F. Kennedy, Whoopi Goldberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Disney, John Lennon, and Robin Williams to name a few. Just about everyone has a area in his or her cognitive functioning which may be weaker than the rest.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:

  • Linguistic Intelligence (word smart)
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (number/reasoning smart)
  • Spatial Intelligence (picture Intelligence)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (body smart)
  • Musical Intelligence (music smart)
  • Interpersonal Intelligence (people smart)
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence (self smart)
  • Naturalist Intelligence (nature smart)


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    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      So glad you got a chance to read this and I hope it helped in some way. BTW, everyone has learning problems. They just vary in degree and from person to person.

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      alekhouse, I voted this one up. Learning problems has been a "cause" of mine for years.

    • jj200 profile image


      10 years ago from My Bedroom

      I've participated in heterogeneous classrooms as well as homogeneous classrooms as an educator and I honestly think it depends on the resources and circumstances of the schools and individuals. Most of my experience comes from rural Maine, where there is very little ability and resource to separate students from an early age, so they learn to "deal" within the classroom. Though I've also been a part of more segregated classrooms where the students who can excel are not held back by those who struggle. It's certainly been a hot topic for so many years and one that still has not been proven one way or the other. I love being part of the discussion and part of the process of making schools the best they can be for ALL children.

      IEP's - of course great if you can get them to all kids, but not realistic, imagine though what a world we would have if....

      It's also still a wonder to me that multiple intelligences is still not being taken into consideration fully even today. As a recent college graduate from a very prestigious college, my professors in my major: Education, did not even embrace this idea in their classrooms (I'm living proof), though they certainly TAUGHT it to us. Interesting, I think.

      Happy trails, Austin is a wonderful place so say my northeastern transplant friends.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the interesting information on dance therapy. I will definitely write more on this subject. Not only does it interest me, but it seems a lot of hubbers are also fascinated by the topic.

    • Sue Adams profile image

      Juliette Kando FI Chor 

      10 years ago from Andalusia

      Being a dance and movement teacher I am very interested in multiple intelligences. I've always said to my pupils that they could think with their toes and now scientists are proving that we have neurologically intelligent cells (like brain cells) in the heart and in almost every organ of the body. My sister, a dance movement therapist, can get positive results when working with brain injured patients through movement therapy. This is all very fascinating and interesting. Rudolph Benesh, the inventor of dance notation said that "All Art is One in Dance" (music, scenery, libretto, physical). It figures that the 3R's as taught in formal schools is just not good enough and that everyone could excel if only permitted to use their strongest capabilities so often ignored. Please Alekhouse write many more hubs on the subject. I love it.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the nice comment. Yes, human beings are truly amazing in the way they can dapt both physically and mentally.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      10 years ago from Washington

      That's so nicely presented! It is truly the real deal though and all about how people learn. Our son who is visually impaired has so many other senses that he uses that I have always been amazed at how people adapt, no matter what the handicap.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Hey there Frieda, good to see your smiling face again. Thanks for the nice comments. Glad you liked the hub. It's an interesting topic. My contact had waned somewhat since I became an Innkeeper, but it all came back when I wrote the article. There's a lot more to it. I may have some time to write more after moving to Austin. It'll be soon now.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @marieyan: it is a challenge and that is exactly what I liked about it. Thanks for the comments.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @jj200: I have mixed feeling about special education classes in general, but an IEP is probably a good idea for every student, whether special or regular. Although, that would be pretty impossible if one were to have 5 classes (let's say in HS) with 20-30 kids in each.

      And I don't like the idea of separating kids who have obvious learning problems from those who are assumed not to have learning problems for one reason or another (e.g. good grades, no behavioral problems, etc).

      Although, I have used labels here, I really don't like that either. I's just more efficient and expedient for those who have to work in the field. But it sometimes has a negative effect on the kids.

      I have always taken my work home with me, even when I taught regular ed for 15 years. I was a teacher for 30 years and never really burned out, because I kept changing disciplines and was always excited about what I was doing.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      10 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Fantastic hub. I remember learning all of this while going for my education degree. Thorough and well written, alekhouse. I'll pass this along.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      10 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      What an enormous challenge for teachers to be able to identify these different intelligences in a room of 25 children. But that is what the job entails...

      A great's reminding me of "the more you know the more you realise you don't know!"

      I'm bookmarking this for further study and thumbs up!

    • jj200 profile image


      10 years ago from My Bedroom

      Great hub, you brought me right back to Education 203: Educating All Children. Good idea adding the wheels, they really help people visualize what you're saying. I hadn't thought about any of this stuff in a while, so it was nice be reminded of it all, and I think an important piece for everyone to read. Very fitting for the topic of the week. I didn't get the chance teach much (you can read my hubs on this topic to see why), but I have to ask two questions: 1. do you think schools should broaden the use of IEPs? and 2. how much have you ended up taking your work home with you... emotionally? Teachers and especially special education teachers burn out so frequently.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I told princessa about it. She sent a new link. Guess that one isn't working either. I'll check it out again...Thanks.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Fascinating stuff. I have no idea where I would come out.

      The rss feed is not working. This could mean that the hubmob does not pick up your hub.Perhaps you could check it out :)


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