Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learning Disabilities Misunderstood by Public and Educators

A study just released by the Tremaine Foundation shows that while people are becoming more familiar with learning disabilities, both the public and educators polled demonstrated some disturbing ignorance about the nature of such disabilities.  Over half of the public believed that learning disabilities are often caused by poor influences from the child's home, substance abuse on the part of the parent, or plain old laziness.  The majority also incorrectly associated learning disabilities with mental retardation, autism, and emotional disturbances.  Educators were somewhat less likely to believe these erroneous ideas about the causes and nature of learning disabilities, but still significant populations of teachers, sometimes in the 40% or more range, agreed with these wrong notions about the topic.

Another item of concern raised by the study results is the large number of parents who expect young children to "grow out" of signs of learning disabilities.  This is problematic because early intervention has proven to be so effective in helping those who learn different to succeed in school.


  1. I take issue with the authors of the study calling these notions wrong. "Learning disability" can be viewed as a social construct. Also, parental substance abuse can cause organic changes that will manifest, among other things, as learning disabilities. So can a lot of other physiological factors, even the diet. "Associated" is a funny word - just like autism highly correlates with certain intestinal problems, it correlates with certain LDs.

  2. Well, of course I've abbreviated a much more nuanced discussion of this issue, because obviously things like substance abuse can contribute to learning or physical disabilities. However, the authors of the study were arguing that if the public in general thinks learning disabilities are caused by parental misconduct, this will discourage parents from admitting the children's learning problems and seeking help in overcoming them.

  3. Ah, got it.

    Also relevant: the thin line between responsibility and blame.

    This used to be bad for autistics, when people believed autism is called by "cold parents."

  4. Exactly. I think my biggest complaint is when teachers associate learning disability with laziness, when I think the laziness is often on the part of the teacher who doesn't want to have to adapt to the needs of the students. But, again, I know teachers are usually overworked, so maybe it is more of case of "can't" rather than "won't" adapt to student differences.

  5. Laziness is such a useless concept. Or rather, its only use seem to be to justify coercion. In non-coercive situation, the idea of "laziness" magically disappears. One can talk about bad flow, for example :-)