negative consequences for the self-concept. As such, the problem can feed on itself and result in significant academic and behavioral
problems with lifelong consequences. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment are critical in facilitating the individual’s life.
Differential Learning Profiles
When an individual has one of their basic learning processes that do not work well, they tend to try to use their other learning processes to accommodate the weakness. The basic learning processes involve the five senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste). The majority of learning disabilities that cause significant problems involve auditory processing (hearing) and/or visual (seeing) processing. You can have perfect vision and hear perfectly well and have a LD related to either or both of these conditions. I have a problem with visual processing of information. While I have always seen perfectly (until my advancing age has required the use of glasses), information available only in visual form is not nearly as effective in helping me learn or perform as is information presented auditorily. I am an auditory learner. I depend very heavily on hearing things to be able to do my best. For me to read with maximum comprehension, I must read out loud. To accommodate this, I have had to learn to “read out loud silently to myself”. This violates all the rules for teaching quality reading skills. It also makes me a slow reader. The key for accommodating my visual processing deficit is to utilize my auditory skills (language) to encode visual information. If I want to remember what color dress my wife is wearing when I’m not looking at her, I have to tell myself, out loud, “She is wearing a blue dress”.
My wife, Deborah, is just the opposite. She has a preferred learning style that is visual. For maximum learning potential, she has to see it. If I want to torment her, I read out loud to her while she is driving. She constantly has to fight the urge to snatch the book away from me so that she can look at it herself. Other individuals have different preferred learning styles, or combinations of preferred learning styles. Auditory-Tactile (hear directions and actually touch what they have to work with) is a common combination.
I have seen a number of learning disability profiles, some of them quite unique. I have a highly visual client with significantly above average intellectual ability that cannot learn to read or write. She has successfully completed a military career and, essentially, learned to accommodate her inability to learn. Most people never know. I frequently have to remind myself as I regularly provide her with written information. Another client was experiencing petit mal epileptic seizures with no apparent cause. He had sustained no head trauma or fevers that would typically result in such a condition. He had repeatedly seen physicians to try and understand his condition. It was not until I identified a significant visual processing problem that the real clue to the etiology of his seizures became apparent. In testing, this individual could not discern up from down and left from right. My last example involves what is essentially a case study. I have been involved with a young boy since his infancy. Very clear indicators were evident early on that olfactory information was important to his learning. As he approached the critical periods of beginning language, significant deficits were evident. Between the ages of 1 ˝ and
3 ˝ behavioral problems developed in proportion to the delays in language development. Then, over the period of what seemed to be just a few weeks, he developed the ability to express himself. Behavioral problems diminished at a rate consistent with his language skills development. At the age of five, I evaluated his language skills using the Bracken Basic Concept Scale (BBCS – I highly recommend it) and intellectual potential with the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI). His intellectual potential was in the gifted range and his language skills were in the mentally handicapped range. This is a tremendous difference and quite clearly represented a learning disability relating to language skills. He became a very talkative and inquisitive young man. This is to be expected given his intellectual potential. He would frequently have difficulty asking questions because his language skills were not equal to the knowledge he was seeking. Difficulties in school were generally attributable to language deficits. I regularly remind him that his less than perfect grades are usually involved with his language skills deficits. I also advise him that these skills will continue to improve as his intellectual development provides new avenues for learning, integration of information, and retrieval.
Every school system should educate their teachers on the importance of understanding the implications or teaching to specific learning styles. This education should also include methods of teaching that emphasize a multisensory learning style as a means of insuring all students have full access to the information provided. Teachers should also be provided with means of accommodating specific learning styles preferences. Teacher’s Aides should also be trained relative to these issues as they can provide much of the individualized instruction to individuals needing a specific method of presentation. Having a knowledge of learning styles differences and a system-wide emphasis on addressing them sets a tone of conversation that will dramatically improve the learning environment. By grade three all students should be evaluated with an assessment specifically designed to identify learning styles preferences. The students should then be individually counseled relative to their learning styles preference and provided with methods for accommodating their own needs. Making sure that the children understand themselves in a non-judgmental fashion is a critical component of providing individually targeted instruction.
I regularly identify individuals with the ability to benefit significantly from reading out loud. There are sufficient numbers of these persons so as to mandate the opportunity for children to read out loud regularly. Given the logistics of the typical classroom, homework assignments for reading out loud to a parent may be a viable option.
I was recently asked by a teacher completing post-graduate studies in preparation for administrative responsibilities for a thesis topic. She wanted to do a practical study with practical implications. I suggested she do a study where she determined the learning styles of all of the students and then provide instruction specific to the individual learning style. Teachers would be trained, lesson plans would be developed, and teaching techniques refined so as to fully address all of the learning styles needs. In brief, this is my recommendation to school systems and parents. If the school system doesn’t do it, I strongly encourage the parents to make sure they have it done. Simply counseling students on the subject of learning styles differences can make a significant difference. (continued)