Individuals who exhibit significant problems relative to “paying attention” may subsequently be classified as having an Attention Deficit Disorder. If they have trouble sitting still and their behavior is marked with excitability and excessive activity, they may be classified as having a Hyperactive Disorder. Frequently the two disorders are found together. Treatment for these disorders can involve dietary modifications, behavioral modification programs, and medication. It is of critical importance to ask the question, “Why are they not paying attention?” If they have the ability to pay attention in some circumstances and not in others, the presence of a learning disability should be ruled out. This is very important, as in my experience as a clinician, I have frequently seen children misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD when they should have been diagnosed as LD. The ADD/ADHD characteristics were directly related to the frustration associated with not learning even when they try and the associated frustration. Developing an intervention that insures a successful learning effort is very different for individuals with LD’s as opposed to those with ADD/ADHD. They are two distinctly different learning problems. One involves an inability (neurological) to pay attention, while the other involves a behavioral (frustration) reason for the lack of attention.
While provided with five senses through which we learn, not everyone has the ability to fully utilize these senses. Individuals have “differential learning profiles” where one sensory modality works better than another. If the difference is great enough, the individual is said to have a learning disability. Having a learning disability implies nothing about total intellectual potential. Many gifted individuals have learning disabilities. Once the preferred learning profile is identified instruction can be provided so as to insure acquisition of information through the preferred learning style, rehearsal emphasizing a multi-sensory learning style and mastery involving the ability to perform in a variety of learning modalities. Individuals with a learning disability will need to have a specialized program of instruction that insures adequate opportunity to acquire and rehearse information through their most effective learning modalities. Trying to teach through the disability only results in frustration, lowered self-esteem, and the behavioral consequences of such a method. Once the information or skill is mastered, integration through the weak area (disability) can be attempted. The degree of use of the weak learning modality will depend upon its absolute weakness. It must be remembered that for a differential learning profile to impair learning, the difference only needs to be “relative”. A gifted child with average learning capabilities through one of the modalities will experience significant frustration when trying to learn through the weak modality. This frustration is magnified when they do not understand the causes and the process. Teaching children about their own learning styles needs is every bit as important for their success as is educating teachers. The implications for appropriate instructional methods and learning strategies are as diverse as they are important.
It seems as if I regularly have a conversation with a parent or a friend of a parent who has a child that is experiencing “problems in school”. I recently had a conversation with a gentleman in Amish country in Pennsylvania. We got to talking about his son who had had major difficulties in school during the previous year. He had done so poorly, and his behavior was such as to merit evaluation. A change of teachers, and with the change, a teaching style this academic year and he is doing quite well. The child has the ability to watch television for hours without problem. Does he have the ability to pay attention? Does performance vary from one situation to another? What do you think the school came up with for their diagnosis and treatment? Let me say that the gentleman, from the information he provided me, had every right to be righteously indignant. Best wishes with your child.