This article provides an essay on learning disability.
Development in psychological research, particularly in the area of learning, is amazing. Whether one approves of the findings or not one has to accept the fact that psychologists working in this area are the ones who have taken psychology from the laboratory to the home, school and even the playground.
Scientists working in this area have not only identified learning disability as a problem but have tried to suggest various methods and means to eliminate it. Their keen observations and analysis of the behaviour of children showed that there are some children who are a source of constant irritation and despair to teachers at school and parents at home.
The reactions of these adults to such children, in turn, increase the pressure on the child who is already distressed and frustrated. As a consequence, such children develop a dislike for school, anger for the teachers, jealousy towards successful siblings and peers, negative self-evaluations and aggressive behaviour which further complicate their lives.
Children with such problems have existed throughout the history of humanity but the number has grown enormously ever since the introduction of formal education or schooling. The modern world, which is known for its lack of understanding and sympathy, dismisses such children as stupid, lazy or lacking in the will to learn.
Such children are made the targets of ridicule and countless punitive measures are applied by teachers and other adults. Learning theorists have taken up such problems for exploration. Let us take a look at what they mean by learning disability, and how they approach the problem.
Learning disability is an inability to benefit from the instructions or practices provided in the learning situation despite normal intelligence and the absence of other physical and major psychological problems. Thus, learning-disabled children are the ones who fail to benefit from regular classroom instructions, in one or more areas of academic subject matter despite average intelligence and the absence of any obvious physical, emotional or cultural handicaps.
The learning-disabled children are not mentally retarded, physically handicapped, emotionally disturbed and culturally or educationally disadvantaged. Such children are neither damaged nor permanently impaired because the disability is only an inability to make use of the instructions in a typical classroom. Given proper and specialised instructions, the disability disappears.
Thus, the problem is simply an educational one. Though the responsibility for helping such children lies in the hands of psychologists and parents, the crux of the problem ultimately rests with the educator. A learning disability is not so much a lack in the child’s ability to learn; it also means to identify and teach children with special educational needs.
Effective methods suggested for helping children with learning disabilities by psychologists may be classified into two main strategies or approaches the cognitive strategy and the stimulus-response strategy. The cognitive approach employs strategies like reasoning, selective attention, self-control, etc. and the outcome depends on inferences drawn from these processes.
On the other hand, psychologists who favour the S.R. strategy avoid inferences about internal processes like reasoning and self-control. Instead, they look at the situation in which the learner is placed, the material that is presented, the answers that are given and the consequences these answers have for the learner.
They analyse such behaviour and convert it into three main elements: stimulus, response and reinforcement. For instance, consider a child who is identified as being hyperactive or who has trouble sitting still in the class. It engages in a great deal of vigorous activity, and is, therefore annoying to have in the class and difficult to have around the house. The same problem may be approached in different ways.
The cognitive psychologists may emphasise that once such children are trained to pay attention and be selective about whatever they are doing, consequently concentration on the given task increases and distractions decrease. Teaching through self-instruction is another strategy employed in the case of the hyperactive child.
The child approaching each task has to follow to the core instructions like stop, look, listen and think. Every act undergoes some sort of scrutiny. This gives him a chance to spend more time on a single task and indirectly teaches him how to concentrate and channelize his energies to perform the given task.
Sometimes, cards with instructions or cartoon-like illustrations are made use of to remind the child what he is supposed to do. Some of the techniques the trainers employ to deal with such children are modelling, rational emotive therapy, desensitization, etc.
Given the same case scientists adopting a behavioural approach look at it in a different way. They carefully observe and record the behaviour of the hyperactive child, i. e the number of times he gets up from the seat, turns around, fidgets in the seat, whether he is attending to the relevant aspects of the subject matter the teacher is presenting, etc.
Thus, these psychologists operate on the assumption that behaviour is a function of its consequences and that the events that immediately follow a given act will determine whether this act will or will not be repeated when similar circumstances again present themselves.
They believe that it is more effective in the long run to strengthen desirable behaviour by positive reinforcement than to attempt to weaken undesirable behaviour by punishment or the withdrawal of previously available positive consequences. Thus, a boy who is constantly out of his seat disturbing others, fidgeting around, etc. can be got out of the habit not by punishing but by rewarding whatever brief moments he may be spending sitting still.
Then, when one works with a hyperactive child to reduce its hyperactivity through a behavioural programme, one can reward and, thus, increase the periods of sitting still. But merely sitting still is not the goal of the programme.
Sitting still is merely a necessary step towards teaching the child to learn to concentrate. The child is not only rewarded for sitting still but for sitting still and working on the task at hand. Otherwise, one is apt to end up with a child who has simply learned to sit still and do nothing.
One of the most significant aspects of the behavioural approach is that parents are made to learn the basic principles of reinforcement and participate in the treatment involving their own child. It is not always possible for a teacher to handout in the classroom the rewards a child has to earn in a given period: for this reason, a teacher using behavioural methods may give the child only checkmarks on a piece of paper, each mark representing an occasion when the child has earned reinforcement for desirable behaviour.
These checkmarks can then be traded for more concrete rewards once the child gets home. This has the advantage that the rewards can be highly personalized and consistent with the family values, standards and economic positions.
The use of this type of social reinforcement as reward is continued long after the child has finished participating in the special behavioural programme. Parents are involved in providing a bridge between the special programme or the special class and the usual situation in the regular classroom, home and other social situations.