Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

What is a learning disability?
Learning Disability is not a specific term; it is a category containing many specificdisabilities, all of which cause learning to be difficult. The following definition of “learning disability” is used for legislative, financial, and educational purposes only. It is NOT a definition of dyslexia, which is one specific learning disability. The term ‘learning disability’ means a disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. It may show up as a problem in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling or in a person’s ability to do math, despite at least average intelligence. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or physical handicaps, or mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Simple Definition of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language—despite at least average intelligence.

Revised definition from the International Dyslexia Association
Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting. Dyslexia is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions. Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention.

Research definition used by the National Institutes of Health
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Cause of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is an inherited condition. Dyslexia results from a neurological difference; that is, a brain difference. Dyslexia runs in families. f/MRI studies have shown that people with dyslexia do not activate sufficiently the same part of the brain when reading as other people. Studies by NIH (National Institute of Health) and other prominent researchers have demonstrated that dyslexic persons are deficient in phonemic awareness.

Phonemic Awareness
Quotes from prominent NIH researchers: “The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to learn to read.” “Phonemic awareness is more highly related to learning to read . . . than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension.” “Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor separating normal and disabled readers.” NIH research has repeatedly demonstrated that lack of phonemic awareness is the root cause of reading failure. Phonemes are the smallest unit of SPOKEN language, not written language. Children who lack phonemic awareness are unable to distinguish or manipulate SOUNDS within SPOKEN words or syllables. They would be unable to do the following tasks:

Phoneme Segmentation: what sounds do you hear in the word hot? What’s the last sound in the word map?
Phoneme Deletion: what word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?
Phoneme Matching: do pen and pipe start with the same sound?
Phoneme Counting: how many sounds do you hear in the word cake?
Phoneme Substitution: what word would you have if you changed the /h/ in hot to /p/?
Blending: what word would you have if you put these sounds together? /s/ /a/ /t/
Rhyming: tell me as many words as you can that rhyme with the word eat. If a child lacks phonemic awareness, they will have difficulty learning the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent in words, as well as applying those letter/sound correspondences to help them “sound out” unknown words.

So children who perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks via oral language in kindergarten are very likely to experience difficulties acquiring the early word reading skills that provide the foundation for growth of reading ability throughout elementary school. Phonemic awareness skills can and must be directly and explicitly taught to children who lack this awareness. Phonological Processing and Phonics Phonemic awareness must exist or be explicitly and directly taught BEFORE phonics (or phonological) instruction begins. Otherwise, the phonics instruction will not make sense to the dyslexic child. Phonological processing starts by knowing which speech sounds are represented by which written letters. The goal of teaching phonics is to make phonological processing fluent and automatic. Phonics teaches how the written letters blend together to produce words, how the sounds of the letters change depending on the letters that surround them, the rules regarding adding suffixes and prefixes, and so on. In other words, phonics teaches students the internal linguistic structure of words.

How can parents recognize it?
A reading disability A kindergarten child may have difficulty remembering rhymes and recognizing words that rhyme, naming shapes such as square, triangle and circle, and learning the names and sounds of letters. Most young children confuse the letters b an d but it is symptomatic of dyslexia if they continue to read and write them incorrectly at age eight. An older child or adult may demonstrate many of the following symptoms.

Checklist of Classroom Behavioral Characteristics for Preliminary Identification of Dyslexia
Reads at a level significantly below his peers… Aways, Occasionally, Never?
Knows many words by sight for a short time but forgets them later… Aways, Occasionally, Never?
Reads orally in a mechanical fashion without expression or intonatio… Aways, Occasionally, Never?

Math Disability Characteristics of Dyscalculia
Unable to understand relationship concepts of: time, space, and measurement.
Unable to memorize simple number facts and multiplication tables.
Lacks understanding of place value for carrying and borrowing.
Forgets the procedures for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.
Arrives at the correct answer, but only after an inordinate amount of time.
Counts on fingers for simple number facts well after the appropriate age.
Works very slowly on work pages. Close observation will reveal that he has worked out the answer to a supposedly memorized fact in this fashion: 4X8= 2×8=16 2×8+16 32
Makes many simple computing mistakes.
Learns to compute without understanding the concept and therefore does not use the appropriate algorithm for word problems.
May reverse the digits in writing: 31 for 13
Carries the unit digit instead of the tens digit because does not understand place value.
Ignores math symbols or misreads them.
Unable to tell the time by age nine.
When distracted in the middle of a math problem, has to start over from the beginning.
Looks for any excuse to escape math class. Feigns boredom or fatigue when asked to work on math.
Lacks the needed computational skill in shopping, making change, and figuring his expenses.
Does not understand the relative cost of items.
May become more hyperactive during math period.
Covers the bottoms, margins and backs of arithmetic papers with marks for counting up to answers because lacks the ability to compute.
Unable to estimate time, space, costs.
Does not discover or invent strategies for calculating.
What are the treatments for Math disability
Dyscalculia Treatment for dyscalculia focuses on many specific instructional methods and at present can follow any structured mathematics program. Dyscalculic persons must have far more opportunities to practice in concrete ways the association of numbers with actual situations. For example, Teachers should not assume that children have understood place value simply because the have learned, to carry the digit on the on the left side of a two digit number and add it to that column. In multiplication they may have learned to move the second row of products one place over, but not understand that they are actually now multiplying the ten’s column.

Principles of Instruction for Dyscalculia
Start at the student’s success level.
Ensure understanding of terms used. (bigger, smaller, more, less, before, after, etc)
User concrete objects to introduce all new concepts (blocks, beads, playing cards, cuisinaire rods, stearns blocks, lego, etc.)
Continue to have concrete objects available as long as the student needs them.
Follow a structured program.
Give homework only for reinforcement when you are sure his answers will be correct.
Move to semi-symbolic level (pictured objects, rulers, dominoes, etc.)
Give massive practice before moving on.
Review the work done during the last lesson before introducing the new material. This will reassure the student that he is ready to go on as well as provide some reinforcement.
Published Programs
Key Math Teach and Practice Program Published by American Guidance Service. AGS

What are the treatments of learning disability/ dyslexia?
Treatment programs for dyslexia, a specific learning disability, should be linguistically based, highly structured, provide for massive practice for each new element to be learned, and stress phonemic awareness and syllabic decoding. Several such programs are available in the USA. Among the better known programs are: Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, Let’s Read, Scottish Rite. Students may continue to be somewhat slower readers and may be eligible for extra time when taking exams such as the College Boards if it is proved- by diagnostic testing- that reading accuracy and comprehension are within the normal range and only reading speed is affected. How can tutors help a child with learning disabilities? A qualified and experienced tutor for children with dyslexia should provide specific instruction several times a week and use a recognized, scientifically based and approved program. Two to three years are usually required to bring the student up to his or her age level in reading and spelling. What are the skills and qualifications for a teacher of children with learning disabilities? The teacher must first meet all State teacher requirements and then possess a master’s degree in Special Education or have taken all courses required for certification as Teacher of Children with Special Learning Needs by their particular State. Most tutors are also trained in one or more of the recognized programs for the remediation of dyslexia.

About Pamela Kvilekval

Bio and list of books: Pamela Kvilekval: Introduction Pamela Kvilekval’s background includes: Ten years as Special Education Administrator for the Andover Public Schools where she was responsible for all Special Education Programs: The Evaluation Teams; Learning Disabilities; Emotionally Disturbed and Behaviorally Disordered; Mentally Retarded; Physically Handicapped; Speech and Language Development; Psychological Services; Physically Handicapped and Health Services. Prior to that she supervised the Learning Disabilities teachers for the Newton Public Schools, Newton, Massachusetts and later Program Head for the Andover Public Schools. She has taught extensively for Universities and conducted many in-service programs for teachers in the Public School systems in the New England Area. She spent several years in Italy as a teacher and supervisor in International Schools and two years in Micronesia as a teacher and Title I Project Director in the Marshall Islands. She is now an independent consultant and Director of Special Education Services: a diagnostic and treatment center that provides a variety of special education services to the Rome International Community. In addition she serves as Adjunct Graduate Faculty and Rome Coordinator for Framingham State College (Massachusetts). She has served on the board of directors for the Italian Dyslexia Association (Associazione Italiana Dislessia) and co-directs their summer intensive training program for Italian dyslexic youths. She is the author of: A Program for Specific Language Disabilities. A training program and materials for the remediation of dyslexia. 1994 A PANLEXIA Program. Formerly known as, “The Andover Program for Learning Disablities”. Il Metodo Panlexia: La Rieducazione della Dislessia. PANLEXIA is an teacher training manual with complete diagnostic-prescriptive materials for teaching the Italian dyslexic to read, write , and spell.. This book is accompanied by a set of humorous linguistically structured story books by Nelly Meloni. Both books are Published by Edizione Scientifiche, Ma.Gi.1998 Rome, Italy Lo Screening per l’età Prescolare- Il PSS. With permission from the publishers and the assistance of highly respected Italian experts, she has developed, with Letizia Sabbadini, the Italian version of: The Preschool Screening Test, by Peter and Marian Hainsworth , published by ANICIA, 2002, Rome. Italy Um Programa para Dificuldades Específicas de Linguagem: O Método Panlexia A complete training manual and diagnostic-prescriptive teaching materials for teaching the Brazilian or Portuguese dyslexic. Curitiba, Brazil 2004 Insegnare l’inglese ai bambini dislessici:Un metodo sicuro per tutti (Teaching English to Dyslexic Children. Libriliberi 2007 Firenze, Italy DISLESSIA (The dyslexia professional journal of Italy) A regular contributor to this journal since its inception in 2004, three publications each year, writing the International News section with editorial comments. Written with other members of the Comitato Nazionale Scuola of the Associazione Italiana Dislessia- AID La dislessia raccontata agli insegnanti Libriliberi 2002 Firenze, Italy La dislessia raccontata agli insegnanti- 2 Prima elementare: prove d’ingresso e proposte di lavoro Libriliberi 2003 Firenze, Italy
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3 Responses to Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia

  1. Maggie Wash says:

    Hello,

    I am trying to find information about the best public high schools in Massachusetts for children with dyslexia. My daughter has been attending The Carroll School but she enters 8th grade next year and I need to start developing a plan for high school and would like to begin assessing public schools. Can you provide good resources?

    Thanks,
    Maggie

  2. Missy Billingsley says:

    We are Americans and have recently moved to Roma for 3 to 4 years. We have 3 elementary aged children. Our daughter has a very difficult time with math. She is in the 3rd grade and still doesn’t understand very much math. Your article described alot of her problems. Can you help us find an English speaking tutor?

  3. Bethany says:

    I have an 8th grade boy who was diagnosed w dyslexia at age 7. We spent much time learning to read and were finally successful using the Lindsmood-Bell method. Now however—math ( basic math facts, order of operations etc.) is our huge battle!! What approaches can you suggest for help in these areas. Do you know of any online programs that are geared to help dyslexics learn math???