Dealing with learning disabilityThe Special LearnerBy GENEVIEVE RIVADELO-GAWJune 22, 2009, 9:58amQUESTION: “My sister told me that my seven year-old niece is having problems at school, especially in Math and English. She says that the child is not lazy when studying that is why she wonders why my niece performs poorly in school. Recently, I have read something about learning disabilities and I assume that this could be the condition of my niece. If yes, what are the best school options for children with learning disabilities? Should they be enrolled in special schools or mainstreaming in regular schools could work for them? Are there other study habits that could be introduced to them to be able to overcome their learning problems? Thanks.”

A learning disability (LD) is only one of the possible reasons for poor academic performance. There are many other factors that could account for your niece’s difficulties in learning that could only be determined by a competent professional who could do a thorough assessment and validate whether or not your niece has LD.

Such could be administered by a clinical psychologist, neuro-developmental pediatrician or SPED (special education) diagnostician using measures of intelligence, memory, visual and auditory perception.

Observation, interview findings and anecdotal reports from the child’s parents, teachers, and guidance counselor would help establish whether or not the child has LD. This would prevent possibly mislabeling her which can have serious implications on her self-esteem and opportunity to receive intervention appropriate to her unique needs.


Children with LD usually have average or above-average intelligence and can see and hear adequately. However, they have difficulty processing what they see and hear, thus making it difficult for them “to listen, speak, reason, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations”
(U.S. Office of Education).

If you liken the child’s brain to a computer, the child with LD would be using a different operating system from what is commonly used by the majority, like the Macintosh OS versus the popular Windows. She receives the same sensory input perceived through her eyes and ears, but when the brain processes this information, she understands it differently!

A child with LD would need to work harder in order to succeed in school. However, given appropriate intervention, behavioral and academic support, she could lead a happy and productive life at home, in school and in the larger community.

Children with LD thrive in inclusive schools as long as specific accommodations and modifications in teaching, classroom management, curriculum, and grading are provided.

Some examples would be receiving after-school interventions from a reading specialist, engaging students in interactive and participative learning as opposed to traditional methods of instruction,
assigning a mentor or buddy who could promote positive social interaction, and finding alternative means to evaluate learning, for instance, using oral tests as opposed to paper-pencil tests. This flexibility is often possible in schools with smaller class sizes (not more than 15 students in a class) with a strong learner-centered orientation and competent teachers trained to differentiate instruction for differently-abled learners.

It is important to determine the specific skill deficits of the child with LD in order to find ways to help her optimize her potential. Finding the right school would depend on the child’s ability to cope with her condition, as well as the capacity of the school to adjust to the pace and nature of learning characteristic of children with LD. Often, these are non-traditional or alternative schools following the curriculum prescribed for typically-developing children but with provisions for teaching students with LD.

Remedial instruction in reading across the content areas (e.g. Science & Social Studies) through a resource room setting, or allowing accommodations in instruction (e.g. simplifying concepts/task analysis) and testing (e.g. increasing test time; reformatting tests) in the regular classroom could be significantly helpful.

What is critical is that high yet realistic expectations are set, without undermining the child’s strengths in other areas of potential ability. Promoting self-efficacy should be a primary goal as significant adults in the child’s life help her discover other gifts and talents that could make-up for difficulties in academic tasks, may it be in visual arts, music or sports.


Early on, children should already be trained to study on their own and gradually take responsibility for their own learning. Children with LD are at-risk of over-dependency if they are not equipped with the skills needed to learn effectively and succeed academically considering inherent limitations. Developing study habits in learners with LD is no different from that of typically-developing children:

• Provide an organized and fixed study area, free from distractions.
• Establish rules and logical consequences posted on the wall as a visual reminder to elicit good behavior.
• Break down homework and projects into “do-able” steps, specifying deadlines and expected outputs for every phase of completion with the aid of checklists & calendars.
• Use a timer to signal the start and end of a task and train time management.
• Recognize effort and other ways of producing the desired outcome.
• Be consistent in implementing all of the above!

There are many successful individuals with a learning disability who have found their niche in different endeavors, being a cut above the rest in their chosen field. LD is a lifelong condition but it does not set up the individual with LD for failure.

In fact, having LD could have paved the way for these special individuals to excel as they have learned to maximize their strengths rather than concentrate on their limitations. All they needed was for someone to believe the BEST in them.

The author is the executive director of ALRES-PHILS. and the chairperson of the SPED Department of Miriam College. A pediatric physiotherapist and special educator, she is currently pursuing her doctorate studies majoring in Special Education at U.P. Diliman. She is a staunch advocate for children with special needs.

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