LD Overview

Learning Differences:  Overview

This part of the website is especially for students with learning difference/disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Parents, teachers, friends and everyone else interested in this area is also welcome. I hope these pages will help you understand and support students with learning differences.

Some information is based on research.
Some is based on personal experience.
Some are my own suggestions that you might find helpful.

This picture and others on this site, shows a model. Here, she  pretends to be frustrated and discouraged. The A young woman finds it hard to study because of stress.expression on her face reminds me of many students I have known, including those with learning differences. It is discouraging to try your best but do poorly because of learning disabilities.

She has read her assignment three times but still doesn’t understand. She might think  going to college was a mistake, that maybe she should give up and go home.

If you ever feel this way, DO NOT give up and go home.

1. You can get  help from this website.

2. You can get  help from your college’s office for students with learning disabilities or from a counselor

3. You can get help from your professors. They do want you to succeed.

But help won’t come to you. You must ask for help.

A Brief History: Learning Problems over the past 100 years

1. Although research began in the 1800s, most people until the 1930s described learning disabilities as brain damage and did not expect these students to be able to learn much.

2. In the 1930, children with ADHD were first treated with stimulants. Educators now described learning disabilities as poor connections in the brain

3. In 1962,  the term “Learning Disabilities”  was first used.  Educators now  recognized that students with learning disabilities could be intelligent while having problems with reading, writing, spelling, social skills, attention, organization, etc.

4. In the 1990s, laws were passed requiring special accommodations for learning disabled college students.

The website includes pages with information and suggestions for students with Dyslexia and related problems, ADHD, and Asperger’s Syndrome. These pages include stories including the story of my son, Tony, who is severely dyslexic but who managed to get through college and got his MA in order to teach HS Physics.

I hope some of you will share your stories and suggestions.

Information that can CHANGE YOUR LIFE

1. When people thought learning disabilities meant brain damage, many educators thought it was a waste of time and effort to teach these students anything more than basic life skills.

2. When people recognized that people with learning disabilities could be extremely intelligent, educators began devising appropriate methods and advocated for accommodations such as extra time on tests or oral exams. When students felt that teachers understand their problems, they were certainly encouraged, but none of these strategies really solved the problems students face.

YOU KNOW THIS IS TRUE, DON’T YOU?  One author (I don’t feel I should name the author) wrote this less than ten years ago.

“What you need to know is that you can learn to compensate for these shortcomings and you canexcel, even though your learning disability will not go away and it can’t be cured.”

3. Recent brain research is proving THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY TRUE !.

It started with research on rats. Marion Diamond and others showed that rats in cages with other rats and with a variety of interesting toys (enriched environments) actually became  smarter than rats in less enriched environments. Certain parts of their brains were larger and heavier.

In 2007,  Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, described  revolutionary experiments showing that people can sometimes use strategies to make changes in their brains. One of the stories he told was about Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.

Now, Arrowsmith-Young has published her own book: The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, 2012.   Barbara Arrowsmith was born with multiple physical and mental disabilities. She managed to get through college and into graduate school by working far harder than other students. After much research, she developed simple exercise and repeated them over and over. Her learning improved because areas of her brain actually changed.

She now runs a school for people with learning disabilities where the first step is to identify the exact problems that need remediation. The inability to read can be caused by combinations of many specific problems. The children use the exercises to remediate these problems. Her results are amazing.

So far, if you wanted to use these strategies, you would need to travel to Toronto for the testing and either spend several years in her program, or if you are lucky, you might find people in your area who have been trained in her methods. Few students have the money and are willing to take the time to do this. But, if your children inherit your disabilities, they might have the chance to change their brain and overcome their disabilities.

Over the next decade, we will no longer tell students they can only compensate for their shortcomings… that their learning disability will not go away and cannot be cured.

What can we learn from this that can help us right now?

In a book called  Learning Disabilities by Paquette and Tuttle, they refer to  Dr. John Ratey from “A User’s Guide to the Brain.”  He “recommends a ‘use it or lose it’ strategy when it comes to strengthening brain connections.  Although it is often a struggle to learn new things, the learning process strengthens the brain.” p. 27

They also discuss a study of the gray matter in the brain – the part of the brain used for thinking and processing information.

The gray matter … has a growth spurt in the teenage years. This is more good news because it gives you a second chance to tighten the circuitry of your brain by stretching yourself and trying to use as many parts as possible. The brain cells that are used get more nutrients and that helps them survive. The choices you make determine which connections survive and which don’t.”

What does this mean for you?

You may have tried learning to read or write or do math many  years ago, and then given up. Giving up caused those connections in your brain to begin disappearing. But now you have another chance. Right now, especially if you are still a teenager or close to that age, you have another chance – a way you can change your own brain.

You can practice your handwriting over and over, practice spelling, practice reading, practice learning math, practice social skills.  The more you practice these skills, the more change will take place in your brain. This will make further learning easier.

I can’t promise that these exercises will solve all your problems but this information makes sense and I would certainly recommend that you give it a try.

When you read my son’s story ( Tony’s Story ), you will discover that he made it through college and got a master’s degree while still reading at about fourth grade level. There was no way he could read any of his books. After graduation he began trying very hard to read the one book he most wanted to read… and to everyone’s amazement, he really taught himself to read.

The next page is Taking the First Steps  .   Everyone should read it.

LD Links: List and Links to pages on learning differences/disabilities.

If you have a question or comment that should be kept confidential, or a story to share,  go to Contact Judy

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