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Learning Disabilities


Learning disabilities have received increased attention over the past few decades.

An estimate from the National Institutes of Health indicated that about 5 to 10 percent of the population has a learning disability. According to the federal definition, a child or an adult with a learning disability may have difficulty listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or doing math.

According to Doris Johnson, people with specific learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence, but they have difficulty processing the information they receive. “It’s important to differentiate reasons for learning problems,” she says. “Some people have poor motivation, limited instruction or low overall mental ability, while people with learning disabilities have normal hearing and average mental ability but are unable to profit from their experiences and the instruction that is provided.”

Johnson says there are differences of opinion over the best ways to identify learning disabled children, as well as the best means to deliver services, such as total inclusion [i.e., mainstreaming] or “pull out” programs.

“Our philosophy here has always been to recommend settings in which the learner can thrive and profit from the instruction,” Johnson says. “I think there are still many unanswered questions, but I have focused on diagnostic and clinical teaching, which is a form of individualized instruction designed to use the child’s strengths to build up a weakness.”

While there are many questions remaining, it’s clear that both children and adults with learning disabilities have benefited from the many questions that Johnson and others have asked during the past 40 years. — P.D.S.