Learning Disabilities Reconsidered

Having grown up the daughter of a Special Education teacher, I thought I acquired the appropriate knowledge and sensitivity about those with learning disabilities (LD). After Dr. Gerber’s first class, I now realize I had very little knowledge about the heterogeneity of learning disabilities and the differences among adults with LD depending upon their phase of life (Gerber, 1998).  My mother taught elementary and middle school children with learning disabilities in Reading and English. My mom would invite her students to our house for an “end of the year” party.  As a kid, I remember playing with her students with disabilities in our backyard.  I never knew what their disability was because I couldn’t see any physical signs. I remember thinking they are just like me. The only way I knew they had a disability was because they were in my mom’s class.  After I graduated from college, I did some substitute teaching at my mom’s middle school in Henrico County. I subbed for her and got to know her students well. Some of her students were in collaborative classrooms and others were in self-contained classes (depending upon the severity of the disability). I recall observing my mom’s students in P.E. playing basketball one day and thought that the non-disabled students have no idea my mom’s students could only read and/or write at a 3rd grade level. These students should have graduated from high school by now and I wonder what their experience has been into adulthood. I now know that a learning disability in adulthood presents different challenges and issues because “the experience of being learning disabled varies as an individual progresses through various levels of development” (Gerber, 1998). I wonder if some went on to post-secondary education or found employment. I wonder if they suffer from low self-esteem like many adults with LD or if they are the exception.

In my current job as a college academic advisor, I meet individually with over 200 students twice each semester in order to help them achieve academic and career goals. I can count on one hand how many of my students self-disclosed their learning disability (mainly ADD or ADHD). If they did self-disclose, they often treated it as though it was not a big deal. When I suggested they go by Disability Support Services (DSS) to receive appropriate accommodations, those students felt as though accommodations were not necessary. Out of the handful that self-disclosed to me in a meeting, none went to DSS to receive official university accommodations. One student told me they met individually with the instructor to receive extra time on a test and preferred to treat his LD on a class by class basis (in other words, he wanted to take a first test in the course to determine if he could be successful without accommodations). ADLT 688’s class discussions and readings support my experience with students with LD who often don’t know how to constructively disclose their disability, especially after their K-12 years.  Adults with LD view their disability as a negative experience rather than a positive motivator for success (Gerber, 1998).

The first class heightened my awareness and increased my knowledge about adults with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. I’m anxious to learn more about older adults adaptive techniques used in employment, family life, social situations, and even into retirement years.

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