Learning Disabilities: How Do We Stop the Stigma?
Too often, students with learning differences are labeled early in their educational careers as lazy or dumb. Learning disabilities may hinder a student in many areas of their lives, from academics and the school environment, to social interactions at home, at school, and elsewhere. There are many professional disciplines that help these students manage their learning differences and develop their strengths, though there is still a dangerous stigma attached to many of these differences.
When students do not fit into the average mold, they are often perceived as dumb by peers and even teaching professionals. Peers may bully students who they perceive as different or stupid. Teachers are frequently under-trained to manage the learning differences of the diverse student populations they serve. Instead of encouraging unique methods and approaches that would better serve their students with learning differences, they often take the easier out and assume any student who cannot keep up with the presentation of information in their traditional classroom is stupid.
Another common assumption made about students with learning differences is that they are lazy. When a student is so overwhelmed by an assignment that they cannot figure out, it can look from the outside like they are just being lazy. In fact, the student is struggling with a higher level cognitive skill known as executive functioning, which includes skills like breaking things down into steps, organizing information, and making decisions. A student may be very focused on the assigned task and have many ideas about how to tackle it, but simply be unable to choose the best one and then break it down into manageable steps so that he knows where to begin.
What can I do to help?
The labels that are placed on students, like “stupid” or “lazy” can have a dramatic effect on them far into the future. When someone is told again and again that they are dumb, they will eventually begin to believe it. Supporting a student with a learning difference can mean helping them to discover their strengths. It can mean helping them to find their true interests, and develop them into a love of learning. It can mean teaching them techniques to help them manage their unique differences and become the best they can be. It means helping them discover that they are neither dumb nor lazy.
There is a lot of work to be done to stop the stigma attached to learn disabilities in our education systems. If you interested in learning more about how you can help students with learning differences, visit the University of Cincinatti Behavior Analysis Graduate Programs Online at http://behavioranalysis.uc.edu/. Do your part to help end the prejudice that pervades our perception of disabilities.
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