In this post we will talk about learning disabilities and some of the myths. We will go in detail in upcoming posts. For now treat this post as an introduction.

It is strongly supported that the involvement with the persons who encounter various problems due to certain disabilities in no way can be claimed to be a philanthropic pursuit nor to be limited only to this form of support. It is true that a support based on volunteering work includes organization of social gatherings for disabled persons in order to strengthen their belief in their capacity for work, their ability to behave independently, to be included in the workforce of their country and enjoy the recognition of their environment as concerns the positive traits of their character (Pato,B.,2010)

Evidently, the measures which should be taken by official state services in the line with the expressed support of ordinary people not only will contribute to the relief of persons in need, but, also, will support national efforts to meet the crucial situation as a result of the economic crisis almost worldwide.

The Employment and Social Affairs Directory of EU, in a survey on disability matters (2007) identified that the 74% of the EU27 population thinks that more people with disabilities are needed in the work place. The crucial point of the employment indicators, and the involvement of persons with disabilities in the labour market is the disputable figures of prevalence.

A survey has been, also, conducted by my research team almost two years ago,for this study among a randomly selected sample of 138 persons consisted of 70 males and 68 females aged between 25 to 37 years old employeed in small and medium enterprises (SME) .The problem statement was:“ It is claimed that more people with disabilities are required in our today’s labour market. Do you agree?” Please tick one of the following five options .The responses are shown in the following table 1.

Consequently, it is very promising that an increasing interest in recruiting persons with disabilities to the workforce will be an effective treatment of these persons who constitute the “major minority” as it will be proved in the following pages of this paper. Besides, there are plenty of jobs ranging from laborers, gardeners and upholsterers through auxiliary services to unskilled workers. It is clear that to achieve these goals, persons with disabilities are required to attend tailor-made training courses supplied by specific schools with the use of educational tools adapted to meet the learning requirements of these individuals. From the economic point of view it is more interesting to pay for increasing the productivity of the work force rather than paying unemployment benefits which will provide social benefits to disabled individuals but will not produce any economic output.

table.1 learning disabilities

2. Communication Problems

understands the speaker. Verbal and written messages are conveyed by means of linguistic systems or symbols, or else words, which represent a thought, a concept, an object or an experience. (Mandy, H (2009) The system requires a receiver and a sender operating (tuned) in the same wave band. Linguistically, the wave band is the word. In case communication process uses words of confusing or unknown meaning there is no communication and hence understanding. Unfortunately, this negative phenomenon happens in the area of persons with disabilities.

For decades various terms about ‘Special Education” are used based on traditional practice rather than a scientific term to describe the situation. The term “special” is used to characterize the educational process of persons with disabilities. Yet, “special “ means distinguished, better than normal. Vocational Schools offer many special courses, say for plumbers, electricians or other professionals. All these people are not necessarily disabled Misused terms and terms recommended as appropriate are cited here below (Table 2).


Table 2. Misused and recommended terms for persons with disabilities, Source: Author’s proposals.

As seen in the above table, the difference between the traditional terms usage and the purely scientific ones is very important in communication. The use of terms not easily understood or creating confusion may have serious impacts on the lives of persons with disabilities. For example, the use of the terms handicapped, exceptional. retarded and other result to confusion. It is, certainly, for this reason that the most authentic world organizations refer to persons with disabilities The United Nations Organization (UNO) in 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2001, the Council of Europe in 2006, and the Employment and Social Affairs of EU27 in 2010 define persons of any form of impairment as disability .The paradox about the terminology used is that most of the member countries of these world organizations, though signatories of the relative agreements continue to use terminology which was adopted many decades ago.

Presumably, they stick to the traditional terms which have been in use since decades, instead of using the scientific terms which from the communicative point of view are more effective. It is, therefore, important that definitions used to describe persons of any sort of impairments should be universally accepted to ensure clear understanding. In science, there is not a matter of traditional pursuit, but a purely scientific discourse. Tradition is a long established way of defining the various terms related to persons with disabilities. On the other hand, scientific ways of defining terms conform with the principles or methods used in describing specific situations.

During the early years in the history of “Special Education” various scientists, mainly psychologists, classified people into groups according to their disabilities. As a result of this movement, the following categories have been registered by Heward & Ortansky. (1984)

  • Learning Disabilities
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Speech and Language Disorders
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Visual Impairment
  • Physical Handicaps
  • Mental Retardation
  • Behavior Disorders

The lack of linguists in the process of defining the various impairments is obvious and has resulted to the creation of misunderstandings among everybody concerned with special education A typical example of the confusion created by the variety of definitions concerning the various disabilities among the EU27 countries is the dicision of the European Union to assign to the Brunel University (Mablett, D.,2009) to perform a comparative analysis of the definitions of disability used in the social security and employment area across the European Union member states.

What is astonishing in the whole defining process is that the predominant term of these persons with disabilities is exceptional persons. A simple survey in five on-line dictionaries of English Language randomly selected revealed the confusion the term exceptional creates to parents, educators, medical people and others because the form exceptional has contrasting meanings as explained in the dictionaries:

Dictionary com

  • Being unusually excellent, superior. ( an exceptional violinist) [+]
  • Being physically ore especially mentally handicapped. Special schooling is required. [-]

The Free Dictionary

  • Having much more than average intelligence, ability or skills. (an exceptional memory) [+]
  • Deviating widely from the norm as of physical, mental ability. [-]

  • Well above average, extraordinary. (an exceptional talent) [+]
  • Below normal in intelligence [-]

Macmillan Dictionary

  • Extremely good or impressive in a way that is unusual [-]

Merrian Webster

  • Better than average, superior ( an exceptional skill) [+]
  • Deviating from the norm, as having above or below average intelligence. [+/-]

Now picture that you receive a letter from your daughter’s school informing you that “your daughter is exceptional”. What will you do? Will you jump for joy? or will you feel bitterness?

3. Historical Review

References related to aid, support and medical treatment of individuals in need are traced even during the dark periods of mankind as cited by Winzer, M., (1993). From 1500 to 1662 four events have been considered the cornerstones in the history of special education.

  • Marginal improvements for handicapped persons appear in 1500
  • Pedro Ponce de Leon undertook the education of handicapped persons in Spain in 1578.
  • Jean Pablo Bonet wrote the first book on special education in 1620.
  • The Royal Society of London supports research into the nature of language and the teaching of deaf and blind individuals in 1662.
  • During the 17th century European pioneers were involved in a variety of attempts to educate disabled persons.

Moreover, the first school for blind children is recorded in UK in 1791, whereas the first school for deaf was established in USA in 1817 under the name of American Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb In the 1800s the education of disabled persons was the responsibility of individuals supported by charities, hospitals, philanthropists etc following a system tending to the isolation of disabled persons.

By the end of the 18th century, education for disabled children was accepted as a branch of education under the name of Special Education.

Following the change of attitude toward people with disabilities during the end of the 18th century in the USA, reformers founded schools to educate children with a variety of disabilities. (Alton, G. (2001) The compulsory education for normal children (1900) was extended to all children in England in 1913 and in USA in 1918. Beginning in the late 1960 and early in 1970 parents and advocates for students with disabilities began to use the courts trying to force the states to provide an equal educational opportunity to these students (Yell, M.,(2004).

image for learning disabilities

The compulsory education for normal children (1909) was extended to all children in England in 1913 and in USA in 1918.

Beginning in the late 1960 and early in 1970, parents and advocates for students with disabilities began to use the courts trying to force the states to provide an equal educational opportunity to these students. (Yell, M.,(2006). Among these e cases the following are worth mentioning:

  • Established the right of all children to an equal opportunity to education.
  • Declared the track system for Special Education placement unconstitutional because of discrimination against black and poor children.
  • Supported the right of individuals to have appropriate treatment within state institutions.

In the period of 1958 to 1975, Heward, W. & Orlansky, D., (op.cit,) reported that four important public laws out of the twelve which were passed refer to:

  • P.L. 85-926 (1958): Provision of funds for training professionals to train teachers of the intellectually disabled.
  • P.L. 87-276 (1961) Funds for training professionals to train teachers of the deaf.
  • P.L. 88-164 (1963) Funds for training teachers of other handicapped persons, including retarded.
  • P.L. 91-320 (1969) Definition of Learning Disabilities and provision of funds for state level program for learning disabilities.

The emergence of initiatives related to persons with disabilities towards the integration accomplished in the 20th century followed a fascinating pathway from the 16th century in Spain through the Age of Enlightenment in 17th century France and England to 18th century issues in Europe and North America.(Winzer, M., op.cit)

4. Classification And Definition Of Terms

Following the decisions of all world organizations to refer to all forms of impairments as disabilities, a term which is readily accepted by the legal associations of persons with disabilities, it is more than confusing to continue to use this term when referring to all the forms of this learning problem. I would propose that we use instead of the term learning disabilities for the whole category the term learning impairments.

Then, learning impairments will consist of slow learners, learners with disorders, learners with difficulties and learners with disabilities.

4.1 Slow Learners

It is accepted that all children or adults learn at different rates. Yet, some persons though slow learners do not have a learning deficiency. Slow-learners fail in their studies, regardless of the level of education, because of their low intellectual abilities. They may have a wide range of abilities and a variety of characteristics depending on their background.

4.1.1 Characteristics

According to Haskvitz, A., (2011)

  • First, slow learners are frequently immature in their relations with others and do poorly in school.
  • Secondly, they cannot do complex problems and work very slowly.
  • They lose track of time and cannot transfer what they have learned from one task to another well.
  • They do not easily master skills that are academic in nature, such as the times tables or spelling rules.
  • Perhaps the most frustrating trait is their inability to have long-term goals.
  • In their physical appearance they are not different from normal children.
  • Capable of being educated in ordinary schools and achieve a moderate success provided.

4.2 Learning Disorders

According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health Learning Disorders, these disorders are academic difficulties experienced by children and adults of average to above intelligence. People with learning disorders have difficulty with reading, writing, mathematics or combination of the three. These difficulties significantly interfere with academic achievement or daily living.

4.2.1 Characteristics

  • Reading disorder: It is a language related disorder coming in four types.
  • Some people decode fine but do not comprehend.
  • Some people have a hard time decoding but comprehend well.
  • Some others have both problems
  • Some people do not recognize or interpret letters and words (dyslexia).
  • Children have problems recognizing and counting numbers (dyscalculia).
  • Disorders of written expression typically occur in combination with reading or mathematics. It is characterized by problems with spelling, punctuation, grammar, and organizing their thoughts in writing. (dysgraphia)

As it is, learning disorders affect how a person understands, remembers and responds to new information. People with learning disorders may have problems one or more of the following problems (Mediline Plus (2011).

  • Listening or paying attention.
  • Speaking.
  • Reading or writing.
  • Doing math.

That is it for now. We will talk more about learning disabilities in the upcoming posts.