What Are We Doing to Children Termed “Learning Disabled?”

by | Sep 14, 2012

Kim Kelderhouse had trouble learning the alphabet in kindergarten and was diagnosed as “learning disabled” in first grade.  She was required to attend special education classes to help her with her reading “problem.”  Instead, these classes weighed her down and hindered her progress.  She knew she wasn’t stupid, but was treated as if she was “broken and in need of repair.” 
It wasn’t until her parents put her in a different school to start sixth grade that things began to change.  The school didn’t regard her as disabled, but as having a different learning style.  She worked hard and then realized her label was her disability.  Once she overcame that stigma, she felt free and is now proud to be different, not disabled.
Imagine if Kim’s parents hadn’t found a different school for her.  Would she still be a “learning disabled” high school student today, struggling with her studies?  How many kids out there are doing just that because they don’t have the opportunity to go to another school?  Is labeling a child with some “disability” or “disorder” the right thing to do in the first place?
No it is not.  If a child is put into the category of “learning disabled” it immediately communicates to the child that he is not “normal” and that there is something wrong with him.  A child will believe what he is told, so with that label he will act and be that label, probably for life.  He will most likely not develop socially and emotionally like others without the label.  He will be prone to low self-esteem.  “Knowing” he is not normal certainly won’t benefit his progress or general welfare.
In addition, teachers most likely can’t help but regard “learning disabled” children as less intelligent, less attractive and less likely to be successful.  Along with such an “impairment,” it wouldn’t be surprising for a teacher to think the child would be more likely to have other problems, such as being distracted, hyper or having adjustment issues.  This only opens the door for discussion regarding neurological issues and before you know it a child can be further sent down the chute by being diagnosed with ADHD or some other unfounded “mental disorder.”  Just to make sure he is never himself again, these additional diagnoses are followed with prescriptions for dangerous mind-altering psychiatric drugs with potential life-threatening side effects.
The question here is when did it become abnormal to be different like Kim, thus requiring a label?  Why are children expected to learn at the same rate and in the same way in order to be considered “normal?”  Are our children supposed to be robots herded through the school system hoping to make it without being singled out as “learning disabled” or handicapped in some other way?
It certainly looks that way.  It seems that children are not allowed to be different anymore.  They are required to perform under certain conditions and rules set by adults.  If they don’t perform on schedule and the system doesn’t suit their learning needs, then a “learning disabled” label or some mental health diagnosis brands the student for life.
Instead of looking at how children don’t fit the educational timetable, how about looking in the opposite direction at what’s no longer workable with our education system today?  Instead of blaming the kids and looking at what’s wrong with them, how about looking at the learning environment?  Does the teacher give the student adequate attention?  Is the environment stressful, threatening or fiercely competitive?  Are the teaching methods poor or is the teacher actually competent?
It is interesting that kids that are homeschooled have virtually no learning difficulties and they usually outperform their peers in the school system.  Parents recognize the learning style of their child and can provide what is needed so that learning can take place without the scheduled expectations that a teacher has.  With that in mind and the fact that there isn’t anything to support or measure a physiological defect to account for a “learning disability,” it would only be logical to find out what is lacking in the school’s environment.
Sure we live in a fast-paced society these days with little free time.  But if we don’t take the time for our children, then we all might as well throw in the towel now because today’s children are our future.  We need to take the time and really find out what is the source of a child’s problem and stop the convenient labeling. 
All children have the capacity to learn, but they do so at different rates and in different ways.  Perhaps the problem is physical.  Perhaps he is eating something that makes focusing difficult and learning impossible.  Get a thorough physical exam from a non-psychiatric doctor.  Perhaps there is something troubling him outside of school.  Perhaps he just needs a bit more help.  The possibilities are endless.
Don’t go the convenient route of letting a teacher decide for you what is “wrong” with your child.  Don’t buy the “learning disabled” label or any “mental disorder” label without investigating it fully yourself.  Take the time to invest in your child’s future because labeling is disabling.     


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