Standard Curricula Not Enough For LD Students
By Dr. Joe Sutton, Ph.D
Parents of learning disabled youngsters often ask, "Which home school curriculum would be best to use with a learning disabled child?" Such a question is certainly reasonable to ask. Unfortunately, when one considers who learning disabled students really are and the complexity of this form of disability, it is clear that there is no simple answer to this question.
We can surmise from the federal definition (i.e., Public Law 94-142) of "specific learning disability" (LD) that these children will have normal to above normal intelligence, a characteristic which, in fact, distinguishes them from children who have learning problems which stem from mental retardation, visual impairment, hearing impairment, or other recognized disabilities. We also know that LD students will have psychological processing difficulties, which, more than likely, will cause problems in absorbing information visually and\or auditory (although we know that these children are not visually or hearing impaired).
But, in addition to these two identifying criteria, Hallahan and Kauffman (1991) tell us that the hallmark characteristic of LD students is academic under- achievement. LD students' achievement scores typically are not on the same par with their God-given ability (i.e. intelligence) to learn; hence, the federal definition speaks of a severe discrepancy between IQ and achievement in LD students. Finally, the definition reveals that the learning problems cannot be attributed to any other existing condition.
A learning disability may manifest itself in any one or more of the following academic areas: basic reading (decoding skills), reading comprehension, listening compre- hension, oral expression, written expression (including spelling), mathematics computation, and mathematics reading. But not all LD children show problems in the same academic areas. For example, some may have learning disabilities in math computation and spelling, yet others could have learning disabilities in written expression, reading comprehen- sion, and mathematics reasoning, and so on.
Given the variability of a learning disability from one child to another, it is now apparent why "the best curriculum" question is so difficult to answer. The truth is that there are strengths and weaknesses in virtually all of the leading home school curricula on the market today. And no one home school curricula will meet all the needs that a learning disabled student will have. More importantly, home educators should realize that most home school curricula are designed for average, typical learners, not learning disabled students. Parents will simply have to choose the one (or combination of several) that they believe best reflects the learning needs of their child.
But key to providing the most effective home education for a learning disabled student is not leaning on a standard curriculum per se, but designing a program that is tailor-made to the unique needs of the child. Generally, a two-track teaching approach is required for most learning disabled students that includes a daily time of remediation as well as daily instruction in a regular curricula that is on the child's functioning level (based on achievement test scores). Determining the specific academic skill weakness that needs to be remediated will probably require the services of a professional examiner. Once those skills have been pinpointed, parents can then carefully choose various instructional activities to employ for remediation. When home educators of learning disabled students approach teaching this way, they should see less frustration on the part of the child and greater gains in achievement in the long-run.
Reference Hallahan, D.P. & Kauffman, J.M. (1991). Exceptional Children: Introduction to special education (5thed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.