From our Brain Briefs: Doesn’t having a learning disability mean special education?

“If dyslexia is a learning disability, aren’t those students already being helped through special education?”

Short Version

1) Dyslexia is considered a medical term and is a term used by doctors.
2) School environments focus on academics, so school terms include specific learning disabilities and there are 8 areas that can be considered a reason for an IEP or accommodation plan if  the child is performing well below his peers:speaking; listening; reading decoding (reading the words off a page);reading comprehension (understanding & remembering); reading fluency (reading smoothly and quickly without error); math computation (operations and facts); math problem solving (how math works and using it correctly in different situations); and, written expression (not just spelling). IEP’s and accommodation plans will use these specific learning disability categories and become the educational shorthand when talking about areas of difficulty.
Dyslexia and reading challenges can impact all 8 areas of learning disability.
3) To receive support through Special Education, a child must be eligible for services. Eligibility requires more than the diagnosis or existence of a disability; it also requires a need for a specialized curriculum outside the general education classroom.

Extended Version 

Neurotransmitters: the brain’s electrical signals


1)  Dyslexia is the most common learning disability (Dyslexia Help, Parents/Learn About Dyslexia). Dyslexia Help has a wonderful article outlining “What is Dyslexia?”, so I won’t go into tons of detail here, but the short version is that there are electrical signals in our brains that transmit the messages around that beautiful control center of our nervous system. The brain of someone with dyslexia truly works differently than the brain of a person without dyslexia. How these messages are shared within the control center is quite complicated, especially when trying to figure out which differences impact learning in which areas.
In a school setting, academic progress is the main focus and schools are required to provide an appropriate education for each learner. To do this, schools must have systems and procedures that can be applied in a variety of buildings within a variety of communities. They need a common language. This common language needs to focus on specific pieces of learning in order to be most easily understood. The best description for dyslexia is that it is consistently inconsistent, which is not easily translated into the codes needed to communicate in a school setting.
In a school setting, students who are not progressing in the regular classroom can be supported through special education. This is widely understood. What is less understood – and much harder to explain sometimes – is that not all students who are struggling in the regular classroom can be supported through special education; nor, that students in special education do not regularly receive support in all areas of learning. Special education requires eligibility, or, in a sense, “making the cut”.
Eligibility for special education requires “making the cut” within a specific category and that category must be agreed upon by each member of the IEP team which includes many professionals from the school and the child’s parent(s)/guardian.  For learners with dyslexia, their brain tends to be the most different when working out symbols and their meanings (letters and sounds; syllables and vocabulary; number and quantity; or symbols and operations). This difference can impact learning in a wide variety of areas, but special education and other education supports can only directly impact a few which have to be looked at through the academic areas.
For learners with specific learning disabilities, the best way to help them learn is to get to know them individually . . . . . know her interests, her strengths, how she communicates
in speaking and in writing, and work with a variety of ways to get information in and out of that brain. This requires direct support of classroom teachers through access to professional development, material development and a structure that allows for increased direct interaction with struggling learners on a consistent basis. This takes a Dystinctive kind of Teacher.
If you know a Dystinctive Teacher, please let us know so we can spread the word!

If you have a question, others probably have asked or have the same question. Visit our blog,Facebook page or shoot us an e-mail:

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3 thoughts on “From our Brain Briefs: Doesn’t having a learning disability mean special education?

  1. New Jersey Parent Advocates December 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on njparentadvocates.

  2. New Jersey Parent Advocates December 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on njparentadvocates.

  3. New Jersey Parent Advocates December 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on njparentadvocates.

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