On average 13% of students will have some form of disability that impacts their ability to access their education. Of these, 35% are thought to have a specific learning disability, which means they have a specific deficit that impacts how they take in, processing and retain information.
While learning disabilities have become more common, rarely do those without LD truly understand the challenges a student with learning disabilities faces. As a parenting coach and special education advocate, one of the first things I do with parents is help them understand their child’s perspective. The following video, audio and graphic files provide a simulation of the most common forms of learning challenges. This is your opportunity to gain some empathy and realize the struggle is real.
Probably the most well known learning disability, dyslexia comes in many forms. The most common form is when a person flips letters and numbers, or mixes them up. This can happen when reading, or when writing. Keep in mind it is normal for a child to flip letters and numbers through the age of 6. After that they should settle on their proper direction.
Dyslexia shows up first as a problem with reading, but it can also cause writing difficulties, organizational problems, school refusal and attention challenges.
The following simulation shows what it might be like to read if you had dyslexia. Notice how the text is always shifting, so it is difficult to know for sure what the word is suppose to be.
Not all people with dyslexia experience the letters moving and shifting. For some, there is consistent letter flipping between similar letters, such as p and q or b and d. Click here for another Dyslexia Simulation by WebAIM to see what it might be like to read with dyslexia even though the letters are not moving and changing as you read.
Auditory Processing Disorder
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is said to be like dyslexia of the ears. In some circles there is discussion that it is an auditory form of dyslexia, but the jury is still out on this conclusion. A person with APD has normal hearing, but the brain misinterprets what the ears hear. As a result, the information that is taken in gets scrambled, and the person consistently misunderstands what is said to them.
APD causes significant issues in the classroom and social interactions, and can cause symptoms such as inability to follow directions, inattention, fatigue with listening tasks, hyper-sensitive hearing and poor social skills.
Below is a simulation of what it is like to have APD. This simulation was created by SoundSkills in New Zealand.
Visual Processing Disorder
When a child’s eyes do not function properly together, they can have what’s known as a visual processing disorder (VPD). They could have perfectly clear vision (20/20 acuity), but still have a problem getting their eyes to work as a team.This type of learning disability can mimic others and often goes undetected. When this happens, it affects ALL schoolwork, and can cause many symptoms such as work refusal, quick to fatigue, attention and hyperactivity difficulties.
Here is a simulation of what they eyes do when a child has eye-tracking difficulties, a form of VPD. Notice how the eyes jump all around instead of reading the lines straight across. Can you imagine how difficult reading comprehension would be if you read like this all the time?
Dysgraphia (writing disability)
Some children have difficulty learning to write when they get to Kindergarten and first grade. Learning to write letters, words and then sentences is one form of dysgraphia that is usually helped with occupational therapy.
But there is another form of dysgraphia that commonly goes with writing struggles, and that is difficulty putting together sentences, paragraphs and eventually essays. Often children who are gifted in math struggle with writing, and they may be diagnosed with dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia affects all aspects of learning, and usually the child needs more time for assignments, assistive technology and specialized instruction to help them learn how to write down their thoughts.
The following video simulation helps you experience what might happen in the brain of a child with dysgraphia when faced with a writing task. The rules and structure for writing can be so overwhelming, the child does not even know where to start.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed in 11% of school-age children. The general belief is that kids with ADHD have a chemical imbalance in their brain that reduces dopamine, thus reducing the ability to focus. The fact is there are many underlying causes of attention problems, all of which create havoc with a child’s ability to focus in school. The result is constant distraction from all sensory input, whether it is visual, auditory, or tactile. While some may not consider this a learning disability, it significantly impacts a child’s ability to access their education.
The following video simulates the input an ADHD brain experiences while walking down the street. Their mind takes in so much information, it is difficult to grasp the details and retain it. While not everybody with ADHD will have this exact same experience, this simulation does a great job of demonstrating how difficult it is to focus on one thing when so many other things are happening at the same time.
It is said if you meet one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. The disorder manifests so uniquely in each person, they all experience diverse symptoms. But one aspect of autism that seems to be universal is the sensory overload that is experienced. Many people with autism have talked about the overwhelming nature of the world that can become so intense it can actually cause pain.
The following video provides a window into the sensory overload people with autism experience. It is a difficult simulation to watch and hear, so prepare yourself. Then next time you see a child having a meltdown in a grocery story, and mom says he’s autistic, you will understand why.
The following video from ABC’s 20/20 TV show provides insight into the world Carly Fleischmann, a young woman who has non-verbal autism. As a teenager she learned to type, and for the first time in her life she was able to express what she couldn’t say. She shares her insights into what it’s like to have autism, and allows the rest of us to peek into the world that before was unknown.
Strive to Understand the Challenges of a Learning Disability
For those of us who do not have a learning disability, it can be hard to grasp the immensity of effort it takes for a child with LD to participate in school. If your child, or children you work with, struggles with learning, it’s worth your time to gain insight into how that struggle manifests. Through understanding you can find more patience, and along the way hopefully find resources to minimize the challenges.