Friday, August 10, 2007

To Label or Not? The Learning Assessment

Understandably, many parents are reluctant to have their children identified with a learning disability label. Concerns range from the possibility of stigma, shame, or embarrassment, to not wanting the child to use their learning difference as an excuse not to work hard or achieve to their potential. While no child’s or adult’s unique potential can be encompassed within a learning label, naming a learning difference can be useful when the label leads to increased self-awareness, understanding, appropriate instruction and accommodations.

More than one model may be helpful in describing how a child functions. Since learning differences can affect a wide range of life-skills, understanding why a unique, wonderful, intelligent, and gifted child cannot achieve up to expectations in certain areas, is very healing both for the child and the family. Instead of the child collecting labels of “lazy,” “stupid,” or “space cadet” one can gain an understanding of learning strengths, what gets in the way of those strengths and how to use strengths to meet challenges. Labels describing a person's experience then become a tool for building confidence.

Assessments are tools for self-understanding, healing and empowerment---Mel Levine, M.D. uses the term, "demystification" to describe how a learning assessment works. By carefully observing at how an individual processes different types of information and approaches different tasks, a picture of how different areas are developing emerges. From this individual learning profile, appropriate direct instruction and accommodations can be developed.

Carefully designed, individual direct instruction builds more efficient neural pathways and connections as well as builds specific skills. Individuals try new methods to approach difficult tasks, and in the process, personalize strategies that work for them. Additionally, Instruction in how and when to use appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies builds independence and success.

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