Friday, September 07, 2007

Output Failure: The Myth of Laziness

We naturally understand other individuals from inside our own experiences. From the outside looking in, learning disabilities are difficult to comprehend, especially when you live or work with children or adults who do not perform as you do. For example, failure to produce organized, written work is difficult to understand for those of us who manage to generate written materials. "If only he'd apply himself....If only she'd work a little harder....He just isn't living up to his potential....She can do it, I've seen her do it..." Today, schools are under increased pressure to have students perform. Now, instead of filling in bubbles and blanks, much of performance is measured by constructing written responses. Indeed, the current Washington State Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) requires students to write cogently about their thinking.

In his book, The Myth of Laziness, Mel Levine, M.D. argues that low productivity is almost always a product of a neurodevelopmental bottleneck. So, when writing output is minimal, haphazard, or inconsistently produced, Dr. Levine checks for possible breakdowns in the motor system. He uses a seven step Motor Chain----looking at sports coordination (gross-motor), arts/crafts/repair work (fine-motor), and writing (graphomotor). Using his model, there are 21 possible points of "breakdown" for motor performance!

But the cause of output failure might not lie in the complexities of the motor system. Dr. Levine identifies seven other neurodevelopmental areas where output failure can occur: weak production control, social distractibility, low mental energy, disorganization, language delays, impoverished ideation, and insufficient memory. Of course, an individual might have a combination of the above affecting performance! The first step in understanding output failures, is to examine the individual's performance across different types of motor, attention, and language tasks to determine their unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Then,
effective remediation and appropriate instruction can be designed so that hard work leads to successful outcomes.

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