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Dangerous Misconceptions about Learning Differences

Categories: Learning Disabilities, Parenting

A new poll just released by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation reveals widespread stigma and confusion about children with learning differences – and also support for early intervention. Here's the first of a three-part series on the poll's findings and ramifications. We asked the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation to walk us through its fourth in a series of opinion research polls on learning disabilities that began in 1995. This research was begun in part because of learning disabilities experienced by a number of Tremaine family members This GfK Roper poll, funded by Tremaine, was followed by a webinar that illustrated how dangerously confused many parents and educators are about learning disabilities – even as they support greater government funding for intervention. Among the poll's findings:
  • Although awareness of learning disabilities has grown over the past 15 years, misperceptions continue to prevent children from getting the education they need based on their learning styles and learning differences.
  • Eighty percent of the general public, parents and teachers associate mental retardation and autism with a learning disability (this confusion prevents the right kind of intervention for the roughly 2.6 million students – one in eight in the United States – who have been diagnosed with a learning disability).
  • A majority of the public and parents mistakenly believe learning disabilities are often a product of the home environment – and are also the result of laziness.
  • More than two-thirds of parents think specific signs of learning disabilities are something a two- to-four-year old will grow out of, and therefore are more likely to delay seeking professional help.
  • Almost four in ten mistakenly associate learning disabilities with sensory impairments such as blindness and deafness.
  • Nearly eight in ten Americans recognize the importance of early intervention and support the idea of government-funded Pre-K programs; teachers and administrators agree.
  • Seventy-one percent of educators believe that digital media (i.e., electronic content for mobile devices) could be helpful in their school’s efforts to assist children who learn differently.
  • Just three percent of parents acknowledge they would seek information on the Internet or through social networking sites such as Facebook.
These findings resonate with related data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities and elsewhere:
  • Twenty-five percent of students with learning disabilities drop out of high school, and only 61% of those who complete high school receive a regular diploma (also see: Social Cost of LD)
  • Students with learning disabilities account for 38.6% of students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system.
  • Minority students and those from underserved communities comprise a disproportionate number of special education students (also see this article and this website).
Tremaine uses these polls to communicate – to individuals, communities, policymakers, people of influence, educators and many others – the relevance of dyslexia and learning disabilities to these major educational reform issues. Their goal is to motivate, cut through the confusion, effect change, and establish a platform on which to build. (Next – Part II of III: Actively in the Present: Focusing on Early Intervention, Technology, to Help Close the Achievement Gap)

– Andy O'Hearn

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