Reading disabilities exist. Research in neuroscience is showing this to be true, and public schools and special education should be on the front lines working to remediate these deficits and helping children to adapt so they can be successful in school.
One serious drawback for students with disabilities, in the one-size-fits-all class, is that they could stumble along, frustrated, without ever having their problems identified or remediated. This could prove to be a setback when they get to college—or be a hindrance for them getting into a good college.
Dyslexia, an inability to make sense of letters and words, has been getting a lot of attention lately. It has become something of a catch-all topic in regard to learning disabilities. Certainly, students with dyslexia would benefit from a resource class with a special education teacher who understands the difficulties dyslexia presents. I know parents who do not feel their children are being adequately served in school when it comes to dyslexia. They often turn to outside programs or resources for help.
But dyslexia isn’t the only learning disability that may fall under the radar screen or where students in school lack services. There are more and different disabilities besides dyslexia.
Two years ago Chaired Professor Laurie E. Cutting, a scientist from Vanderbilt, described an overlooked disability—Specific Reading Comprehension Deficits, or S-RCD. Students with S-RCD might appear to read O.K., on the surface, but they find it difficult to understand what it is they read. Getting special help, once this disability is identified, could be the key to a student’s future success.
What was interesting about Cutting’s and her co-researchers’ study, was that by examining MRIs and other neurobiological markers, they found differences between reading comprehension disabilities and dyslexia. Here is what they said:
Researchers have been able to pinpoint brain activity and understand its role in dyslexia, but no functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI studies, until now, have examined the neurobiological profile of those who exhibit poor reading comprehension despite intact word-level abilities.
Neuroimaging of children showed that the brain function of those with S-RCD while reading is quite different and distinct from those with dyslexia. Those with dyslexia exhibited abnormalities in a specific region in the occipital-temporal cortex, a part of the brain that is associated with successfully recognizing words on a page.
But those with S-RCD did not show abnormalities in this region, instead showing specific abnormalities in regions typically associated with memory.
Breaking down reading disabilities, or learning disabilities in general, and matching the disability with intervention strategies to assist the student is what’s needed in school. In this study it was found that 3 to 10 percent of students exhibit reading comprehension problems.
While Response to Intervention promises to address learning disabilities early, before they become a problem, there is concern that this approach lacks validity and may miss reading difficulties altogether. Also, children who have reading disabilities usually require continuous support as they go through school.
And Common Core focuses on aligning general education curriculum goals to the standards. Reading disabilities are shoved under the rug or given little, if any, attention.
Resource classes where students spend 1-2 hours with more individualized assistance are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Yet it is the more individualized attention, by special education teachers with particular training, in the resource class, that best addresses specific reading disabilities and learning disabilities in general. This support might just be just the ticket to helping a student master more difficult reading material as they progress through school. It could help them succeed in college too!
Yet the focus on passing high-stakes tests, and the push to have students with disabilities master Common Core State Standards, may lead to overlooking a student’s need for real reading remediation for reading problems.
Parents might worry that if their student doesn’t pass the tests and do regular classwork they won’t be able to attend college. Some parents reject special education. They have been led to believe that more individualized attention for their student will do more to hold them back than help them improve in schools.
In the past, some special education did not work, but often this was due to scant funding or schools that did not provide the appropriate respect or approach to these classes.
With learning disabilities, which can often be nuanced, students might get by in school, but it doesn’t mean they are doing well, or that their future in a college setting won’t be hampered.
Now is the time to bring back special education resource classes and more individualized attention to address reading disabilities. Provide students the services to remediate their reading disabilities and help put them back on the road to success!