Learning disabled students join together to abolish stereotypes

By Gina Quilici

Facts and fallacies are a facet of every life. However, false statements aren’t nearly as devastating for some people as they are for learning disabled people.

Learning disabled people have lived with many uncomplimentary stereotypes for years. These stereotypes have often hindered their educational and social progress.

One group of students on campus is trying to break those stereotypes and present the facts about learning disabilities in hopes of altering public opinion and attitudes in their favor.

The group calls itself the Association For Students With Learning Disabilities, and is composed entirely of students who have learning disabilities themselves.

The group became active in the Spring of 1989 and is anticipating its first year anniversary. The students have put their group in the running for Student Association recognition this semester, which could possibly make them an official student organization in the near future.

The most impressive fact about the group is that each member has a clear idea of what they hope to achieve through the group, and back their desires with hard work and determination. One common goal is to abolish the myths that have surrounded their disabilities all their lives.

For example, in the past it has incorrectly been thought that persons with learning disabilities were mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, slow or lazy.

The reality is that nothing could be farther from the truth. A learning disability is a permenant disorder that affects the way people with normal, and even above average intelligence, perceive, retain and express information. A pamphlet that the group uses likens the disabilities to radio interference or a fuzzy television picture. Incoming or outgoing messages become scrambled as they travel between the different sensory organs like the eye, ear, skin and brain.

Learning disabilites most often affect skills such as reading, written language, oral language, math and organizational, study and social skills. Each skill group contains a variety of different disabilities within it.

Nowhere else but a college atmosphere do the learning disabled students encounter almost every one of the skill groups. How do they feel facing countless hurdles each day? Frustrated.

Frustration is a common feeling for students with a learning disability. According to Bob, one of the group’s members, it gets really frustrating because most people don’t understand what a learning disability is, and that students with one can still do all of the same work and tasks. These students just need to go about the job in a different manner.

The group seemed to agree strongly that many of the problems and frustrations they encounter are related to school. Amy, another group member, said that it is extremely difficult “to get teachers to understand ‘why’ you’re having the problems you are.”

The way a test is worded or arranged can cause tremendous difficulty for some learning disabled students. Bob said that a learning disabled student may have read the entire book and known all the material needed for a test. However, the same student may also be unable to answer the questions on that material, depending on how the test is arranged.

For example, essay questions pose a problem for some students, multiple choice is tough for others, and still more have difficulty with short answer. Contrary to another circulating myth, working just a little harder doesn’t make things easier.

What needs to be recognized is that learning disabilities exist in very different forms with varied degrees of disability. Learning disabilities are not necessarily present at birth, either. Gay, another student in the group, said that some learning disabilities can be caused by head injuries or other illnesses that affect the brain like a stroke.

Regardless of where the disability comes from, many difficult situations arise every day in areas other than school. Some learning disabled persons experience problems with social skills. For example, a learning disabled person with auditory perception problems may not be able to distinguish the difference between a sincere and sarcastic comment, or other similar changes in voice tone.

These disabilities, coupled with a public lack of knowledge about them, can make everyday situations tense and difficult. Informing the public about the facts and realities of a learning disability is just one of the group’s goals. The students also wish to recruit more members.

Bob said “the more people we get, the stronger influence we can have.” The group hopes to use that influence to create special programs for the learning disabled on campus. Bob added, “the worst thing you can do by joining is to help.”

One member of the group said that students shouldn’t be afraid to join because the group is really needed. Gay added that learning disabled students on campus should realize that they “are not alone.” By joining the group they can get a better understanding of their disability as well as those of others.

All of the members agreed that the group gives students a chance to understand why they are frustrated and to do something about it.

Those interested in further information about joining the group can call Sue Rudolph at 756-3866. Remember, there are things that can be done for learning disabled students, but someone has to volunteer to do them.