Learning Styles and School
Coping with Learning Disabilities
The good news for those who are diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD—among other so called learning disabilities– is that many of their symptoms and challenges are the result of self-generated mental strategies for processing, storing and recalling information. And these strategies are fully addressable through competent and appropriate therapy.
The bad news is that most of the current tutoring and remedial teaching methods do little more than reinforce compulsive behaviors that may eventually cripple a child for life. Rather than helping the child change the way they learn, these outdated methods rely on dumbing down the Information, repackaging the information or simply force-feeding the information to the child in longer or more concentrated tutoring sessions.
So generally speaking, the children with a more auditory learning style (approximately 80%) are able to adapt reasonably well to the educational and social burdens placed on them. They are able to meet with reasonable success the requirements of the educational system and they are typically able to secure stable, gainful employment.
However, we’re still left with as many as 20% of all children and approximately 10% of all adults who find themselves falling behind, failing to thrive and unable to successfully meet these new and ever-growing challenges. In our attempt to understand and serve these children, many have been labeled, diagnosed and categorized according to various symptoms.
These diagnoses almost always focus on the individual’s lack of ability to succeed within the narrow context of our current educational model. In addition to these children, many others slide along, largely unnoticed. This is often due to that fact that many of these visual learning children are highly intelligent and they very often develop their own unique strategies to survive despite being the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
A simple comparison between a typical classroom environment and the two basic learning styles begins to show why there’s such a marked difference in classroom performance. Less than 100 years ago, 90% of Americans lived on either farms or ranches. If a child or adult struggled with a particular aspect of learning, for example reading or listening, there were plenty of other ways in which the child or adult could learn and express him or her self successfully.
Even as recent as 20 years ago, there were ample opportunities in manufacturing, construction and other hands-on type trades for these non-verbal learners to succeed. Many of these trades required the specific visual and spatial processing skills in which these non-verbal learners excelled.
In contrast, today’s workplace offers limited opportunity to anyone without moderate to advanced verbal and symbolic processing skills. Today’s educational system has responded by requiring extensive verbal and symbolic processing skills. In addition, these skills are being required of children at earlier and earlier ages, hence the pressure to see children as young as 4 and 5 years old reading and writing.
Statistics show that as many as 80% of children and adults will naturally adapt to this pressure. These verbal learners quite naturally process the auditory (spoken) and symbolic (written) information thrust at them every day. They are served quite well by our current educational system.
However, for the remaining 20% of children and adults, this verbal/symbolic environment is a nightmare. Their excellent visual and spatial processing skills are often of little use in processing the symbolic languages of reading and mathematics.
In most cases, the verbal learner is well-suited to classroom life while the visual learner is left to struggle with a set of skills that often don’t provide a good result in that environment. Their ability to multi-task (parallel processing) and their reactive nature quickly often prove to be a distraction and detriment in today’s restrained and muted learning environment. And their once-valued energetic and curious nature is the antithesis of modern classroom life. Consider in today’s public educational system, more and more children are forced to spend more and more time sitting quietly in the classroom than ever before.
In todays pop culture, children (and adults) are bombarded with sensory input via television, radio, IPods, cell phones, computers and video games. They struggle with social change, increased testing and the pressures of life in the 21st century. Meanwhile, our environment is changing at record pace. The air we breathe, the homes we live in and the foods we eat have all changed dramatically in recent years. Even now we are just beginning to learn about the health effects and long-term consequences of these changes.
Every Year, thousands of children are diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder and various learning\disorders… Every year, these children and thousands like them are labeled, marginalized, ridiculed and even drugged, because they are unable to adapt themselves to certain specific situations, typically imposed upon them by the outside world and/or a rigid educational system.
Leaving aside the politics of education and the ever-increasing demands placed upon teachers, the spectrum of children effectively served by our educational system seems to becoming more and more narrow. Every year, more and more children and adults find themselves the proverbial square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Without a suitable or receptive educational system with which to guide them, these children and their parents are often left to their own devices.
Despite the fact that many of these children exhibit above average intelligence, exceptional problem-solving skills and excellent visual and spatial processing skills, their inability to effectively process symbolic (auditory and written) information leaves them struggling within a system that completely fails to recognize or appreciate their natural gifts.
Today, the number of children and adults being diagnosed or labeled as ADHD is reaching epidemic proportions. In order to begin to understand this epidemic, we must try to understand something about these children and the symptoms used to classify someone as ADHD. To accomplish this, we will travel back in time to the world of the Hunter Child. Imagine a world where there are no papers, no books, no computers and no written language. The only maps and records exist in your memory. As a Hunter Child, you have a complete mental map of the territory that you call home.
You know every path, every tree, every rock and every bush. You are acutely aware of the movements of the animals, birds and insects. You notice the subtle changes in the plants, the weather and the seasons and you effectively process that information in real time. Physically, you are lean, active and very energetic. Your very survival depends upon your vast knowledge of your environment, your acute perception and your physical abilities. A brief list of your abilities might include: an intense curiosity, creative, out-of-the-box thinking, the ability to create a detailed, three-dimensional, mental map of your environment, a keen awareness, the perception to notice minute changes to that environment, quick reflexes and the need to be physically active.
In short, the Hunter Child typically is physically active with excellent visual and spatial (nonverbal) processing abilities. He is highly intelligent, quick and agile. According to Thom Hartmann, in his book, “The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child”, these are the gifts of the Hunter Child. As human beings we all possess these skills to a greater or lesser degree, however, it is these Hunter Children who seem to exhibit considerably higher than normal visual and spatial processing abilities.
Now, if we fast forward to today and observe a young Hunter Child in his crib, these nonverbal skills continue to serve him or her. Long before a child is able to effectively process verbal or symbolic information, these visual processing skills will assist the child in obtaining his immediate needs as well as keep him safe. A typical toddler has the ability to visually dissect an undistinguished ball of fur and know that it is a kitten rather than a furry toy or some other object. The child is able to decode or interpret a variety of visual clues to provide him or her with a much larger understanding of the environment.
Even at 6 months of age, most children will crawl around a visual cliff to avoid falling. They are able to take a partial visual image such as a hand or elbow and interpret those as the safety or comfort associated with mother. These skills will serve the child well for the first 5 or 6 years of his life. They may even serve him through Kindergarten if the curriculum is sensory-based, tactile and experiential.
However, upon entering the first or second grade, these once valued and successful strategies may not provide the same effectiveness in processing the new types of information being received by the child.
In fact, depending upon a variety of factors, some of these non-verbal skills and abilities may reveal themselves as a complete liability. For example, the above average alertness of these children may occur as an inability to concentrate or focus on one task for extended periods (particularly when dealing with subjects that are boring or uninteresting). The child may be unable to sit still for extended periods. He or she may be easily distracted (due to an acute awareness of his or her environment). Some visual and spatial processing abilities may even occur as an inability to effectively process the symbolic representations routinely used in language and mathematics (dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia).