Sunday, 31 August 2014

How much do you know about Students with Intellectual Disabilities?

I find it quite interesting that in many societies, specifically in Nigeria where I live, there exists a significant number of individuals living with intellectual disabilities, yet very little is understood about them. Oftentimes, they have erroneously been tagged as "imbecile," or "mentally retarded."


The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) defines intellectual disability as, 

"a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behaviour as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18."

From the definition, 2 deductions can be made as follows:

a.      Intellectual disability involves problems in adaptive behaviour, not just intellectual functioning.

b.     Persons with intellectual disability can improve (particularly,  those with mild intellectual disability).

Persons with intellectual disabilities are professionally classified as follows:
        a.      Mild (IQ of about 50 to 70)
        b.     Moderate (IQ of about 35 to 50)
        c.      Severe (IQ of about 20 to 35)
        d.     Profound (IQ below 20)

Causes and Identification

Some of the causes of intellectual disabilities are as follows:
a.      Chromosomal disorders such as in Down Syndrome.
b.     Disorders of brain formation.
c.      Maternal malnutrition during gestation.
d.     Fetal alcohol syndrome.
e.      Traumatic brain injury.
f.      Possible hereditary causes.
g.     Unstimulating adult-child interactions can also lead to mild intellectual disabilities.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities can be identified by assessments which combine individual IQ tests and adaptive behaviour measures. The IQ tests are used to assess intelligence while the adaptive behaviour usually involve the parents, teacher or other professional answering questions related to the individuals independence and daily living skills and maladaptive behaviour. (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2012).

Special Education for Learners with Intellectual Disabilities

Special education considerations for these individuals will be such that if the learner has a lower degree of intellectual disability, the teacher should emphasize academic skills. However, if the individual displays a higher degree of intellectual disability, emphasis should be on self-help, community living and vocational skills development.

When the intellectually disabled student is included in a regular classroom, teachers should plan creative ways to prevent the student from feeling socially isolated and becoming inattentive. Peer assisted learning (PAL) is a great way to achieve this goal.

As in most cases of developmental disabilities, early intervention programs can successfully improve the development of children with intellectual disabilities.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Tips for Dealing with Exceptional Learners...

Students with special educational needs have a unique knowledge of their own needs and circumstances.  They will have their own views about what sort of help they would like to assist them with their education.  Students should where possible have an input into the decision making process.  The students help with the setting of goals and learning targets could be a motivational factor in their education.

As students get older or develop more skills then they should be involved in the IEP process in some meaningful way.  They could provide input into the meeting.  They could be involved in the final part of the meeting.  Learning to advocate for your self is a useful skill for students to develop.  Students can be involved in the assessment process.  This will help them understand the process and may reduce anxiety.

Teachers’ codes of practice are suggesting there is a need to involve students in the development of services to assist those who need help (Scottish Executive, 2005).

Here is a suggested list of strategies:

  • Students should be fully informed about and be prepared for meetings.
  • Meetings should be held with familiar adults.
  • Students should be asked about their preference for who attends the meeting.
  • Students should have a choice in the way they get their views across in the meetings.
  • Students should be given evidence that they have been listened to during a meeting.
  • The language used in the meetings should be accessible to students.
  • Written feedback should be shared with the students.

The challenge is to be able to provide an accessible meeting for a range of students. 

This article was contributed by: Bob Leeming, a Registered Psychologist with the Ministry of Education, New Zealand. (

Monday, 4 August 2014

My Interview on ThisDay Newspaper...

Recently I was interviewed by ThisDay Newspaper and featured on the publication for Sunday, 3 August 2014, on pages 72 and 73. The interview was focused on Why Parents Are in Denial of Autism. Actually the details of the interview cover more than just that topic. For those of you who may not have read the newspaper, here's a link to read it online, HERE >>> 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Managing Learners with Learning Disabilities

Have you ever wanted to understand more fully how special education teachers handle learners with Learning Disabilities? Educators have struggled over the years to formulate a clearer and comprehensive definition of the term learning disability, which generally describes children of seemingly normal intelligence who, nevertheless, have learning problems.

It's interesting to note that learning disabilities are so real even though they have not been clearly understood and well defined by scholars. I am reminded of the numerous children I have come across here in Nigeria who displayed behaviours that could be attributed to learning disabilities, but were clearly misunderstood. Of course, many learners with learning disabilities may have apparently normal intelligence but still experience learning problems and this can be frustrating for them, as well as their teachers and parents. For this reason, some of these students have been even tagged as ‘block heads’ or ‘dull students,’ and taken through horrifying experiences. Now it keeps becoming clearer to me, that special educators have a huge responsibility in seeking out the best ways to identify and educate students with learning disabilities.   

Over time, I have also realised that, first, teachers would have to come to terms with the definition of, and how to identify learning disabilities in order to find the best educational approaches/interventions.

Out of the many acceptable definitions of learning disabilities, the most influential definition so far is the definition by the U.S. National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD).

"Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the lifespan. Problems in self-regulatory behaviours, social perception and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability.
Although learning disability may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions (e.g., sensory impairment, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance) or with extrinsic influences (e.g., cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influence."

Although the definition sheds more light on the issue, it's still not very clear to many folks, how an individual having apparently normal intelligence could cope with learning disabilities. It's however, encouraging that “identification procedures for learning disabilities are currently in a state of transition” (Hallahan, 2012), in my opinion this gives room for further research into the subject.

Currently, Response to Intervention (RTI), a multi-tiered approach practised in the U.S. is favored as the more acceptable way of identifying students with learning disabilities. Statistics indicate that just under 5% of children between the ages of 6 and 7 years in the U.S. have been identified as learning disabled by the U.S. public schools. This highlights the fact that learning disability is by far the largest category of special education in the U.S. An important question one could ask, is, does this statistic include learners with exceptionalities as well? What about those who physical challenges have caused to become learners with disabilities, such as those who are blind or deaf, are they also a part of this category?

In any case, the exact causes of learning disability have not yet been fully discovered, however results from various studies have shown that “Central Nervous System (CNS) dysfunction could be the cause of many, if not most cases of learning disabilities.”  Some sources of problems for learners with learning disabilities include:

          a.       Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
          b.       Memory and metacognitive problems
          c.       Social – emotional problems
          d.       Motivational problems
          e.       Inactive learner with strategy deficits

In addition, the following are some of the psychological and behavioural characteristics of learners with learning disabilities:

a.    Persons with learning disability exhibit interindividual and intraindividual variability.
b.  Reading disabilities in the form of decoding, fluency, and comprehension problems.
c.   Phonological and phonemic awareness.
d.   Writing disabilities in form of handwriting, spelling and composition.
e.  Spoken language disabilities in form of syntax, semantics, phonology and pragmatics.
f.     Math disabilities including computation and word problems.

You may not be aware that even though students with learning disabilities struggle in one area of learning, they may also excel in another. Thus, paying attention to the student’s interests and passions would help them develop their passions and strengths, and probably help them with their areas of difficulty as well.

Some important considerations with respect to early intervention for learners with learning disabilities are as follows:

a.       Little preschool programming exists for children with learning disabilities because it's so hard to predict at that age which children will later develop academic problems.

b.      Even though prediction is not perfect, several developmental milestones are related to comprehension or expression of spoken language, emergent literacy skills, and perceptual skills that indicate the possibility of having learning disabilities.

As a special educator, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that every individual, (learning disability or not) has their own unique learning style. Some students learn best by seeing or reading, others by listening, and still others by doing. Parents can help their learning disabled child by identifying his or her primary learning style. For example, is the child a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner? Once the child’s best learning style is known, steps may easily be taken to make sure that type of learning is reinforced in the classroom and during home study.