• Evidence-based Treatment for Specific Learning Disorders

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course during Spring 2014. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders, with one of those focusing on evidence-based treatments for those disorders and the other focused on a particular myth or misunderstanding about mental illness.


    Evidence-based Treatment for Specific Learning Disorders by Jennifer Bowen

    There are many interventions that can be used to help a person with a specific learning disability be successful. There are a wide variety of learning disorders that include difficulties in the areas of Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, Spelling, Reasoning, and Mathematics. Differences in the interventions available based on age, environment, and specific difficulty are present as well. Here is a look at what interventions are commonly used to help those with Specific Learning Disorders, especially for students.

    Interventions that are important to every type of learning disorder in the classroom include having a calm and quiet work environment, repeating directions, asking for the student to repeat directions to check for understanding, giving extra time to complete assignments and tests, giving extra time to give verbal answers and process information, and giving a student advanced warning of any readings or questions they will be completing out loud. In fact, these interventions can help all students, not just those with learning disorders.

    Listening/Speaking Interventions

    Having a quiet environment is important for those with listening/speaking disorders and is essential to success. This can help the individual focus on the task at hand. He or she will have an easier time completing work without distractions.

    Reading Interventions

    Interventions for reading disorders in the classroom include teaching phonics and whole-word reading skills, as well as checking for comprehension. Having a student summarize what they read can lead to better understanding of what they read and helps them remember what they read. Many students find covering all but one sentence or word at a time can be helpful and reduce stress. This is easy to do by using a piece of paper to cover part of the reading material or worksheet.  Using a multi-sensory approach to teaching can help students gain more understanding and reduce frustration. Giving a child verbal instructions and repeating those instructions if needed can help when completing assignments. Highlighting important text or allowing the student to highlight can increase success for gaining knowledge. Giving daily review of previously given instruction can help a student retain knowledge and continue to learn. Breaking assignments into smaller sections can help a child reduce anxiety and stress related to taking longer to completing those assignments. Repetition is important! A child with a reading disorder can take longer to acquire new skills and need to continually practice those skills to gain maximum understanding.

    Writing interventions

    Giving a student extra time to complete any writing assignment is helpful. Younger children may need Occupational Therapy to help increase small motor control and gain strength in his or her hands. For students with dysgraphia, teachers can provide notes and other sources of information ahead of time. Students can also benefit from giving oral essays or answers and/or typing assignments. This can help with the frustration level of students who have handwriting difficulties.

    Spelling Interventions

    Teachers can help students with spelling difficulties by not counting off for handwriting and giving extra time to complete assignments. For students in upper grades, not counting off for spelling is helpful or giving the student the option of typing an assignment and using spell check can help a student be successful.

    Reasoning Interventions

    Interventions that can help a child with reasoning difficulties include breaking instructions into chunks by giving them one or two at a time. This helps the child be less overwhelmed and more likely to remember what needs to be done one part at a time. You can also make a checklist for a child so they can know exactly what needs to be done and in what order. If he or she forgets what comes next, they can refer back to the checklist. Routines can also help. Keeping a routine will help a child learn and remember what is expected and what they are going to be doing next. Organization can be important for helping a child know where things belong and this can help him or her find things more easily. Students may have an easier time doing and completing one activity at a time as opposed to multitasking. This can help him or her focus and not have to remember too many things and can increase his or her success at completion of activities.

    Mathematics Interventions

    For students with math difficulties, focusing on specific targeted instruction in the areas of most difficulty can help. Another way to help is by giving instructions in a different manner. Using hands-on activities and providing examples is a great way to help students who may not learn as well just by listening to verbal instructions. Using graph paper can be an easy way for students to line up problems in a more organized fashion.

    Adult Interventions

    Adults with learning disorders can be successful by knowing their strengths and weaknesses. Asking for accommodations can help in the work or school environment. You can choose whether or not to disclose your learning disability. Helpful accommodations for adults include asking for an outline of what is expected of you, recording meetings, finding a quiet work environment, color coding, using electronic organizers/schedulers, and text-to-speech software.  There are many other accommodations that can be used to help an adult be successful at work or school.

    Other Treatments

    Having a learning disorder can be hard on a person’s self-esteem. Children with learning disorders have a hard time in school and can feel bad about themselves. By giving frequent praise and complementing a success, a child can feel that success and begin to gain more self-esteem. Children with LD frequently feel frustrated, so by encouraging instead of scolding them for working too slowly or getting frustrated yourself for them not understanding the first time, children can be lifted up instead of feeling down. They are just as frustrated as you, if not more so. Children who continually have difficulties with academics can become angry and depressed as a result of that ongoing frustration.

    Those will a learning disorder can benefit by therapy such as Cognitive-Behavior Therapy and Humanistic Group Therapy. These therapies can help a child build his or her self-esteem, self-awareness, and work through their feelings of anger and depression. The child can also work on changing his or her beliefs, attitudes, and behavior by learning techniques that can help them at home and at school. Group therapies can help normalize a person’s feelings and ideas about his or her learning disorder. He or she can learn that they are not alone.

    People with Learning Disorders can have a difficult time in their environment. Using interventions and accommodations can help them be successful. By giving extra time and understanding, they can gain more knowledge with less stress and frustration. They can gain self-esteem and learn coping techniques that will help them in their everyday lives. We can show them the tools to be a happy and successful individual.

    Category: Mental HealthParentingTeaching


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com

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    • Void Walker

      I’ve had an uphill battle overcoming my unique learning disorder. What is it, you may ask?


      Nuff said.

      • Yes, that can certainly be one of the more difficult ones to get over.

        • Void Walker

          Socially, especially. My lord.

          • Yeah, it turns out that interacting with peers is pretty much required for learning solid social skills. Whodathunkit?

            • Void Walker

              Right? I mean, it’s not like we’re social animals or anything. What a zany notion!

            • If we were meant to socialize, then evolution would have had us living in groups for millions of years. Oh, wait…..

            • Void Walker

              Ha 🙂 That reminds me of another disadvantage to being homeschooled: creation science. My brothers and I were taught that evolution was a lie promulgated by Satan himself. I really cannot begin to stress how damaging this form of “education” is. Have you ever encountered many homeschooled people?

            • Oh yes, as students in college, clients of mine, and just in “real life.” Oklahoma has a pretty large number of homeschooled folks (percentage wise, that is), and they tend to be homeschooled for religious reasons (although not exclusively).

            • Void Walker

              I suppose I should not harbor such animosity toward my “education”. Ultimately, it paved the way for my atheism, acceptance of evolution, and passion for science. Good things CAN come from shit!

            • Manure is a fantastic fertilizer, as long as it’s applied properly 😀

            • Void Walker

              Haha! That gave me a laugh 🙂

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      Making things fun can be helpful, I think. I play Perquackey with my husband fairly frequently. I’m not good at the game because of my dyslexia so we don’t use the timer when playing. This allows me more time to make word lists. If we play frequently, I have an easier time remembering common letter combinations. This helps with my reading and spelling difficulties.

      Of course, it’s important for the learning disabled to play these kinds of games with nice people, like my husband, who aren’t looking to win and then make you feel stupid for losing. My husband just enjoys the challenge and he’s a master at it – so much so that we had to expand the score card and change the number of points required to win so that I have at least a small hope of winning occasionally (Or actually being able to play. There have been times when he has won the game in only one throw of the dice even though we play to 10,000 rather than 5,000. 😉 On rare occasions, I actually come up with words he hasn’t, and he showers me with praise for having done so. Such a nice guy!!!

      • Working with teachers who are patient and more interested in the outcomes than the speed is very, very important for those with LDs.

        Also, remind me not to play Perquackey with Armchair 🙂

        • An Ardent Skeptic

          Having parents who are patient and more interested in the outcomes is very, very important as well. I didn’t. My parents kept telling me I was stupid because I couldn’t read, write or spell as well as my siblings. For years I was convinced that I was stupid. I got really good at hiding my disability. On the job, I preferred graveyard shifts so I wouldn’t have a boss looking over my shoulder when I needed to write something.

          • So sorry to hear about your parents acting that way 🙁

            Luckily, the school systems are doing a better job at identifying and helping kids who struggle earlier and earlier (with programs like RTI discussed above).

            • An Ardent Skeptic

              Shortly after marrying Armchair (22 years ago) I bought him this T-shirt. It was one of his favorites. What’s the listing in the DSM-V for bad parenting disorders? ;-):

            • Well, if we’re being honest, it’s…um…most of them!

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