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«Sally Patton UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION BOSTON Copyright © 2004 by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. All rights ...»

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Briefly, it involves the idea that dyslexic children conceptualize of things nonverbally with mental pictures and become disoriented when they are forced to think with words, for which meanings cannot be pictured. Thus, the letter symbols that make up individual words mean nothing; they do not look like any known objects and so do not generate mental pictures. In West’s language, these children think from the right side of the brain. Davis believes that controlling the disorientation will help dyslexic children overcome their learning problems and allow their talents to flourish.7 There is a major effort among many learning disabilities professionals, people with learning disabilities, and parents of children with learning disabilities to use the word difference instead of disability in designating this condition. The primary reason for 82 Welcoming Children this new terminology is to change the general public’s perceptions about what it means to have a learning disability. Using the word difference, instead of disability, promotes a vision of a world in which each person has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses and can make his or her own special contribution.

However, many professionals in this area see the trend toward using the word difference as harmful. They feel it will undo all the years of struggle it took to recognize that these children have special problems that require special educational services. In order for children who significantly struggle with learning in school to be represented under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, it was essential that learning disability be seen as a handicapping condition. Using the word difference would not have accomplished this goal.

The Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) has been a leader in the fight to have children with learning disabilities protected by federal law and to ensure that the public education system will continue to serve them. Dr. Larry Silver of the LDA comments, Using the term Learning Difference rather than Learning Disability is not just a semantic difference. It feeds right into the arguments that too many superintendents of schools and principals are using to control their budget. Why do we need special services or specially trained teachers or special materials for students who learn differently? Our special education funds are for students who have real disabilities. If they only learn differently, we can teach them in general education. It is this very real and urgent need that causes our organization to speak out so loudly to organizations and individuals who want to use the term Learning Differences.8

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because they are often misleading, pessimistic, simplistic, and dehumanizing, particularly when they are used to define a person’s total identity: “I am dyslexic, I am ADD, I am autistic.” Levine asks us to imagine proclaiming, “I am bronchial asthma.”9 Students at the Eagle Hill School for children with learning disabilities responded to Silver and the LDA on the issue of terminology. In their view, it is unreasonable to assume that there is a single point on the continuum of school success that indicates when a child learns differently and should be considered learning disabled. The students write, We recognize the danger in a rapid, unconsidered shift from the use of learning disabilities to learning differences, and we appreciate your foresight in calling attention to this in your article. It is a real concern and one that we share. However, we do not accept the notion that persons with learning disabilities are qualitatively different from others who have difficulty in school or from those who do not have difficulty in school, for that matter. We recognize that most uses of the term learning differences depend upon the same assumptions about the world (and about people) that we have argued against here. In the end, we suggest an even more radical shift in perspectives and in terminology to learning diversity, which can value multiple ways of learning and allow every student greater access to success in school.10 The issue of whether to use disability, difference, or diversity is important because it affects how we view children who think differently. Howard Gardner feels that our schools have come to teach uniformly in a one-dimensional way, relying heavily on linguistic and logical problem solving while ignoring other ways of learning and thinking.11 This has created a culture in which children who think and learn differently are considered disabled.

For the purpose of getting needed educational services for their child, it is necessary for parents to use the word disabled. It is not necessary, however, for involving the child in religious education programming.

84 Welcoming Children Ministering to Families When ministering to families that have children with learning disabilities, it is important not to minimize the pain and anger that they frequently experience. Many of these parents have to fight an unyielding school system in order to get needed services for their child. That fight can be very expensive, including the costs of hiring advocates and lawyers. Many parents give up because they cannot handle the expense, only to watch their child suffer from the lack of proper services. The resulting anger and frustration can be overwhelming and debilitating. It can spill over into the church environment, especially if parents feel they have to continue to fight for what their child needs. It is therefore critical that parents feel their child will be safe in church and free from the struggles he or she faces in school. Creating a learning environment that does not rely on reading and writing is essential.

Sometimes, a child’s struggle in school indicates other problems, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder;

these conditions can go hand in hand with learning disabilities.

But many times children are diagnosed incorrectly. Parents who seek pastoral care need to receive not only support but also help in finding the proper resources for their child. Richard Lavoie, a learning disabilities expert, says that the biggest challenge for both parents and professionals is not educating the child with learning differences but educating other people.

Ideas for Teaching If children struggle too much to learn to read, write, and do math, they are often diagnosed with a learning disability. And no matter how this diagnosis is conveyed or countered with talk about their “gifts,” the message to the children is that they are defective in some way. Their hurt, frustration, and pain from being viewed as different may be invisible, but they bring it all with them to our faith communities.

85 Learning Disabilities Dr. Harold Levinson, an expert on learning disabilities, calls these children the “upside-down” kids. Like the figure 8, which looks the same rightside up or upside down, these children look like other kids. But their whole world has been turned upside down because their learning needs do not match the predominant teaching method.12 As a result, they can feel stupid and frustrated in school.

Specific ideas for teaching children with learning disabilities can be found in the section “Make Religious Education Less Like School” in the chapter on religious education (pages 31–34) and in the “Ideas for Teaching” section in the chapter on attention-deficit disorder (pages 92–95). Key strategies include using storytelling instead of asking the children to read out loud; using visual cues in the religious education classroom to represent session themes; and providing one set of information or directions at a time for children who have difficulty remembering too many directions or the sequence of events. With younger children especially, avoid activities involving writing, or have each child share his or her thoughts while the teacher writes them down. For example, in an activity that asked the children to share how they were going to help at home during the week, the teacher wrote each child’s response on a balloon to take home.

Attention-Deficit Disorder Those carrying this gene [ the gene associated with ADD]...

often find themselves in environments where they’re coerced, threatened, or shoehorned into a classroom or job that doesn’t fit. The Edison-gene children aren’t recognized for their gifts but instead are told that they’re disordered, broken, or failures; a great emotional and spiritual wounding occurs. This wounding can bring about all sorts of problems for children, for adults they grow into, and for our society.

—Thom Hartmann, The Edison Gene Children with attention-deficit disorder (ADD)* rarely have the opportunity to feel good about themselves, to follow their dreams, and to be appreciated for their strengths and gifts.

These are the children who learn at an early age that they are different from other children, and they are reminded of that fact throughout their lives.

Children with ADD have difficulty controlling their impulsive and distracting behaviors. And rather than allow themselves to be thought of as odd or stupid, many choose either to withdraw completely or to get into trouble on a regular basis. Many of these chilIn this chapter, the term attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is used exclusively and includes attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

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dren learn quite young that they can disrupt, control, and cause fear in well-meaning adults. If they also have a learning disability, they receive a double dose of misunderstanding and negative reinforcement. Even those children with concerned and loving parents grow to hate themselves, because no matter how hard they try, they do not fit in.

Description Dr. Edward M. Hallowell and Dr. John J. Ratey are two of the foremost experts on diagnosing and treating people with ADD. In their book Answers to Distraction, they describe ADD as a neurological syndrome that is characterized by one or more of three symptoms: impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity.1 Today, about 15 million Americans have ADD, although many do not know it. It occurs in children and adults of both sexes and all racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, levels of education, and degrees of intelligence. ADD is not a learning or language disability, nor is it associated with low intelligence.

Given this information, diagnosing attention-deficit disorder would seem to be straightforward, but it is not. Many people are at times impulsive, distracted, or hyperactive. Some people consider themselves to have ADD with only one or two symptoms and not necessarily the same symptoms that others with ADD experience.

In an effort to aid diagnosis, several clinicians have developed a diagnostic checklist, but it does not always work.

Many of the problems common to children can cause the symptoms of ADD, such as depression or bipolar disorder, a dysfunctional family situation, and poor nutrition. Many children with learning disabilities also have attention problems that make them seem at times to have ADD. To complicate matters, ADD occurs more frequently among people with dyslexia than in the population at large. It is estimated that between 50 and 90 percent of students with ADD also have a learning disability2 and that between 6 and 10 percent of the school-age population have ADD.3 88 Welcoming Children Discussion Given the number of American children who have been diagnosed as ADD in recent years, it seems as if this condition has swept across the nation, bringing upset and confusion with it. A conservative estimate is that between 6 and 10 percent of American children have been diagnosed with ADD.4 It is also intriguing to consider that ADD appears to be a phenomenon of Western countries.

But do all of these children really have ADD? In Answers to Distraction, Hallowell and Ratey discuss what they call pseudo-ADD, an ADD-like syndrome caused by our fast-paced, visual, electronically wired, impatient, violent and action-prone, over-stimulating urban culture.5 Hartmann believes that the reason we are seeing more children with ADD in American schools is that underfunding and teacher overload are bringing them to our attention.6 In large classrooms and under increased pressure to teach standardized materials, teachers no longer have the opportunity or time to work creatively with children who have learning differences. Because children with ADD are primarily visual, not auditory, learners, they become bored easily and begin to act out. It then becomes easier to label, blame, and medicate the child rather than change the school culture. Jeffrey Freed, in his book RightBrained Children in a Left-Brained World, believes that all American children are becoming more visual and right-brained from living in our highly stimulating, electronically based culture.7 He believes we are a left-brained society that is in the process of becoming more visual. Our schools are being flooded with rightbrained, visual/spatial children, but they continue to be dominated by a teaching style that has historically emphasized a left-brained, linear mode of learning. The more visual, rightbrained students have difficulty learning in this environment and are often labeled as nonlearners or as having ADD and/or learning disabilities.

Another professional who questions the prevailing view that ADD is a problem or disorder is Dr. Thomas Armstrong. In his 89 Attention-Deficit Disorder book The Myth of the ADD Child, he proposes that ADD is not a medical disability, which means this label is not helpful in understanding the behaviors of a given child.8 He suggests other possible explanations for ADD-type behaviors. Perhaps it is a social invention, a symptom of societal breakdown, a product of a short-attention-span culture, a response to boring classrooms, a reflection of normal gender differences, a bad fit between parent and child, or a different way of learning.

Although some people feel that ADD is simply the latest excuse used by parents who do not discipline their unruly children, scientific research shows that ADD is a biologically based disorder that can be inherited and may be due to an imbalance of neurotransmitters or abnormal glucose metabolism in the central nervous system, according to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).9 While a biological explanation may confirm that ADD is not a myth, it does not explain why the disorder is in the human gene pool.

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