The University Record, May 20, 1997

Educators often puzzled by learning disabilities, report says

By Randy Frank
U-M Dearborn

Although a majority of college and university teachers understand that students with learning disabilities are not mentally retarded, and that learning disabilities can affect language and reading without affecting math performance, faculty members often are puzzled by other learning disability (LD) issues, according to Belinda Lazarus, associate professor of special education.

These are some of the findings of a study conducted in 1996 by Lazarus and Ron Davison, chair of educational administration at Georgia Southern University, who surveyed 743 faculty members at four-year and community colleges in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona and New York about accommodating students with learning disabilities.

Nearly 67 percent of the respondents indicated they had concerns about proper accommodations for LD students, their own lack of knowledge or training, the fairness of accommodations in terms of non-disabled students, and the future success of students with learning disabilities.

The two found that "the majority of the participants were unaware or uncertain about the intelligence, gender distribution and `cure-ability' of students with learning disabilities."

"A portrait of the average person with learning disabilities may surprise people," Lazarus says.

"More than 85 percent of persons with learning disabilities are men who perform below average in reading and language but excel in mathematics. In fact, nearly 20 percent are gifted.

"Survey participants expressed a willingness to give LD students extra time to complete exams and assignments, as well as to allow the use of readers and laptop computers," Lazarus says. "However, community college respondents are more willing to provide alternatives to multiple-choice exams and assignments."

Community college instructors also are more apt to provide review sessions, lower-level reading materials, and advanced copies of syllabi and assignments, as well as allow students to tape lectures and class discussions, Lazarus notes.

She found, however, that faculty at both types of institutions will not overlook spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. They also are not likely to reduce the required reading for courses or provide shorter assignments for students with learning disabilities, and expressed uncertainty about providing study guides.

"The behaviors of persons with learning disabilities are their attempt to cope with societal and cultural demands that may be beyond their physiology," Lazarus explains.

"People with learning disabilities can learn to cope through lifestyle changes, accommodations and sometimes medication. A growing and compelling research base that uses magnetic resonance imaging, positron emotive tomography and brain electrical activity mapping shows that learning disabilities are related to abnormalities in the central nervous system, which currently are incurable."