Originally created 03/15/05

Learning disabled can get good education



My brother called from college recently and excitedly asked my mother "Are you sitting down?"

My mother, used to calls like these for the past year and a half, braced herself. Nathan (my brother) had gotten a 99 on a test. For a guy who barely made it through the trials of high school, it was - and is - an amazing accomplishment.

Born with a mild case of cerebral palsy, Nathan was a child when he developed epilepsy. These conditions have left him with a learning disability, and his medications resulted in many negative side effects, which created challenges in his schoolwork and daily life.

The change in Nathan's scholastic performance can be largely credited to the fact that he is going to Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., an accredited four-year college that is made up of students with learning disabilities.

Nathan's going from a hard time at high school directly into the honor roll is still sort of shocking to me and definitely shocking to him. Our shock aside, my brother's progress is important because it proves that people with learning disabilities have just as much ability as everyone else. Although these individuals' range of ability is limited and possibly lessened when treated wrongly, it is possible to give everyone a good and proper education.

According to Schwab Learning, a national program devoted to helping parents of learning disabled children, and its Web site (schwablearning.org), the dropout rate for students with learning disabilities approaches 50 percent, and the national dropout rate is 27 percent. As the research has shown, and my brother's observations confirm, many learning disabled students drop out and give up, probably because of frustration and humiliation caused by their disability.

Schwab Learning estimates that 40 percent of juveniles incarcerated are learning disabled. These consequences - as Beacon's successes in helping learning disabled students has proved - are avoidable if the education is focused on a variety of learning styles.

Beacon uses three approaches to increase the probability of each student's success.

First, there is a support system. Beacon uses an academic mentoring program. A faculty member is assigned to each student to help guide him or her through their studies.

Second, because many students have ADD or ADHD, the classes are set up to take frequent 10-minute breaks that allow students to move around and return to their lesson.

Third, instruction is provided in a way that reaches every student. In each class period, instructors are expected to teach using three different techniques: they write out the information for visual learners, lecture on the subject for auditory learners, and use experiments for those students (such as my brother) who learn best by hands-on experiments (known as kinesthetic learning).

If more schools applied these methods in their daily class-work, and not just in college but in all levels of learning, more students would gain the tools they need for life after school.

"If they (the students) are capable to successfully receive these tools that will be life changing, why do we neglect them?" Nathan argued in a letter he wrote to the U.S. Department of Education. "Since it is necessary for public schools to offer the bare minimum of disabilities services to students with a physical or learning disability, these students endure the struggle throughout most of their school careers."

Nathan's point, and my point, is that having a learning disability doesn't necessarily have to sentence a person to a life without a proper education, without opportunity. Learning disabled people have a constant battle for equality: They fight for equality in their families and in their schools, even among their friends. We need to stand up and make sure that everyone gets a good educational foundation. We need to make sure that students are getting more than the minimum of what education can provide.

Nathan offers some words of advice for us all, saying that we should stop settling for what we have now, and instead, "fight for what we deserve."

Dylan Plung 14, is a homeschooled freshman.