In an article published on the Learning Counsel, Roger Stark and Betsy Hill write …
Multiple decades of research and practice have resulted in significant shifts in the way students with learning disabilities are supported in schools in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the U.S., federal policy defines various categories of disabilities that may entitle students to special education services or other educational accommodations. Some of the disabilities identified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) constitute barriers to access to education or limitations on the students’ ability to participate in certain activities. These would include deafness, blindness and orthopedic disabilities. These types of disabilities may exist even when the learning mechanisms of the brain are still intact and functioning normally.
Other disabilities, however, directly involve the brain’s learning processes. Specific learning disabilities are defined as deficits in underlying psychological processes involved in learning. Such deficits may affect visual working memory, verbal working memory, processing speed, short-term memory and other cognitive processes. Intellectual disability also directly impairs the brain’s learning capacity. And still, other identified disabilities may include under-developed cognitive processes. For example, students with ASD or ADHD typically have issues with attention skills, working memory, and other executive functions, which play important roles in learning.
Educators who work with students with deficits in underlying cognitive processes that impede their ability to learn to read, write and do math typically use three categories of strategies to help students receiving special education services:
It is important to understand that the purpose of these strategies is to bypass the cognitive processes that are weak to minimize the impact of processing deficits. Thus, for example, if a student has limited working memory capacity and can’t remember a set of three instructions, the teacher would eliminate the need to hold three items of information in working memory, and, instead, give the instructions one at a time. That is an example of an accommodation. These commonly used intervention strategies often do not result in student success. Students receiving special education services continue to lag the general population in academic achievement and often rely on these supports throughout their schooling. Recent research suggests that the lack of effectiveness of these strategies is explained by the substantial cognitive deficits that impair the students’ learning progress.
Over the last decade, researchers and educators have begun to explore a fourth strategy, the remediation of cognitive processes known to be weak.