For the fourth time, the Roper Public Affairs &’ Corporate Communications group has reported a survey of US opinion about Learning Disabilities to the Tremaine Foundation. Although the report is entitled “Measuring Progress in Public & Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities,” it also includes data about the views of the general public, teachers, and school administrators. It’s worth reading the entire document, but here are a few notes to whet the appetite.
As in past surveys in this series, there are some reasons for hope and some reasons for sadness. A higher percentage of those interviewed than ever indicated that they thought individuals with Learning Disabilities had average or above average intelligence. Sadly, however, 80% of the general public still confuse Learning Disabilities with mental retardation—what educators and psychologists now call “Intellectual Disabilities”—and other disabilities including Autism, Deafness, and Blindness. Also, almost all educators said that they have at least some familiarity with Learning Disabilities, but 81% of teachers also confuse Learning Disabilities with other disabilities! We teacher educators obviously have not taught these facts successfully.
In another good-new, bad-news pair, the survey reveals that a majority of adults in the US are more aware of indicators or “warning signs” of possible problems, but the survey perpetuates the myth that reversing letters and numerals is an indicator. This one is compounded by the finding that most parents expressed the opinion that 5-8 year-old children will outgrow problems such as having difficulty matching letters with sounds or working with numbers. Fortunately, only about 20-33% of teachers adopt this view, but that’s far too many in my opinion. More work for teacher educators on this one, too.
One more bad news item: Among the general public, 50% strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that Learning disabilities “are really just the result of laziness and are not disabilities.”
So, overall, it appears that we must continue to wage the campaign to educate folks about the meaning of LD. LD does not mean “Lazy and Dumb.” I can still see the child actors in the videos that the Tremaine Foundation funded years ago facing the camera and saying, “I’m not lazy.” “I’m not dumb.” Bring those kids back. Show those kids in classes. Play those 1-minute and 30-second spots every week in teacher education courses. (Just don’t show the one with the b and d in the spiraling colors with the voice-over about reversals!)