As we close out the March celebration of National Reading Month, it is important to also recognize the needs of students with language-based learning differences. These young people face unique challenges in developing literacy skills and require specialized support to find success in and out of the classroom.
Although only 6% to 7% of the nationwide school population qualifies for special education, as much as 15% to 20% has a language-based learning disability, with dyslexia being the most common, according to the International Dyslexia Association. Other learning differences, such as dysgraphia and auditory processing disorder, can also affect reading, writing, and spelling.
These differences can make it difficult for students to succeed in traditional classroom settings. Without appropriate support, students with language-based learning differences and attention issues may fall behind and struggle to meet academic expectations. This can lead to frustration, anxiety, and even a sense of hopelessness – not only for the student but for their family.
It’s crucial that educators and parents understand the unique needs of these children and provide appropriate support. This may include accommodations such as extended time on exams or audiobooks and specialized instruction in reading, writing, and language skills. To fully support neurodiverse children, it is imperative that educators, professionals and family members also have the tools needed to help these learners thrive and find success. Working collectively, we can affect positive outcomes for people with learning and attention issues.
Parents and teachers can work together to help students with learning differences build confidence and self-esteem by recognizing their strengths and abilities. These students may excel in areas such as creativity, problem-solving, or critical thinking, and it is important to celebrate these strengths.
Neuroscience, cognitive science, and education research have created substantial opportunities for growth in the field of learning differences. Today those learners have a platform on which to stand, bolstered by clear findings in science, like MRI images, of the differences that exist in their brains. By removing limitations, applying research, science, and evidence, while also embracing a holistic approach to learning, we can unleash the potential that resides in all students.
In Connecticut, there are resources available for students with language-based learning differences and their families. The Connecticut State Department of Education provides guidance and support for educators working with these students, and organizations such as the Connecticut Branch of the International Dyslexia Association offer advocacy, education, and resources for families.
The Southport CoLAB at The Southport school is also a resource providing high-quality programs for training professionals, educators and families using a collaborative, partnership-based approach with like-minded organizations. The CoLAB impacts local and national communities by helping train teachers, educate families, and inform the public about language-based learning disabilities and attention issues.
As executive director of The Southport School, I am enthusiastic and optimistic about the changes and opportunities for students of all ages who struggle with learning differences. I continue to feel confident and hopeful that together as a community, we can make an impact for the nearly one in five students in our schools who have learning and attention issues.
Even though National Reading Month is over, let’s remember the importance of nurturing and educating students with learning differences. By providing appropriate support and creating inclusive learning environments, we can help these learners overcome challenges and reach their full potential.
Benjamin N. Powers is the executive director of The Southport School, an independent day school for neurodiverse children in grades 2-8 who have language-based learning differences and/or ADHD. He is also the founder and executive director of The Southport CoLAB, Director of the Global Literacy Hub at the Yale Child Study Center, a senior scientist with Haskins Laboratories, and President of The Dyslexia Foundation.