SENSORY AND COGNITIVE DISABILITIES: STUDENT CASE EXAMPLE



Susan, a college student entering her senior year as a major in special education describes her views of education and herself in the following way:

Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself,” said John Dewey.I have endeavored to learn from all of the experiences in my life, both good and not so good. Maintaining a positive attitude has been the key to my success in the world of academia. This anonymous saying is posted conspicuously   in my home, “I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it….we are in charge of our attitudes. Overcoming the attitudinal barriers of others towards students with disabilities has been a constant battle. A professor or teacher at any level needs to be able to look beyond the disability to discover the ability. Don’t make instant assessments, and be misled by visual impressions. The gray hair, cane, leg   brace, and electric scooter, have led many professors to wonder why I am “taking up space” in their classroom (not audibly of course, but facial expressions and body language tell their story). With further assessment, they discover that physical disability does not necessarily equate with mental disability.

Viewing education from the perspective of a wife, mother and grandmother in her mid-fifties, gives me a wealth of experience concerning diverse people and events    from which to draw. Regardless of the activity, whether it occurs in the academic, recreation/leisure, vocational, or self-management/home living domain, you get out of the         activity what you put into it. After working almost twenty-years for General Motors, I viewed the diagnosis and deterioration of my physical abilities, as an opportunity to pursue a degree in special education. I hope to be able to draw on my learning experience to positively affect children with learning disabilities. How do I learn? The hard way! My computer (brain), children love that analogy, by the way–they relate to it well,   processes information more slowly than the newer models. I highlight the text, take notes in class, and refer back to the text or related materials, for additional information ( I have a passion for reading).Observing, followed by “hands on experience” was a tremendous asset in learning to teach the language arts, and also mathematics, science, and social studies in the elementary schools (part of the class time was spent in a professional develop-men class at the elementary school, and part was spent in the classroom with children, putting into practice what we had learned).Writing information out on paper that I   have difficulty remembering, is another learning technique I incorporated. A psychology       professor once told me that when you involve motor skills, such as writing or reading             aloud, you etch a pathway in your brain’s memory banks-it works for me! Cooperative     learning is effective when my partner is focused and motivated. You really need to be on      the same wave length for it to be successful. I have had some really productive brainstorming sessions with my cooperating teachers.Deriving all possible benefit from any course I pursue is one of my goals (I want to get my money’s worth). Far too many college students are doing just enough to “get by.” I have been endowed with the old fashioned fundamental values of workinghard, doing the job/assignment right, and discharging my commitments andresponsibilities to the fullest extent of my ability. Many good professors and teachers have stimulated the cognitive process, and provided additional motivation for me to   continue striving toward my goal.

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DEMOGRAPHICS AND CHARACERISTICS OF STUDENTS WITH COGNITIVE AND SENSORY DISABILITIES

There has been a significant increase in the number and percentage of college students with disabilities. In 1978, the first year disability-related data on college students were reported in American Freshman: National Norms, 2.6 percent of full-time, first-time freshmen indicated that they had a disability. Most recently, in 1991, 8.89 percent of college reported a disability. Of the 1991 freshmen with disabilities, one quarter of them (35,000) reported having a learning disability, it is likely that many more entering freshmen had a learning disability but chose not to report it.( p. v, Peterson’s Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities).

A combination of factors has led to the increase in the number of college learning disability services and program as well as a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking such programs. In the mid-1970s two significant pieces of legislation became law: the Education of the Handicapped Act (now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act-IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, followed by the 1977 regulation implementing Section 504 of that Act. Together they reflected Americans’ concern about including people with disabilities in regular education (and other federally funded activities) and led to the changes necessary in those programs so that these people, including those with learning disabilities, could participate.

These concerns were further validated with the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990/ ADA has also had the effect of raising the awareness of educational institutions about their responsibilities to people with disabilities, and that has renewed access activity on many campuses. In addition, at both the secondary and postsecondary level educators have increased efforts to teach students with disabilities-including those with learning disabilities–self-advocacy skills, which has heightened their self-determination. Such skills have emboldened students to come forward and request disability-specific accommodations and may account for the increasing number of students who self-identify.

Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (From Federal Register, 1977, December 29, p. 65083)

CHARACTERISTICS ASSOCIATED WITH STUDENTS WITH SENSORY AND COGNITIVE/LEARNING DISABILITIES

In a publication designed to assist students with learning disabilities who are interested in attending college, Iannuzzi, Strichart  & Mangrum (1994) present a list of problem areas experienced by this population of students. However, the reader is cautioned that “no one college student with a learning disability will have all the characteristics.” p. 4

The problem areas are classified in seven major categories: cognition, language, perceptual and motor skills, academic work, work and study habits, social skills, and emotional development.

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Additional descriptions of challenges, difficulties and needs often experienced by students with cognitive/learning disabilities: