By Marco March
It takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence and knowledge of oneself to be the best we can be — but not everyone is so keen to pursue the analysis of facial micro-expressions and mixed model social skills that suit leadership and interpersonal roles so well. Some students prefer colouring-in to ball games, physics to history, and corporate law to neuroscience. But if we consider just the neurological make-up of students, we can find some correlations between which areas of the brain are most active and what subject a student excels at or prefers.
This is most prominent in students with learning disabilities because they demonstrate significant deviation from the standard educational curriculum. It can be difficult to diagnose students’ weak areas at an early age because we don’t have a sorting hat like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or an fMRI procedure for kindergarteners — or kindergarten teachers who are experts in the complexities of child psychology. By the time students have reached a level at which they have finished developing their fine motor skills such as holding a pencil correctly, children with learning difficulties could have been struggling for a number of years with visual, auditory or kinesthetic tasks through a time when their mind is at its most malleable, making it difficult for them to be the best that they can be later on in life. It is important therefore for teachers to recognise the hurdles that some students face and act around them rather than over them.
Rather than simplifying the lesson content for students who are labelled with such words as dyslexia, ADHD, APD and bipolar disorder, it would benefit students most if we were able to try a different approach that is conducive to their learning style.
Detection: A tendency to avoid reading or shows signs of frustration when reading. Demonstrates difficulty when recollecting a word, spelling and handwriting (often referred to as dysgraphia). May display difficulty solving mathematical problems (often referred to as dyscalculia).
Action: Book tapes or reading to dyslexic students may help them absorb the information better. When presenting units of text, teachers can present them in small chunks and with clear borders. Words tend to float away in the eyes of dyslexic students, so using ‘dyslexie’, a particular type of font that recognises dyslexics’ 3D projection of 2D letters and solves the issue by ‘weighing the letters down,’ can be helpful.
Dyslexics only use one part of their brain when reading and processing — Broca’s area — whilst a typical person also uses the parieto-temporal and the occipito-temporal in order to recognise and form words. The dyslexic brain therefore only uses the left hemisphere whilst the average brain uses both. As such, students with dyslexia should be taught to use logic as opposed to rehearsed memory because such processing uses the left hemisphere of the brain and plays on the student’s strengths.
Detection: Although not considered a Specific Learning Disability, ADHD can severely impede a students’ performance as they suffer from inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is thought that as many as 5% of school students suffer from ADHD of some form, so teachers should look for students displaying erratic behaviour. Other common signs of ADHD are oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and, very rarely, Tourette’s syndrome and bipolar disorder.
Action: There are various medicinal options to curb the effects of ADHD such as methylphenidate, dexamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine and atomoxetine, but they should only be explored after significant behavioural therapy has been undertaken. Talking about ADHD to others who suffer similar problems is a good start. Other behavioural methods include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), psychoeducation and social skills training.
APD (Auditory Processing Disorder)
Detection: APD includes difficulty explaining ideas and making sense of the order of sounds. Often students with APD cannot tell where a sound is coming from or notice intonation patterns in speech. They may have no trouble with environmental or non-verbal sounds, but misunderstand jokes and metaphors.
Action: Teachers can provide visual examples rather than audio ones and can show rather than explain. Using more body language and asking the student to reiterate a sentence exactly how you have said it can provide reinforcement.
Speech therapy is often helpful to APD sufferers, and forming links between written words and spoken words will help develop formal speech. Any auditory disability means that there is a problem in the phonological loop which is directly connected to the central executive system in the brain, and as such, children with APD struggle to assimilate sounds in the working memory. Students with APD should be advised to use visual stimulation as their primary means of parsing and work separately on their auditory faculties.
In a world where these disabilities and other similar impairments are all classified as the same ‘light’ learning disorders that can be found in anyone, we are not treating them with the same kind of care as we do other more noticeable disorders. If a student appears to be stressed out when you are teaching, stop what you are doing and try a different method; it is important that students are as comfortable as possible when learning. If the amygdala is stimulated into a state of stress-induced over-activation, new information cannot pass through it to the memory and association circuits.
As educators, it is our job to bring out the best in our students. Consider that when one hemisphere is overstimulated, the other becomes unstimulated. Someone who is very good at maths and logic is likely to have less expertise with language and creativity because logic and creativity are born from opposite hemispheres of the brain. Consider that when we lose one of our four senses, another often evolves to be more powerful than before. That talent needs to be fostered just as much as the struggle needs to be nurtured. They both weigh the same — they just have different terminal velocities.
Boer. C, Wudel. K (2015) What Reading Really Looks Like When You’re Dyslexic Good https://www.good.is/infographics/dyslexie-christian-boer
Willis. J (2014) The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning Edutopia http://www.edutopia.org/blog/neuroscience-behind-stress-and-learning-judy-willis
Carrion-Castillo. A et.al (2013) Molecular Genetics of Dyslexia: An Overview Dyslexia: An International Journal of Research and Practice, John Wiley and Sons ltd vol. 19 (4) pp.214-240
(2016) Types of Learning Disability Learning Disability Association of America http://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/