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Understanding Learning Disabilities and the Struggle to Retain Information

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Updated on
Modified on June 13, 2024
Quick Takeaway
Students with learning disabilities may encounter challenges in their academic journey, including a hindered ability to retain information. Personalized support and evidence-based interventions are crucial for addressing their individual needs and promoting their academic success. Voyager Sopris Learning® offers a variety of evidence-based solutions tailored to support the academic success of students with diverse learning needs.

Learning disabilities can significantly impact a student’s academic performance and overall educational experience. However, they do not indicate an inability to learn or a lack of intelligence. Instead, it's important to recognize students with learning disabilities simply learn differently and require specialized support to thrive.

When they receive this support, they are more likely to feel valued, capable, and included in the learning process. As a result, their social and academic growth is positively impacted. This blog post will explore effective interventions and strategies for supporting students with learning disorders. 

Understanding Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect the brain's ability to receive, store, and respond to information. While they may impact various academic skills, they do not reflect intelligence. Rather, they represent differences in how the brain processes information. 

Learning disabilities affect one in every five individuals. Common learning disabilities include: 

  • Dyslexia affects reading comprehension and fluency. Students with dyslexia may struggle with spelling, understanding sentences, and recognizing words they already know. 
  • Dyscalculia affects math skills. It makes problem-solving and grasping basic operations difficult. 
  • Dysgraphia affects writing skills. Students with dysgraphia may encounter difficulties in forming letters, writing within designated spaces, and expressing their thoughts in writing.
  • Dyspraxia affects movement and coordination. It can cause difficulty in tasks like walking or fine motor skills, such as writing or holding a pencil. 

Learning disabilities often coexist with other conditions such as ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and autism spectrum disorders, compounding the challenges students face. Alongside struggles with information retention, they may encounter difficulties related to attention, executive function, sensory processing, and social interaction. 

Specialized intervention is crucial for students with disabilities. Educators and specialized professionals can collaborate to identify and aid these students by implementing personalized plans. These plans may include routines, visuals, and social skills lessons tailored to promote academic success and overall growth. 

The emotional and psychological toll of learning disabilities can be profound, often leading to feelings of low self-esteem, frustration, and anxiety among students. Cultivating a nurturing environment is essential. Educators can prioritize both emotional and academic development to empower students, helping them build confidence and foster a positive outlook on their learning journey.

Challenges in Retaining Information

Understanding the cognitive processes involved in retaining information is crucial for addressing the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities. They are: 

  • Short-term memory
  • Long-term memory
  • Working memory
  • Encoding
  • Retrieval
  • Auditory processing

Short-term memory serves as a temporary storage system, holding information for brief periods, while long-term memory stores information for an extended duration. However, it's the working memory that is particularly relevant for tasks requiring problem-solving and comprehension. Working memory enables students to hold and manipulate information in mind, a skill vital for academic success.

Encoding involves the process of transforming sensory input into a form that can be stored in memory. Retrieval, on the other hand, involves accessing stored information when needed. Difficulties in these processes can manifest as challenges in memorizing facts, concepts, or sequences, significantly impacting academic performance.

Moreover, students with learning disabilities may struggle with auditory processing, making it challenging to process and retain information presented verbally. Auditory processing disorders can affect the ability to discriminate between sounds, follow rapid speech, or filter out background noise, resulting in difficulties comprehending spoken instructions or lectures. 

Interventions for Addressing Learning Disabilities

Intervention programs are structured plans designed to address specific learning challenges through targeted support and guidance. They include: 

  • Evidence-Based Approaches: Evidence-based approaches are interventions that have been thoroughly researched and proven effective through observed evidence. Because of this, they are deemed highly effective in helping students with disabilities in both academic and social settings. By using tested strategies, teachers can ensure they are choosing interventions that are most likely to help students succeed. Common evidence-based approaches include Structured Literacy, differentiated instruction, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) learning. 
  • Reading Comprehension Interventions: Sometimes, students with learning disabilities may struggle to understand a text because they lack proficiency in foundational literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness, decoding skills, and vocabulary development. To improve reading comprehension among students with learning disabilities, teachers can use intervention strategies to focus on these specific areas. Voyager Sopris Learning® offers evidence-based reading intervention programs and assessments for K–12 students, including: 
    • Acadience® Reading Diagnostic: A set of diagnostic assessment tools for young students (K–6) who are below grade-level benchmarks or struggling with essential reading skills. 
    • Voyager Passport®: A research-proven intervention solution that enhances literacy in K–5 students by focusing on the five key reading components, writing, and language skills by way of systematic, explicit instruction and a thoughtfully designed Scope and Sequence. 
    • LANGUAGE! Live®: A comprehensive, intensive literacy intervention for grades 5–12, blending self-paced foundational instruction with teacher-guided instruction that includes authentic text to accelerate students to grade-level proficiency.  
    • Read Well®: A K–3 reading and language arts solution that uses a mastery-based approach to help students become successful readers. It can be implemented  through a flexible approach of whole-class, small-group, and individual activities.
  • Math Skills Interventions: Some students with learning disabilities struggle with specific math skills, such as number sense, computation, and problem-solving. Research-based math intervention programs can be used with learners to provide hands-on activities and visual representations to reinforce mathematical concepts. These programs typically utilize a step-by-step approach to develop fluency and accuracy in operations. Beyond this, many interventions incorporate problem-solving activities that engage students and promote critical thinking skills, helping them to apply their knowledge. Voyager Sopris Learning offers math intervention programs for elementary, middle, and high school students: 
    • VMath®: A research-based math intervention program providing strategies and additional practice to master math concepts and skills for grades 2–8.
    • TransMath®: Targeted, multisensory math intervention curriculum designed for middle and high school students who lack the fundamental skills required for algebraic concepts or who are performing at least two years below the expected grade level in mathematics. 
  • Memory Enhancement Strategies: Addressing the memory challenges of students with learning disabilities requires comprehensive interventions focusing on memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. Teachers can employ various strategies, including:
  • Mnemonic Devices: Utilizing acronyms (e.g., PEMDAS) or visualization techniques to facilitate memorization by creating mental images representing information.
  • Rehearsal Strategies: Breaking down information into smaller, manageable chunks and repeating it multiple times to reinforce memory retention.
  • Executive Function Training: Targeting attention, planning, organization, and self-regulation to enhance cognitive skills crucial for memory improvement.
  • Structured Learning Environments: Implementing clear instructions, routines, and predictability to minimize mental effort and enhance memory for students with learning disabilities.
  • Explicit Instruction: Providing step-by-step guidance and modeling to assist students in understanding tasks or assignments effectively.
  • Scaffolding: Gradually increasing students' independence in managing their memory challenges through supportive structures and guidance.
  • Executive Function Training: Executive functions are essential for academic success because they enable students to effectively manage tasks, solve problems, and monitor their own progress. To support the development of these skills in students with disabilities, teachers may choose programs targeting the behavioral and emotional regulation of children. These solutions assist students in learning strategies to enhance organization, simplify tasks, improve problem-solving abilities, and cultivate techniques for maintaining focus and engagement in learning.


Final Thoughts

Students with learning disabilities may face significant hurdles in retaining information that can impact both their academic progress and self-esteem. However, through personalized plans and evidence-based interventions, educators can provide the necessary support to help these students thrive. Voyager Sopris Learning offers a range of evidence-based solutions tailored to support the success of all students, ensuring every learner has the opportunity to reach their full potential in a supportive and inclusive environment.