1997 Conference Proceedings

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Definition of Specific Learning Disability


A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the central nervous system processes involved in perceiving, understanding and/or using concepts through verbal (spoken or written) language or nonverbal means. This disorder manifests itself with a deficit in one or more of the following areas: attention, reasoning, processing, memory, communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, coordination, social competence and emotional maturity.

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An overview of Learning Disabilities

Do not look at LD as a disability but as a different way of learning. Ld students have to learn a coping strategy to compensate for their methods of learning. Students have frustration at not understanding what they are trying to learn. They turn this upon themselves saying they are dumb, and this affects their self esteem. They won t hazard a guess, they are low risk takers. Emotional outbursts are anger at themselves, but an astute teacher should be able to pick up the buildup of this frustration and find other ways of teaching in a manner which they may utilize. By working with a Learning Disabilities clinic with certified specialists and State Vocational Rehabilitation in a collaborative effort a Adaptive Computer Specialist is able to find strengths and weaknesses of the student, and then build on these strengths and weakness.


How they take in information.

Perception (How it is perceived)
Auditorily (How well they hear it)
Visually (How well they see it)
Tactually (How well they touch it)


How they take new information, how they understand it, and how they link it to old information.

Understanding an idea, start with small details and work up throughout every step.
Concept formation.
How they combine multiple ideas.


How you show what you learn

Written expression
Organization of thoughts and understanding of Logical Progression.
Oral expression (A speech or explanation of what they have learned)
Organization of thoughts and understanding of
Logical Progression.
Demonstration (A project demonstrating what they have learned)
Organization of thoughts and understanding of Logical Progression.

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Traditional and Technological considerations


Traditional: Does the student have any acute, subacute, or chronic health problems? Does the student have a progressive and/or degenerative condition?
Technological: Given the student's attendance record, could the use of technology allow the student more continuous access to school and the curricula? How can technology be used to compensate for the effects of a degenerative condition?


Traditional: What is the student's visual acuity? What is the student's tracking ability?
Technological: What kinds of physical adaptions need to be made to allow the student to access technology? How will technology allow the student to utilize compensatory senses, i.e., could a student use a magnified screen or does s/he need large print on the screen? Is the student able to discriminate presented visual stimuli? Would speech-produced input facilitate learning?


Traditional: Is there a decibel loss? How will the decibel loss affect the student's ability to learn?
Technological: What adaptions will allow the student access to the instructional program; i.e., how can technology (micro-computer, software, and a voice entry system) help to produce vocalization training? Would speech output facilitate learning? Is the student able to discriminate presented auditory stimuli?

Social and emotional status

Traditional: How does the student respond to differing social situations? What are the student's basic character traits?
Technological: What is the positive/negative psychological impact of the use of a computer with certain students; i.e., how will the student who has normal intelligence, but no means of expressive communication, deal with the use of a computer to provide his/her voice? What is the impact of the use of technology to the environment, peers, class?

General intelligence

Traditional: How does the student perform. on a standard IQ test? What is the student's potential for learning?
Technological: Does the student have ability or will the student develop the ability for higher cognitive functions that will allow for conceptualization, symbolization, generalization and abstraction; i.e., will the student be able to understand cause/effect relationships when making a selection on the computer, causing it to output information? Does the student have the notion of causality and the desire to bring about an effect? Does the student have the cognitive ability to learn and remember the use and operation of given devices? Does the student have symbolic functioning; i.e., the ability to associate a symbol or set of symbols with units of experience?

Academic performance

Traditional: How does the student perform on a wide range of screening measures which reflect achievement?
Technological: How can the current level of achievement be affected by the use of technology; i.e., how will the use of drill and practice, educational games, simulation, demonstrations, tutorials, problem- solving, word processing, information search and retrieval, graphics, and/ or spread sheets, affect academic performance? Will the use of technology affect the speed of learning? Will the probability of the learner achieving his/ her goals and objectives set forth in the curriculum be increased?

Communication status

Traditional: What is the student's receptive and expressive language ability? Does the student have any problems with voice, articulation, and fluency which affect the production of spoken language?
Technological: What is the relationship between the student's level of expressive and receptive language; i.e., how will the use of technology affect the student's ability to communicate? What skills are present (spoken, incomprehensible but consistent, written, speed of communication with and without device)? What is the present language structure ( nonvocal from birth, nonvocal from injury?) Does the student understand the intent to communicate? What is the symbolic level of functioning? How will speech output affect the student?

Motor abilities

Traditional: What are the student's abilities in gross motor and fine motor skills?
Technological: Given the student's degree of motor control and ability, what methods could be used to access technology; i.e., how accurately can the student point? How long can the student keep his/her finger in one location? Can the student hold/move an adaptive/ assistive device? What are the available range and dependability of movement? What is the strength of the available movement? What is the accuracy of the actions? What are the speed and force of the actions?


Technological sophistication of the user: What previous experience has the user had with gadgets, switches, adaptive/ assistive devices, or interacting with a computer? Will fear keep the student from accessing Elie technology? What is the student's motivational level?

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Selection of technological devices and software

Once the evaluation/assessment has been completed and the goals/objectives have been defined, the general categories in which technology may be appropriately used may be selected. When reviewing the categories, it must be determined whether the technology will facilitate input, processing, and/or output. Within and across these categories there are numerous catalogs and software that are available. Most of these listings also include additional sources, such as professional organizations and newsletters.

By knowing the specific goals and objectives for the student, review of resource catalogs and recommended equipment will be easier. Reviews in these catalogs will differ in format and content, but by collecting information from a variety of sources, it will become apparent which devices/software will be appropriate to meet specific goals/objectives. From the identified adaptive/assistive items, a more student-specific analysis may then be completed.

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Identification of the operational characteristics of selected devices and software

When specific devices/software have been identified to facilitate maximum handicapped student potential and ensure placement in the least restrictive environment, a detailed analysis of the use of technology must occur. Technological devices/software need to be analyzed with the following considerations.

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Technological match

At this step, the assessment/evaluation information for a specific student is matched as closely as possible to the identified operational characteristics of selected devices/software and user behavior characteristics. When the evaluation/assessment-which includes both the traditional and the technological considerations--is completed, the IEP that is developed will be one that takes advantage of the full range of available options.

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The use of technology must play an integral part in allowing the learning disabled student access to his/her environment It is the responsibility of educators to see that advanced technology is used to maximize student potential and allow the learning disabled student full access to society.

The Rural Special Education Quarterly has recently published a special issue, Topical Issue: Technology and Rural Schools (V. 9, N. 4, Winter 1989). This issue covers a broad spectrum of technology applications among rural special education populations. For more information, contact the National Rural Development Institute.

A client with excellent verbal skills, had to do written reports in his work. A secretary would type his dictated reports and all went well, till the company downsized the secretarial position. The client was given an ultimatum, to improve or leave. The client came through VR. During evaluation was determined that with the verbal skills of the client, the client could type his reports and have the computer read verbally back to him. The client could tell the mistakes in the written word when he heard them and be able to correct.

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Mike Wardin
Adaptive Training Specialist
Adaptive Computing Technology Center

University of Missouri/Columbia
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-2000

Carol Daniels M. Ed

School Psychology Doctoral Student
University of Missouri/Columbia

Portions of material taken from


News Digest
Number 13, 1989
Permission of Author given

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