2001 Conference Proceedings

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MATCHING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TO LEARNING DISABILITY SUBTYPES IN COLLEGE STUDENTS

Lee Axelrod & Jennifer Zvi
California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330-8264
Phone: 818/ 677-2684
Fax: 818/ 677-4932

Learning Disabilities is "…a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual and presumed to be due to a central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perceptions, and social interaction may exist with the learning disabilities but do not, by themselves, constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities (e.g. sensory impairments, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance), or with extrinsic influences (such as cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences." (NJCLD, 1990).

This definition doesn’t help us understand the difficulties of a specific student. The latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has divided learning disorders into the achievement based categories of Reading Disorder, Mathematical Disorder, and Disorder of Written Expression. Additionally, Motor Skills Disorders and Communication Skills Disorders are listed. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder has been divided into three subtypes: predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type (DSM-IV, 1994).

The DSM-IV classification tells us the "what" but not the "why". There is an information processing deficit in students with learning disabilities that needs to be identified before appropriate accommodations can be suggested. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale –Third Edition (WAIS-III), typically given to an adult when learning disabilities are first diagnosed, has now included index scores in addition to the traditional IQ scores. The Technical Manual of the WAIS-III describes Index scores. (1) The Verbal Comprehension Index score is a measure of verbal acquired knowledge and verbal reasoning. (2) The Perceptual Organization Index score is a measure of nonverbal, fluid reasoning, attentiveness to detail, and visual-motor integration. (3) The Working Memory Index requires the examinee to attend to information, to hold briefly and process that information in memory, and then formulate a response. (4) The Processing Speed Index is a measure of the individual’s ability to process visual information quickly.

Assistive technology appropriate for verbal comprehension deficits includes optical scanning and auditory read-back technology and also talking software used when reading and writing. For perceptual organization problems, outline and thought assistance software has often proved helpful. Personal digital assistants as well as listening devices can be invaluable to those with poor working memory ability or for individuals with Attention-Deficit Disorder. Finally, speech recognition technology can improve processing speed in some cases.

There is no learning disability-technology equation. It is important to recognize that adults with learning disabilities cannot find one particular device that will "cure" all their problems. Rather, they must be first viewed within a pertinent domain: educational, vocational, or life adjustment. Then specific difficulties need to be examined and the possibility of a compensatory strategy utilizing technology proposed. Individual differences are too great for any one solution to work in all instances. A trial-and-error approach is appropriate; likely, a learning disabled adult has already found many workable strategies and these can be incorporated into a workable plan.

Axelrod, L.H. & Zvi, J.C. (2000) The WAIS-III Index Scores of College Students With Learning Disabilities. Presented at LDA, Reno, Nevada

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (1994). Washington, American Psychiatric Association.

National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD), (1990). Operationalizing the NJCLD definition of learning disabilities for ongoing assessment in schools: A report from the National Joint Committee of Learning Disabilities. Perspectives: The International Dyslexia Association, 23(4), 29.

The Psychological Corporation (1997). WAIS-III and WMS-III technical manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.


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