Adaptive Learning: Supporting Children With Learning Disabilities

Juliette Somma
Jul 8, 2019 · 5 min read

When teaching disabled students, personalization is key. With modern methods like adaptive learning, school can be more fun & less struggle!

An apparently sourceless quote (often credited to Ignacio Estrada) says, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This proverb seems to have appeared out of the ether — and we’ve seen enough Disney films to know to listen to mysterious words of wisdom.

Sometimes when a student is unable to focus on their school work, it’s due to external struggles that have them distracted; other times, it’s a matter of student engagement. In some cases, however — probably more than you think — it’s because they simply… can’t. At least, not in the way it’s being presented to them.

Teaching students with learning disabilities can be incredibly rewarding, or wildly stressful for both parties. It’s all about how you teach them, figuring out how a child learns and tapping into it. With enough effort, support, and a good learning environment, you can prevent school from being something your disabled students have to cope with. Instead, education can be fun.

Another perspective

Let’s say a student is totally eloquent when speaking, but as soon as written word enters the equation, they’re lost. Or they’re a-okay with reading and writing, but anything with numbers puts them in a tizzy. Maybe they’re a smart kid who can never keep engaged with their schoolwork — but let them work on a passion project, and they’ll manage something extravagant in record time.

People with learning disabilities — of any age — are neurologically unable to execute specific processes that the rest of us take for granted. These disorders are lifelong, and in some cases may go undiagnosed until adulthood.

Even if the issue appears to be as mild as being a slower reader at times than they are at others, that still means they won’t be reading as quickly as they feel they should. For a person with a learning disability — in this example, dyslexia — this frustration can lead to a sense of failure, and any work related to their problem area may trigger high levels of anxiety.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to experience depression — 20 percent, as opposed to six percent otherwise. And this isn’t only significant for older kids and adults; according to the CDC, children can be diagnosed with anxiety or depression as young as age three.

The disadvantages arising from the struggles of learning disabilities aren’t only internal or emotional. The National Center for Education Statistics recorded that as of the 2016–17 school year, about 33 percent of disabled students attending public high schools don’t graduate.

For students with learning disabilities, the learning path is tricky. A lack of support from teachers and administrators can force them into a corner. They don’t feel like they can make it in school no matter how hard they try, and so rather than go through all this daily frustration and anxiety, the better option seems to be just dropping out.

So when 34 percent of students were recorded as having been diagnosed with a learning disability, why aren’t ways to accommodate them better known and utilized?

Teaching with personalized learning

In order to teach these students, you have to start by personally supporting them. Provide encouragement and positive reinforcement — this can make all the difference in how children feel about both school and themselves. Emotional support is one thing. Then comes the matter of actually teaching them.

Everyone has a learning style that suits them best. These styles are often categorized by sensory approaches: visual, auditory, reading/writing (verbal), and kinesthetic.

For people with learning disabilities, their preferred learning style might be more specific, or they may have a style that they can’t work with at all. Whatever their preference, try to cater to it as best you can, either by integrating it into general lessons or by working with the student individually and at their skill level.

Beyond styles of learning, work with students to lay out a personalized learning plan, or PLP. This isn’t to be confused with individualized education plans, or IEPs; IEPs are official documents to approve a student’s special education services, and while those are equally necessary, PLPs are a bit more hands-on and personal.

A PLP is a tailored learning road map for a student’s educational life, as described by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, designed in conjunction with the student in question. Through one of many methods, you’ll plan out what they’ll learn and how and when they’ll learn it, tailoring the blueprint to their individual needs, skills, interests, and goals.

Adaptive learning

In a perfect world, every student could receive personal one-on-one instruction that was based on their needs; but in this world, a teacher is only one person in charge of twenty-odd kids. In that case, the key to a student’s individualized education lies in technology — more specifically, adaptive learning.

Adaptive learning technology is a personalized education model that relies on artificial intelligence to actively adapt to a student’s needs. As the student progresses, the program uses their interactions to determine what’s working and what isn’t, and adjusts itself in real-time.

Rather than basing lesson progression on time spent in class, adaptive learning is mastery-based, moving on only when the student in question is ready. This method is a game changer; second-best to individual instruction, and far more reasonable for teachers’ workloads.

Though useful for any student, such a system is especially advantageous to those who struggle with learning disabilities. With an adaptive learning system, a student’s assignments can always cater to their learning style, and the A.I. can constantly gauge interest and adjust as needed.

Teach the way they learn

With adaptive learning programs, children with learning disabilities can have their needs met with a fun and responsive interface, all without putting too much of a load on their teachers. Every student is different, and programs like Lalilo can help you teach them as such.

Assign specific lessons to individuals or the entire class, and keep an eye on students’ progress from your dashboard with both at-a-glance charts and in-depth data. Sign up for free and help your students’ literacy skills develop both at school and at home, no matter what their needs may be. With Lalilo, every student can have a lesson plan that’s as unique as they are!


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