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Academic Accommodations and Learning Disabilities

The Issue:

Around the world there are an abundance of students who suffer with learning disabilities, many more than most would expect. One out of every five people in the United States suffer with a learning disability yet somehow it is still not acknowledged well enough. The problem is, these students often don’t get the help they need to thrive. In my school, we are fortunate enough to have a good program set in place for these specific issues, however there are still a lot of issues that need to be fixed. Along with these technical issues, even though the teachers are aware of the student’s difficulties, they don’t go out of their way to help accommodate for these students. There are even certain rules set in place by the counselors, for example you cannot schedule a test during second period of the day because there is no time for the students to receive the extended time they should have. However, many teachers try to avoid this conflict and tell their students they will be fine and just ignore the issue.  Overall, there are many issues in my school and most schools in general that need to be focused on!

How does this relate to my course?

This relates to positive psychology in terms of how this issue can be fixed. There are many positive psychology concepts and practices that would help these students a great deal. It will help them a deal with all the stress that comes along with being in this situation. One of these concepts for example is positive relationships. The students need to learn and understand how important it is to have people in their life that they can count on and how they can help the people around them going through the same things. An example of a practice that will help the students deal with stress, anxiety, and other issues they may be faced with is meditation. There are so many studies done to see how exactly meditation can really change you. One study revealed that meditation literally reduces the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. A few more things that meditation does is: increases your psychological functioning and in the process improves your sense of well-being, enhances brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy, improves cognition and increases your ability to perform tasks requiring focus,improves your ability to empathize, and it hones your ability to pick up on cues indicating how others are feeling. Meditation also increases your emotional stability, making you less likely to be influenced by any negative people in your life. Meditation increases your creativity, according to various studies and it also improves your ability to memorize things and to store and consolidate new information.  As you can tell, meditation can really change so much on it’s own… people just need to be more informed!

Hear it from the students themselves!

I decided to go around and ask a few people what they like about the extended time program at our school, what the hardest part about having extra time is, what they would like to see added to the program, and some stereotypes of the students who have extra time. Before I interviewed them, I had my real-time conversation and talked about this project.  I told them what it was about and the change I was trying to eventually make.  I asked them for their opinions on the project and also asked them to really take in everything I said so they could also start helping this community. I didn’t get the small talk on camera but here’s what they said for the interview questions:

The intersection between course concepts and a locally relevant issue:

I interviewed a counselor at my school who is in charge of organizing all things surrounding the subject of academic accommodation.  She deals with any issue that may present itself dealing with extra time questions and concerns.  Here is how the interview generally went:

-Do you think that kids at our school with learning disabilities often feel judged?
Generally speaking, I do not think students with LD feel judged. Students have not voiced to me that they feel their peers treat them differently due to their learning disability. I think they may feel misunderstood though. There are many misconceptions about what dyslexia looks like or how ADHD impacts learning.
-As people progress through high school does their need for extra time decrease?
Not usually. When a student qualifies for extra time, it is typically something they will need their entire academic life. However, occasionally extra time will only be needed for certain classes. For example, if a student has a math based disability then he/she may not need extra time in an English class.
-Is our school’s program going to stay the same or are there any changes in the progress?
The student support program continues to grow and evolve so yes- I think there will be some changes as we expand.
-Do you think that kids with the accommodations are under more or less stress than other kids or too hard to say?
Typically, students with accommodations are under more stress. This is because when a student has a learning disability it is because they have a deficit in an area that he/she has to continuously work around. Let me be clear though, students with LD often have superior strengths as well.
-Do the teachers focus on these issues as much as they should?
This is part of my role- to educate teachers on learning disabilities in the classroom. I think teachers focus on it and are usually more than willing to reach out to me when they have a question.
-What can the students do to make these other students feel more comfortable?
I think in general students at Westminster are accepting but it is a very competitive culture so there tends to be a lot of comparing. So, I think it is educating students that students with LD are quite bright and capable but sometimes access the curriculum differently. Putting LD aside, I think students need to be reminded to focus on living a balanced life and refrain from comparing academic successes and failures so frequently.
-Do you recommend that people who have ADD/ADHD take medicine or no?
This is a case-by-case decision. If I believe the ADHD is significantly impacting academic performance, I may recommend meds. But, it is ultimately up to the family and student to decide.

A song!

I think this song goes really well with the topic of academic accommodations because the students who have extra time are under a lot of stress and are frequently tempted to give up but they just need a little motivation.  This song pushes people to remember how strong they are and that they can truly do anything they set their mind to!

Making a Change:

Today, I was talking to my cousin, a senior at my school, who has a learning disability and who has extended time because of it.  I was telling her all about my project and, together, we were trying to come up with as many possibilities of change in our communities.  We went over a lot of ideas but we realized the one that would ultimately make the most change is simple education.  If we try to change too much or challenge people to do things that are simply unattainable, it’s not even worth the try.  Educating people, however, is worth it. So many people at our school are unaware as to why people have academic accommodations.  Even if they know that they have a learning disability, they don’t understand why that makes test taking harder for some.  I think that if I tried to hold a class, not very many people would show up.  Instead, I will designate a while assembly to it.  I think that it is important for everyone to be aware of what is going around them and who their peers really are.  Through the school year, students can hold assemblies on almost anything they want as long as it relates to most of the student body.  We have about 35 assemblies each year, so I could definitely get it approved to dedicate a whole assembly on this case.  This way, since people will “forced” to listen, they won’t miss anything.  I think that everyone will leave with such a better sense of the community around them.

Survey:

Here is a link to a survey that will get you thinking about and make you more aware of the environment around you.  Please take this survey and then take some time to reflect.  I challenge you to reach out to at least three different people in your community who you know is struggling in someway and let them know you are there for them. It is extremely important that they know they are supported.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CX6ZSHZ

Bibliography:

Association for Psychological Science. “Meditation helps increase attention span.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2010.

Luebbers, Ian. “14 Ways Meditation Rewires Your Brain for Happiness, Peace and Success.” Science of People. Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Müller, M., & Maguire, J. (2002). Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing. (Translation by Max Müller, annotations and revisions by Jack Maguire.)

Smith, H. (1991). The World’s Religions. New York, NY: HarperCollins, Inc.

Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. “Five Proven Keys to Improve Your Well-Being.” Psychology Today, 28 Dec. 2013. Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Share this project
COMMENTS: 6
  1. April 26, 2018 by Victoria.Gospodinov

    Your topic was so interesting! I think your information is really relevant especially to high school students! Thanks for making me apart of it!

    • April 29, 2018 by caroline herzfeld

      Hey Victoria! Thank YOU so much for being willing to be in my interview video.

  2. April 28, 2018 by Surumya.Bhargava

    Hi Caroline, I love how you’ve presented this topic and yes! There is so much awareness that needs to come to this issue. I have special needs, but it hasn’t exactly stemmed from a learning disability. Disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD are what I like to call “invisible disabilities” meaning if you don’t tell someone about it, you could easily pass as just any other person. At Lake Highland, I think having accommodations is pretty accepted especially given the number of students that require it. But if someone with special needs is taking a more challenging class, then it opens up a lot more pressure to be just like everyone else.

  3. April 29, 2018 by Ayesha.Baweja

    Hi!

    I love your site and the overall formatting of it. All of your information was fascinating and I am impressed by the depth of your research and the number of interactive elements… amazing job!

  4. April 29, 2018 by Claudia Pinilla

    Hi, I loved your site and I also find that it is very important to raise awarness about this topic. My sister has special needs and I find that even though there are acccomodations at her school, they could be doing more. All the information and resources you used were really good and found everything very informative.

  5. April 30, 2018 by Olivia Lantz

    My class is Abnormal Psychology, so I immediately chose your project because I am so in love with psychology and I want to know what others know about it! Your interview was extremely interesting and the song you chose was actually my “fight song” when I hit a rough patch 2 years ago. Your project was very intriguing and I couldn’t stop reading for anything!

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