School & District Management

Poll: Learning Disabilities Are Often Misunderstood

By Christina A. Samuels — October 12, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

About 80 percent of Americans believe the statement “people with learning disabilities are just as smart as you and me” to be generally accurate.

But a majority also link learning disabilities with mental retardation and autism, and more than 50 percent agree that learning disabilities are “often caused by the home environment children are raised in.”

The poll, which suggests that there’s a stigma associated with learning disabilities even as people generally agree disabilities can be overcome with proper instruction, was commissioned by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation of New Haven, Conn., which makes grants to support children with learning disabilities.

“‘Mixed bag’ is an accurate way to put this,” said Stewart J. Hudson, the foundation’s president. “I don’t think people have a very clear idea of what dyslexia and other learning disabilities are.”

Majority of Parents and Public Blame Home Environment for Children's Learning Disabilities

Percentage who agree learning disabilities are often caused by the children’s home environment.

Note: Number do not add up to 100 becuase of rounding.
Source: Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation’s GfK Roper Poll, “Public Attitudes about Children with Learning Disabilities”

BRIC ARCHIVE

The results came from a telephone survey conducted in May and June of 1,000 adults over the age of 18, with additional samples of 700 adults with children under 18 living in the home and 700 educators. For the general public, the poll has a margin of error of 3 points, and weighting was applied to make the sample represent the U.S. adult population.

This is the fourth time that the foundation has supported a poll of general attitudes related to learning disabilities, and findings suggest some growing awareness of the condition. (“Special Education,” May 31, 2000.)

Children with “specific learning disabilities” make up the largest portion, about 40 percent, of 6.6 million students who receive services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The federal law defines specific learning disabilities as neurological disorders that impair a person’s ability to do tasks such as read, write, spell, or do math, but are not tied to overall cognitive ability.

Growing Familiarity

The polls, conducted every five years since 1995, show that respondents are increasingly likely to say that they have heard or read “a lot” about learning disabilities. Some 38 percent of the public agreed with that statement this year, compared with 31 percent in 2004.

More people also agree with the statement that “all children learn in different ways:” about 79 percent agreed with that statement this year, compared with 70 percent in 2004. And most people in the survey—92 percent—believed it was completely or somewhat accurate that children with learning disabilities process words and information differently.

But despite a general perception among those surveyed that they have heard about learning disabilities and understand the nature of learning differences, many were also willing to chalk learning disabilities up to laziness or the home environment. Many also linked learning disabilities to other disorders, such as blindness or deafness.

For example, 76 percent of respondents this year correctly identified dyslexia as a learning disability. But 80 percent also linked learning disabilities with intellectual disabilities (referred to as “mental retardation” in the poll); 69 percent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and 75 percent with autism.

Studies have found that while learning disabilities often coexist with other disabilities like ADHD and autism, having a learning disability does not mean that a student has an additional disorder.

About 51 percent surveyed this year agree strongly or somewhat with the statement that “sometimes learning disabilities are really just the result of laziness.” The result is down from 57 percent who agreed strongly or somewhat with that statement in the 2004 poll.

James H. Wendorf, the executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York, said the term “learning disability” can be used loosely, which may be leading to misunderstanding among the public about what learning disabilities really are. “But I would affirm that ‘learning disability’ needs to be the term of record,” Mr. Wendorf said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 2010 edition of Education Week as Poll: Misconceptions Linger About Learning Disabilities

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management What the Research Says 5 Things Schools Can Do This Summer to Improve Student Attendance Next Year
Schools can get a jump on student attendance during the school year by using data, leveraging summer programs, and connecting with families.
6 min read
Julian Gresham, 12, left, works in a group to program a Bee-Bot while in their fifth grade summer school class Monday, June 14, 2021, at Goliad Elementary School. Bee-bots and are new to Ector County Independent School District and help to teach students basic programming skills like sequencing, estimation and problem-solving.
Julian Gresham, 12, left, works on a robotics programming activity in a 5th-grade summer school class June 14, 2021, at Goliad Elementary School in Ector County, Texas. Active summer programs may improve students' attendance during the school year.
Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP
School & District Management Grad Rates Soared at a School Few Wanted to Attend. How It Happened
Leaders at this Florida high school have "learned to be flexible" to improve graduation rates.
8 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP