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Research Trends: LD From the Inside - Children's Voices on the Internet

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By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

LD Identity

Many of the children in this study identified themselves, in their email messages, as individuals who "belonged to a group" of children with LD. For example, they wrote questions and statements such as:

  • "Why do we have learning disabilities?"
  • "I also have the type of dyslexia that makes the words backwards … what type do you have?"
  • "I'm sorry about your dyslexia, but I have it too."
  • "How did I get a ld, why?"

However, "LD identification" was only part of how they presented and defined themselves. They also presented their overall identity by providing information about their age, gender, physical appearance, families, and personal preferences regarding youth culture (e.g., teen idols, music, movies, TV, clothing). The children seem to share the same global youth culture documented in the United States4, 5 and in other countries, such as Israel6. Thus, side by side with descriptors of self-identity, they provided distinctive information about their LD.

It appears that the Internet served as a safe virtual environment, enabling children with LD to explore and express the totality of their identity. Furthermore, the feeling that they are not alone in experiencing difficulties - because they belong to a group of children who share similar difficulties - was regarded by several children as a source of relief from their struggles.

Disclosure of Academic Difficulties

The information the children provided about their academic difficulties was varied.

  • Several provided short and direct statements ("I have LD.")
  • Sometimes they minimize it ("I have a little bit of a LD.")
  • In some cases children explored how serious it is ("I'm not good at any of the normal subjects, like Social studies, Math, English and Science. And, I'm in SPED. Does this mean I've got like A Major LD?")
  • Others presented their LD using emotional terminology ("my handwriting is TERRIBLE!!!!!!!!!") and relating it to competency issues ("I can't spell") or in a seemingly joking manner ("spelling is not my strong point")

The difficulties described by the children reflect the full range of academic problems described in the research literature (e.g., reading, writing, spelling, and math). However, from these self-initiated messages we are able to understand more about the personal nature of their academic struggles and concerns, in addition to what we may learn from a purely quantitative analysis of their academic deficits.

Disclosure of Emotional Attitudes

Although expressions varied, the majority of children who wrote messages disclosed emotional attitudes towards their LD, writing statements such as:

  • "I don't like LD what can I do?"
  • "School can get me really down sometimes."
  • "I'm sorry about your dyslexia. But I have it to it kind of makes me feel bad don't you think."
  • "Dyslexia is hard for me too."

Some children noted that having LD affects their self-worth:

  • "Did u feel u were stupid?"
  • "If I have LD does that make me a nerd"?
  • "I feel like my smartness level is at - stupidity. I don't get it."
  • "Some times I feel stupid because I have [LD]."

Several children also disclosed their loneliness, with such comments as, "Sometimes it feels like I am the only one with an LD."

Again, the children's messages are consistent with prior research in LD, in these instances, of the emotional and psychological difficulties encountered by many children with LD7, 8, 9, 10, 11. The messages are vivid expressions of emotional distress, including feelings of sadness, diminished self-worth, loneliness, and fear, apparently resulting from their academic struggles, social rejection, and even family stress.

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.