Americans err on the side of polite tolerance when asked their
general opinions on learning disabilities (LD). When further prodded,
however, most turn out to misunderstand the very nature of these
disabilities—and to attach stigma to them. Those are the main takeaways
from this 2010 survey of public perceptions of learning disabilities
(LD), the fourth in a series commissioned by the Emily Hall Tremaine
Foundation. It asked 1000 individuals—members of the general public,
parents, and educators—a series of questions on their views and
understandings of LD. The results are not entirely reassuring. For
example, many parents (55 percent) feel LDs are caused by laziness or
home environment, and thus avoid early intervention strategies in hopes
that their children will “grow out of” the problem. And while 80 percent
of respondents agree that “children with learning disabilities are just
as smart as you and me,” over three-quarters also associate LDs—which,
properly diagnosed, are neurologically-based disabilities, like
dyslexia—with unrelated disorders like mental retardation and autism.
The majority of teachers and administrators also conflate LDs with other
special education diagnoses, though they claim to be prepared to teach
LD students. These confused and contradictory perceptions haven’t
changed much since Tremaine’s 2004 survey. What is to be done?

GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, “Measuring Progress in Public & Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities,” (Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, September 2010).

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