A Review of “How Difficult Can This Be?” The F.A.T. City Workshop

by PammyMcB

Lavoie, R.  (Writer), Rosen, P. (Producer). (1989). How difficult can this be? The F.A.T. City Workshop. [Motion Picture]. United States: PBS Video.

The purpose of this video was to teach people who often deal with children with learning disabilities what it feels like to be learning disabled. It also gave some insight into many misconceptions about learning disabilities.

Those with learning disabilities are not mentally retarded/impaired; emotionally disturbed, modality deficient, or those will little opportunity to learn. Learning disabilities are not just a “school problem.” They are struggles that affect every aspect of those with learning disabilities’ lives. These people deal with frustration, anxiety, and tension every single day. They are not out to mess up a teacher’s class, or to cause problems for their families at home.

Because children with learning disabilities have trouble processing information, the regular pace of a class may be too fast for them. When asked a question, immediately the mainstream children begin to process the answer; however, the child with a learning disability is still processing the question. The result from this the child may seem disruptive in the classroom. If you know that the child has difficulty processing the questions, try to work out a system that they may be comfortable with. If you call on the child, try to make sure that you are asking a question you are sure the child can answer.

Before discussing some of the basic types of learning disabilities, it is important to understand there is a difference between distractibility and short attention span. These problems are extreme opposites. A distracted child pays attention to everything and cannot focus anything out. They often have too much stimuli to concentrate. A child with a short, little, or no attention span pay attention to nothing. Many children with learning disabilities have problems with visual perception, as well. They can see what they are looking at, but cannot bring meaning to it. As a result the child needs direct instruction from a trained, experienced teacher. Similarly, children with auditory and visual capability difficulties often need to hear the instructions instead of reading them or vice versa. There are also disabilities that cause reading to be difficult. Children with visual learning disabilities may confuse letters like p d b q for one another. All four letters contain the same strokes, but are spatially oriented differently. Problems with spatial orientation can cause great confusion for the child. Many children with learning disabilities also have trouble with reading comprehension. Most reading comprehension is taught by vocabulary. It is important to know that reading comprehension has less to do with vocabulary knowledge, and more to do with the person’s background. Many people with learning disabilities may have difficulty with eye-hand coordination. Because there is a problem with the processing of the information in the child’s brain, the child may be getting mixed messages from their brain. Difficulty with the storage/retrieval process causes dysnomia for everyone about two to three times a day. This is what many of us know as the “tip of the tongue” syndrome. Children with learning disabilities can experience this problem hundreds of times a day. For them speaking and/or listening are cognitive tasks (only one can be performed at a time) not associative tasks (many can be performed at a time).

There are several effects of learning disabilities. They cause can anxiety, frustration, and tension, all of which affects performance. Therefore, those with learning disabilities are often unable to get the correct answers. When we begin to accept the answer, “I don’t know” from these children, we are setting the child up to give up. They begin to hide and believe, “If I can’t see the teacher, the teacher can’t see me.” As humans, it is natural for us to look away from stimuli that cause anxiety. Most often, children with learning disabilities will not volunteer to answer questions. This is a learned behavior, which is not the result of the fact they do not like surprises. If they get no recognition or positive reinforcement when they do something correct, they will not be willing to take the risk. Another problem that arises with children with learning disabilities is how their perceptual problems can affect their behavior. Children with perceptual problems may get in trouble in school and actually not know what they got in trouble for. This is due to their inability to see things the same way people without perceptual problems do. Furthermore, children with eye-hand coordination problems normally have great difficulty writing, and writing for them takes a lot of energy.

When considering fairness, it is important to remember Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. Children learn more from what they see than what they do, and morals do develop. If we tell a child with a learning disability that we want them to behave in a certain way, we must make sure that we model the same behavior that we wish them imitate. It is also important to remember when considering fairness, everyone must get what they need. What everyone needs is not always the same thing. A teacher or parent should never think that being fair to the child that has a learning disablity is not fair to the other children. It is not about the others; it is about the child with learning disabilities.

This video helped me to learn what it is like to have a learning disability. When the presenter showed the pictures of the woman and the cow, I did not see either one of them. With the cow picture, I saw a man’s face in the top right hand corner, and a man with a heavy coat on and his back turned to the camera in the lower left had corner. In the picture “Vanity,” I saw a skull too. This literally opened my eyes to the effects of difficulties with visual perception. Earlier in the video, I had trouble thinking of answers when the presenter kept asking questions at a fast pace. I could not keep up and got frustrated. I feel it is a very good video not only for future educators, but also for future parents.

I can use the information I learned from the video in both the classroom and at home. First, I need to remember that a child with a learning disability has to deal with the difficulties he has day in and day out every, single day. I need to remember that the “greatest gift” I can give a child with learning disabilities is time. For instance, a demand question/answer session with a child with learning disabilities can be frustrating, and often causes a great deal of anxiety and tension. I need to remember to give the child an ample amount of time to answer the question. Or work out a system for the child to help them know when they are going to be prompted for an answer. I need to remember that these children often do not understand what they have done wrong if they have perceptual difficulties. I also need to make sure that I do not react with children with these difficulties in the following ways: tell them to look harder, bribe them to get an answer, threaten them by telling them that I will take privileges away, and never blame the student for their behavior by telling them they are not trying hard enough. I should never put a child with learning disabilities under pressure because it does not help. I should not tell them that the task they are struggling with is easy or ask them rhetorical questions. I should try to combine my lesson plans with both written and visual aids and directions so that all of my students will be able to understand.

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