Essentially, a specific learning disability is, by definition, a persistent and enduring difficulty in a particular academic domain that will remain with a person throughout their life. There are no magic cures or simple solutions that have been identified or that can be purchased. However, it is certainly the case that the impact of the learning disability can be reduced significantly through the provision of effective intervention (ideally introduced at an early age) and appropriate accommodations. With effective support, students with learning disabilities can achieve at extremely high levels in their chosen field. They may have to work harder and persist longer than their peers but they should not view their learning disability as a barrier to success.
Over time, effective compensatory strategies are often developed and, as a result, the visible signs of a learning disability can become less obvious. These frequently reappear when the student is performing more complex tasks; becomes tired or anxious; or, is working under difficult conditions (e.g. timed examinations).
Unfortunately, there are times when organisations, or individuals, promote a particular program, aid or service and claim that it has the potential to cure or prevent learning disabilities and other developmental disorders. The reality is that if a product ‘cures’ a learning disability, then the person almost certainly didn’t have the learning disability to start with.
The promotion of these products is often accompanied by clever marketing, making them appear very attractive to parents and teachers. It is important to be very wary of any product, aid or service that is promoted through:
- Testimonials (individual ‘stories’) about the remarkable outcomes achieved. These are selected to encourage sales and the unsuccessful outcomes are rarely publicised. For every one success story there may be nine failures. It is also difficult to tell exactly what is being measured and how a student may have performed if the same amount of time was spent on an alternative program.
- Claims relating to Neuroscience or the capacity of the product to ‘change a student’s brain’. All learning essentially changes the brain, whether it’s learning how to ride a bicycle or use the remote control. Producing colourful pictures of developing neurological pathways is not evidence that the product ‘works’. There is no available evidence for any product or program currently on the market to suggest that the so-called ‘neurological benefits’ of the program will increase a student’s academic capacity.
- Research conducted ‘in-house’ suggesting significant academic improvement but not backed up by independent research evidence. It is important that there is independent evidence that either supports the claims relating to academic achievement directly or that supports the underlying approach (e.g. structured, systematic phonics). If claims are being made that a particular product will significantly improve specific academic outcomes there should be some available independent evidence to support these claims.
- Claims of a flow-on effect. This relates to products (e.g. exercise regimes, nutritional supplements, repetitive computer-based activities) that do not specifically target the area of weakness but claim that by participating in the advertised regime, academic results will improve. There is no available evidence to conclusively support these claims.