New Poll Reveals Dangerous Confusion about Children with Learning Disabilities

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February 2010

A recent poll released by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation showed that parents and educators are dangerously confused about learning disabilities but also support greater government funding for intervention.  This is the fourth poll by GfK Roper in a series of in-depth opinion research on learning disabilities that began in 1995.  The study conducted telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of American adults with sub-samples of parents, teachers and school administrators.  It uncovered troubling misunderstandings about the definition, root causes, key influencers and interventions that impact public policy and legislation to support children who learn differently.

“Our findings show an alarming lack of knowledge by parents and educators about learning disabilities,” said Stewart J. Hudson, President of the Tremaine Foundation.  These findings threaten our children’s futures and undermine efforts to improve educational outcomes for all.”

Seven out of ten parents, educators and school administrators incorrectly linked learning disabilities with mental retardation.  This dangerous confusion reinforces the stigma around learning disabilities.  It also does a great disservice to the roughly 2.6 million students (one in eight in the United States) who have been diagnosed with a learning disability.  Many more go undiagnosed or unremediated despite school’s legal obligation to do so.

“This is extremely troubling,” declared Hudson.  “We talk a lot about the achievement gap in our education system, but unless parents, educators and school administrators understand learning disabilities and proactively address them, the achievement gap will never close.”

Other key findings in study by GfK Roper show that:

  • A majority of the public and parents mistakenly believe learning disabilities are often a product of the home environment.
  • A majority (51%) think that what people call learning disabilities is the result of laziness.
  • More than two-thirds of parents think specific signs of learning disabilities are something a 2-4 year old will grow out of and are therefore are more likely to delay seeking professional help.
  • Though the public agrees that children with learning disabilities are of normal or above-normal intelligence, 80 percent of the general public, parents, and teachers associate mental retardation and autism with a learning disability.
  • Almost four in ten mistakenly associate learning disabilities with sensory impairments like blindness and deafness.

The poll also showed that teachers – who 31% say they would turn to for information about learning disabilities – are equally confused.  Forty-three percent (43%) of teachers think the home environment is at least partially to blame for children’s learning disabilities.

One of the more promising results in the poll is that Americans overwhelming support the idea of government-funded Pre-K education programs designed to get a head start on helping children at risk for learning disabilities.  Eight in ten Americans (78%) recognize the importance of early intervention and support the idea of government-funded Pre-K programs.  Teachers and administrators are in agreement as to the merits of such a program.

For a summary or complete report of the study please click on the following downloads:

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