By: Natalie Clare
Bagpiper: What is the LDA?
Patty Useem: LDA, the Learning Disabilities Association, is a national association, and we have state affiliates. So, I’m the president of the Indiana state affiliate. It is a nonprofit that is led by individuals with learning disabilities, parents of individuals with learning disabilities, and professionals. We strive to provide information and workshops and support to promote individuals with learning disabilities reaching their potential.
BP: What do you do at the Indiana branch?
PU: I answer questions about learning disabilities that people either phone in to our national office or they email me from our state webpage or the national webpage. I’m one of the principle players of organizing the state conference. I’m also sort of the bridge to the national conference. So, every year the organization sends me to the big national conference, where I gather new ideas or new printed materials, or I find new keynote speakers for our conference. I run our board meetings, and I also have a now monthly E-newsletter. I write articles monthly for that.
BP: What resources are at the LDA for students with learning disabilities? Is it a place students with learning disabilities can go to?
PU: In Indiana, it isn’t. In Indiana, we’re kind of a virtual board of directors, so we don’t really have a physical place. Our information is written information and, in Indiana, we have a state conference every year. In the present time, it’s taking place in Carmel. People can also access a lot of information on our national website and support. People also write in questions, and they get forwarded most times if they’re people from Indiana who have questions about services, or the rules about kids who have special education. They’ll come to me and I’ll answer them, and also give them referrals of maybe they want to get testing done if they’re looking outside the school to do testing. But we don’t provide direct services like help kids with learning disabilities or anything like that. We’re just an information and like I said we have a conference. Some other states provide services, but very few do. Most of it is information.
BP: You said you refer people for testing, but the LDA doesn’t do any testing?
PU: Correct, correct. Sometimes, people are also going to college, so there are rules on how to get services at college. Sometimes, universities have clinics where they can get testing done as well. It’s all referral.
BP: Does the LDA set up events for kids with learning disabilities?
PU: Sometimes we will promote other agencies presentations, but we will do presentations. If people want us to come and talk or be involved in doing presentations to families or to kids about their learning differences and give them some strategies. We’re trying, actually, to do those kinds of services. As a nonprofit, as you can imagine, all those things take money. There are some grant opportunities, where, in fact, we presently have a grant that helps us pay for mileage etc and printing to be able to get information out to people. Sort of not just in the major cities, but more statewide. But that’s something that we’re really interested in doing much more outreach. People don’t have a clear understanding that people with learning disabilities have at least average, if not higher, thinking abilities, they just have a specific weakness in something like reading or writing or in the field of math and number knowledge or organizational skills. Even though the field has been well established since the 1940s, people still think that when kids struggle with reading, they’re just not trying, or they’re not paying attention. That shouldn’t be happening. Part of our difficulty, or part of our challenge, is to get that kind of information out across the state so that teachers and parents realize that these are weakness that can be worked on and can become not such a learning problem. Our outreach is really something we’re working hard trying to develop.
BP: What challenges do students with learning disabilities experience?
PU: I work with a lot of students who have learning disabilities, and one of their biggest challenges is convincing people that they really are trying and that they really do need to have specialized help. That they really are going to go to college and they are going to be successful, so their disabilities aren’t going to limit them.
BP: How would describe a learning disability to someone who doesn’t have one?
PU: I’d say that, and I do this a lot, that the individual has an intellectual ability of at least average and they have a problem or difficulty in a specific set of skills. Probably the most common learning disability is a reading disability, sometimes called dyslexia. In a reading disability, many times the learner has a really hard time, and not really successful, in linking all those letters with specific sounds, so as a hard as they can try when a regular teacher tries to help them, they need special instruction. So, people with learning disabilities often need to have accommodations, such as having extra time, having things read to them, as well as them reading the material themselves. They also need remediation, and that involves specialized teaching. So, for people with learning disabilities, it’s not that they can’t learn because they have the intellect to learn, but they need to have specialized instruction. Sometimes that involves one-on-one.