Myth of the Quick Fix
by Diana Moore, Schwab Foundation for Learning
October is Learning Disabilities (LD) Month! Help us help the parents of the 10 million children in the US, whose sons and daughters face great challenges as they learn and develop.
Consumer information may seem like a topic more suited to used car buying than to education and health service selection. But consumer learning is a hot topic, given the complexity of LD, coupled with the wide array of quick fix LD treatment and "cures" available in the marketplace. In the information age, being a skeptical and knowledgeable consumer is a vital part of parenting a LD child.
Learning disabilities is a relatively new field, and a complicated one as well, spanning educational, medical and psychological study. In 1965, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) recognized that poor reading is not only an educational problem but also a public health issue. In response, the agency launched a large-scale program sponsoring quality research on reading failure causes and remediation.
As the NICHD research makes its way into the popular press, and slowly into programs and practice, words like research and science have shown up in names and descriptions of all manner of LD therapies and educational tools, whether or not the products have third-party research proving their effectiveness.
Third-party research (also called independent research) adheres to scientific principles, can be replicated and repeated, and is conducted by professionals who are not affiliated with the organization or individuals who have developed the product or theory. Many organizations claim to have proven their products' usefulness with scientific methods, but in fact have generated much of the "research" themselves. Be aware that prominent use of terms like "scientific," "research," and "proven" may say more about an organization's savvy marketing strategy than about a program's true worth.
What complicates this issue, from a consumer's viewpoint, is not only that so few LD therapies are based on research, but that even the ones that are research-based don't necessarily work for every child. There are standard treatments, or protocols, for many medical or psychiatric conditions. This is not true for learning differences. Learning differences are widely misunderstood and vary from child to child. One size - even a gold-standard, research-based one - simply doesn't fit all.
It's completely reasonable for parents to be confused and frustrated by the lack of answers, and many choose to exit the traditional system, putting their faith in unproven methods promising cures and rapid improvement in learning. Some of these programs are extremely well-funded and attract wide visibility in the media, in advertising, and on the Internet. Others are quite small. Some are very expensive; others involve nothing more than a book purchase.
It's easy to think that if these unproven therapies or programs are not physically harming the struggling learner, then there's no risk to trying them. Consider, however, the less obvious damage: the loss of money, the lost time and energy that could have been spent on more promising interventions, and, most importantly, the effect on the child's self esteem as he fails one more time with one more program. Children with LD have lots of experience with struggle and failure. Research on self-esteem and resilience in LD kids focuses on the importance of recognizing and supporting strengths and identifying "islands of competence."
Where is the logic - not to mention the compassion - in putting such a child in a program that will probably fail? Not only does it have the potential to break down precious self-esteem, but it's also likely to make a child feel that she - and the skills and strengths she does have - are not valuable or important in her parents’ eyes.
Difficult as it may be to accept, learning differences are a lifelong issue. Children with LD do succeed in learning and life, but they will always have differences. There are no cures. Things just aren't that simple.
As a parent, your best bet is to keep up on research, to know your child's strengths, challenges, and learning style, and to be able to ask hard questions of any remedial program or provider.
Questions to ask:
- What are the expected outcomes of the program?
- Has any independent research been done on this program? Are the results from research available to potential clients?
- What are the total program costs?
- How much time will be involved? Each week? How many weeks?
- What is the refund or guarantee policy?
- Can you determine whether the program will be of help to your own unique child?
- On whose assessment is the treatment recommended? Independent or by the vendor?
- Are there entrance and exit screening criteria?
- What are the program's success rates? Are numbers documented, or are you provided only with a few "testimonials"? Are there side-effects or downsides to this program?
- What is the standard or conventional treatment? How is the program different or better? What do experts in the field say about the program?
- Are the product's claims unreasonable or too good to be true?
- Does the product promise a cure, quick fix or radical improvement?
- And when choosing any program, keep in mind that learning disabilities are lifelong issues!
All contents ® and [tm] 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 Schwab Foundation for Learning. All Rights Reserved. Any interested person or organization may copy or reprint portions of this article provided such copy may not be sold or otherwise used for commercial purposes and any such copy must contain the above stated copyright notice.
Courtesy of the Schwab Foundation for Learning - Helping Parents and Educators help kids with learning differences at http://www.schwablearning.org .