They didn't ask the question...An inquiry into the learning experiences of students with spina bifida and hydrocephalus

Rissman, Barbara Murray (2006) They didn't ask the question...An inquiry into the learning experiences of students with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The researcher has a daughter who was born with an encephalocele and her neuropsychological assessment indicates a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD). The difficulties of the educational experiences that emerged over time, mainly because her learning profile was not understood, prompted reflection on the consequences for other students who present with this profile. A concern for the long-term implications for students and parents of the frequent misunderstandings of the NLD has inspired this study.

A review of the literature suggested a need to raise educator awareness about the subtle but disabling nature of the NLD syndrome. This study explored the perceptions of teachers, teacher aides and parents involved with 5 students who showed hallmark signs of an NLD. The theoretical foundation rests in the understanding that a student's learning experiences are influenced by past and present school experiences, the attitudes of peers, and parental expectations.

The purpose of this thesis is to help parents, teachers and others appreciate the school experiences of children at Level 1 risk of developing an NLD, those with a hydrocephalic condition. It does not purport to offer ultimate solutions or to contribute to diagnosis but rather to act as a starting point for a body of theory to guide development of suitable learning environments for such children. Of further importance is emphasis on the need for similar studies to be conducted into the learning experiences of other children who demonstrate specific syndromes or mosaic forms of those syndromes.

Naturalistic Inquiry methodology was used to explore the educational experiences of five students who attended different Australian schools. After completion of all interviews, psychological testing assessed general intelligence and the NLD status of each student. All students were found to be severely learning disabled and all were high on the NLD parameter. Educators generally did not reveal understanding of the NLD syndrome &quotNonverbal, what is it? So is it a visual ..." Some teachers devised innovative strategies to help the student cope in class while others expressed frustration ... if the traditional instruction &quotdoesn't work either, what does?" What stood out was an absence of understanding about nonverbal deficits. Frustration about poor organisation, decision making, task completion and problem-solving was expressed and a mixture of concern and criticism was levelled at social incompetence. Students who could not work independently were perceived by some teachers and aides as &quotlazy" or &quotmolly-coddled" and problems with everyday living skills were sometimes blamed on the student's family.

Findings revealed a compelling need to raise educator awareness about the range of cognitive, learning and social problems associated with shunted hydrocephalus and spina bifida. They also highlighted a need for teachers to question &quotWhy can't this student do things one would expect they could do" and demand answers that explicate the serious difficulties being experienced.

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ID Code: 16528
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lidstone, John & Mcdowell, Michael
Keywords: nonverbal learning disability, NLD, NLD profile, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, shunted hydrocephalus, teacher, aide, parent, student, educator, Education Queensland, acquired brain injury, ABI, assets, deficits, strengths, weaknesses, perception, phenotype, psychological, psychometric, assessment
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Barbara Murray Rissman
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:05
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2014 23:41

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