Article 3 – Improving cognitive function among those who are cognitively impaired by Dan Okello

Dan Okello is Behavior Program Manager for the Association for the Disabled of Elkhart County (ADEC). He is a graduate of Egerton University in Africa, a virtual university and holds a Master of Arts degree in Special Education from  Indiana University at South Bend. We hope his thoughts will encourage more attention to both the problems and the potential of the cognitively disabled throughout the nation. — ED

okelloImproving cognitive function among those who are cognitively impaired
by Dan Okello

Growing up as a young boy in Kenya I was always fascinated by the different titles that people had, due to their academic achievements. The society I grew up in made me believe that you were either smart or not at all. There was stiff competition in the selection process for high school and universities. Only the best students were selected. While in high school, I used to do my home work with one of my best friends. Most Kenyan schools are boarding schools so we were in school for three months before taking term/semester break.

However every time we embarked on reading he would be done reading a whole book in as few as thirty minutes while I would be struggling to finish reading my first page. Of course I did not believe him so I would take the book from him and ask him questions to test if he really read the book. He answered all my questions correctly each time. I then wondered why our cognitive abilities were so different. Yet we were friends. Why did it take me longer to read through a book and why did he do it with such ease?

We need to change the public attitude toward education. In the not-too-distant past, schools and their teachers were protected by the widespread belief that students who had not learned had not paid attention. In the first half of the 20th century, crowded homes, hunger, family chores, illness, national origin, and religious backgrounds were also suggested as explanations for lack of academic progress. But those were the days before educators had learned to use IQ, socioeconomic status, or insufficient environmental stimulation as reasons for the failures of many students.

During the past decade, however, the public has gradually undergone a complete reversal, and today, low achievement is blamed on the schools, their teachers, and the instructional programs or methods used. Improving cognitive function among the cognitively impaired should involve understanding learning styles and the need for individual diagnosis and prescription. It should involve redesigning the educational environment, designing small group instructional techniques, designing multisensory instructional packages to correspond to individual learning styles, designing tactual and kinesthetic resources to respond to individual learning styles and matching individual learning style characteristics with instructional programs, methods and resources (Dunn & Dunn 1978).

People with disabilities have a fundamental right to live and participate fully in settings and programs — in school, home, in the work place, and in the community. Individuals with disabilities have the right to as much independence as we can help them achieve. Special educators have the important task of helping children and adults with disabilities to learn how to increase the level of decision making and control over their own lives. Self management and self advocacy should be significant curriculum components for students with disabilities (Heward, 1996).

The importance of early intervention cannot be overstated. During the past decade there has been a steady increase in scientific evidence that establishes the undeniable importance of the early years in human development (Shonkoff, & Phillips, 2000). This evidence is particularly strong with respect to school readiness for children from families with limited education and low income.

A series of experimental trials using early childhood education, family support, academic and social and pediatric care has demonstrated that high risk children can be prepared for initial success in school. When this increased school readiness is coupled with adequate school programs, the initial positive effects persist into adolescence and adulthood. The magnitude of the effects produced by various preschool interventions is systematically related to characteristics of the preschool programs themselves (Ramey & Ramey, 1998). Important program characteristics include having a) well specified curriculum, b) having programs of a half-day or longer, c) beginning early in the child’s life and developing a strong communication pattern between school and home and d) focusing on cognitive development as well as linguistic and social competence.

Each year tens of thousands of children enter kindergarten unprepared to meet the intellectual demands of school. Lack of cognitive readiness bodes ill for future school performance. Poor school readiness predicts increased likelihood of low levels of academic achievement and high levels of retention in grade, special education placement, and ultimately school dropout. In turn, school dropouts are at much elevated risk for unemployment, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, social dependency, and poor parenting practices. Their children all too frequently repeat this pattern. (cf., Carnegie Report, 1995).

Poor school performance is foreshadowed by sub average performance on cognitive, linguistic and social functioning during the years prior to kindergarten. Because of these factors, remedial special education to improve cognitive development and academic achievement that is begun in the elementary school years faces an enormous challenge. In essence, the rate of cognitive development must be altered if the progressive gap between normal and sub average cognitive development is to be arrested and intellectual development is to be returned to normative trajectories. If genuine catch-up is to occur, the rate of development must actually exceed the normative rate. The shorter the period of intervention the more powerful it must be.

A policy alternative to remedial and special education is primary prevention. Primary prevention entails the identification of high-risk individuals in the general population and the provision of the hypothesized missing essential experiences for normative development.

A large body of observational research suggests that children who evidence delayed cognitive development have insufficient frequency of exposure to particular adult-child transactional experiences (e.g., Bradley et al, 1989). These transactional experiences are particularly lacking in low socioeconomic status families and are reliably missing beginning in the second year of life and sometimes earlier (Yeates et al, 1983).

Because this problem weighs so heavily upon individuals their families, and their communities, it behooves us to demand greater early intervention. We know how to proceed. As a society, let’s get on with the job!

Resources for developmental disabilities

Understanding the Roles of Teachers and Therapists in Early Childhood Special Education Movement Settings (PDF)
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Predictors of Success and Failure in Reading
… many such cases, delayed language development is the first … a child’s general cognitive abilities or therapeutic history … the composite measure did not improve accuracy. Although not …

Students With Traumatic Brain Injury: Identification, Assessment And Classroom Accommodations
… in changes in cognitive function. ( The same is … always immediately apparent. Developmentally, sensory systems and the frontal lobes … to think about a delayed answer to the question …

Computer Based Assistive Technology
This page addresses the rationale, educational application and legislation for assistive technology and more: North Carolina Exceptional Children Categories and Other; NC Resources; Web Accessibility Issues, and Bibliography. … that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities … 2000). Computer and Web Resources for People With …

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