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Due to my chosen career of becoming a school psychologist, it is critical that I understand how depression affects learning disabilities and how to distinguish the two in a student, parent, or administrator. Depression should not be mistaken for a learning disability because they are not treated the same. Therefore, my objective is to gain accurate knowledge in the dangers of depression on students, parents, and administrators in the educational system, and to help improve any problematic behaviors and academic skills.
Depression is a common disorder that affects millions of people everyday. I feel this is an important topic because many people, who are depressed, go untreated, which affects the way they live, including their learning abilities. Depression can develop from various experiences, some of which leave a person traumatized, or emotionally scarred, causing them to short themselves of happiness and enjoyment. Other causes for depression in people may be biological, such as a chemical imbalance, or malnourishment. It is not uncommon for people struggling with depression to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, which causes more problems in and outside of their home, such as at work or school. Doing this only suppresses those undesirable feelings, which, nonetheless, will affect one’s behaviors negatively.
The effects of depression are far too closely associated with suicide rates in people aged 15 to 24 and people with learning disabilities. Suicide is within the top three leading causes of death, and needs to be more recognized amongst students, especially those with LD. Today there are many situations where administrators fail to see children struggling with depression, and would rather assume they are symptoms for some other type of disorder or behavioral issue, such as ADHD or delinquency, which raises the question of how universal this matter really is. Children with learning disabilities, although it may be more difficult to distinguish, are still at risk. Therefore, further research is required.
My review will identify several studies in trying to answer the question, “Are the effects of depression in people with learning disabilities different from those people without learning disabilities?” I will thoroughly examine and uncover the implications that will improve the understandings of the effects of depression on intellectually challenged and not challenged students. According to Bower (1985), depression may be the cause for some learning disabilities in children. His support for this idea is from a five year study conducted by David Goldstein and co-workers on children with an average age of nine. These kids were screened for depression, with specific clues leading them to evidence for emotional disorders, inappropriate behaviors or feelings, lack of interpersonal relationships, and signs of sadness (Bower 1985). They found depression as the source of learning disabilities in 50 cases. This supported the idea that emotional problems in the homes of these children, or related happenings, affected the way children performed in school. “Children identified as having depression as a cause of school failures improved markedly in reading and math over the study period after receiving special instruction in small classes and two hours if individual therapy per week” (Bower 1985). This supports the idea that children diagnosed with depression can improve their academic skills with treatment. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between symptoms for learning disabilities and depression. The weakness in this review is that no one is really sure as to which problems came first, depression or academic.
Researchers believe that teachers are misleading depressive symptoms as learning problems, and treating for a learning disability could worsen depression in children due to the treatment process adding to the student’s already low self-confidence levels or anti-social behaviors (Colbert, Newman, Ney, & Young 1982, p.333). The rising signs of depression in children are believed to coordinate with the increasing percentages of divorce and family separations (Colbert, Newman, Ney, & Young 1982, p.333). “When parents cannot deal with their own unhappiness, they may not be able to see the unhappiness of a child who quietly cries himself or herself to sleep” (Colbert, Newman, Ney, & Young 1982, p.333). Children with depression do not necessarily show symptoms as an adult would with depression. Therefore, teachers may mistake depression symptoms for acts of delinquency, laziness, or even crazy (Colbert, Newman, Ney, & Young 1982, p.335). Depression may also be more difficult to recognize if the child hides it, parents fear it; it triggers sadness in others, or is manifested with hopeful relief (Colbert, Newman, Ney, & Young 1982, p.335).
Further investigations support the idea that students with learning disabilities are at higher risks to depression, including poor self-image in academics and with peers (Howard & Tyron 2002, p.185). Depressive levels in children with learning disabilities may be an impact of the type of classroom placement these children are put in as well, such as self-contained classroom settings versus general education classrooms (Howard & Tyron 2002, p.185). After much examination, researchers find that classroom settings had no differences to depression levels; however, administrators viewed children with learning disabilities differently when placed in self-contained classrooms, rather than general education classrooms due to the differences in pressures from peers. This supports the idea that teacher/administrators can mistake depression symptoms for learning disabilities. However, it is weak in comparison to students without learning disabilities. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish if these depressive symptoms were accurate measures for most students.
Huntington & Bender (1993) maintain that behavioral and personality characteristics in adolescents with learning disabilities differ from those adolescents without learning disabilities, which supports the notion that children with learning disabilities are more advanced to dangers in developing a poor self-image, anxiety, and depression symptoms (p.159). Studies found that students with LD are less academically motivated amongst non-LD students, have little belief and control over one’s fate, display higher levels of trait anxiety in relation to sleep deprivation, due to stressors related to their appearance and academic success/failure, and have higher levels of depression and suicide, due to cognitive deficits putting limits on their decision-making (Huntington & Bender 1993, p.161-162). This investigation suggests that teachers be appropriately trained in understanding each of these concepts in students with learning disabilities.
Researchers attempt to find that students with LD are more vulnerable to clinical depression, due to previous findings of these students having lower self-concepts, being less socially accepted, and having high levels of loci of control (Maag & Reid 2006, p.3). Areas of concern surface about the awareness school personnel lack about the symptoms and consequences of depression going untreated in students with and without learning disabilities. After many assessments and evaluations, they conclude that differences were not clinically significant. However, they still sustain their certainties that students with LD have higher levels of low self-concept, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Examiners attempt to find a relationship between an underlying central nervous system dysfunction, such as in the right hemisphere, learning disabilities and depression. They believe that children with learning disabilities may have either co-occurring or primary depressions, rather than actual symptoms of depression. After researching this area of concern, no evidence was found to support this hypothesis. However, research has suggested that there may be a primary affect to some disorders. Further, the notion that symptoms of learning disabilities and depression may be mistaken for each other is a great possibility (Mokros Poznanski, & Merrick 1989, p.233).
Navarrete (1999) supports the idea that many children and adolescents undergo depression. Major concerns in this area were finding differences in the prevalence of depression among adolescents with and without learning disabilities. Particularly, finding differences among three Verbal IQ levels, gender, and their effects on depression levels is the goal in this research. Navarrete found no significant differences in the prevalence of depression among students with and without learning disabilities. Additionally, there were no significant differences found among the three Verbal IQ levels and gender. Although this specific test did not support the researcher’s original hypothesis, there were still interesting facts that brought awareness of depression into consideration in schools, such as Low Verbal-High Performance females having higher levels of depression (Navarrete 1999).
Borkowski and colleagues suggest, “Good cognitive performance following a strategic approach increases general strategic knowledge, self-esteem, and associated feelings” (Palladino, Poli, Masi, & Marcheschi 2000, p.142). This motivated Palladino and associates to find strong relationships between metacognitive system components and affective responses in students with and without learning disabilities (Palladino, Poli, Masi, & Marcheschi 2000, p.142). They expect the associations between depression and learning disabilities to be highly strong due to previous investigations finding evidence to students with learning disabilities having low self-esteem and attributional beliefs. After much investigation, the team found there expectations to be accurate to Borkowski’s model. “When children recognize that competence improves through their own efforts, they start enjoying learning, and conversely, positive feelings of self-efficiency influence motivation to effort” (Palladino, Poli, Masi, & Marcheschi 2000, p.146). One limitation to this study was the number of participants, which holds back accurate results. Therefore, further studies are encouraged.
Researchers believe students with learning disabilities, or other handicaps, have higher levels of depression and suicide. They also feel that this problem is greatly overlooked by parents, teachers, and professionals due to their similar characteristics, such as aggression and withdrawal (Wright-Strawderman & Watson 1992, p.259). In order to find support in this idea, they examined self-reports of students with LD and their parents relating to depression. Results indicate that there is a high prevalence of depression in children with learning disabilities. However, there were no significant differences in gender or age. Although limitations were set by using a mail-in questionnaire for parents, which reduced face-to-face interaction, and only having student participants from one urban area, the study further concludes that parents are not aware of depressive symptoms in their children.
Researchers are determined in finding significances in the effects of age and gender on depression and anxiety in students with learning disabilities, conduct disorders, and no disabilities (Newcomer & Barenbaum 1995). They are expecting children with learning disabilities to show higher levels of depression and anxiety. There is also a segment of how accurate teachers in the general and special education field can distinguish their students as being depressed or anxious. Although no significant differences were found in age and gender, results found that females graded themselves as more depressed and anxious than males (Newcomer & Barenbaum 1995). However, teachers marked males as more depressed than girls. Speculations conclude that males may be a bit more defensive in their grading, which caused them to not be as accurate on their self-exam. Further, researchers found that teachers in general classrooms did not recognize symptoms of depression in their students as well as teachers in special education classrooms. This is believed to be from the lack of one-on-one interaction these teachers have with their students.
Depression amongst school aged children with learning disabilities is a far greater problem than ever expected. There are consistencies in students with learning disabilities having different behavioral and personality characteristics, when being compared to those without, which means, attention should surround the area of concern (Huntington & Bender 1993, p.159). Factors that influence the development of depression were found to be issues associated with the student’s home and classroom setting, including interactions with their parents, teachers, peers, and other school administrators. Variables, such as parents going through a divorce, single-parent living, and the existence of a learning disability, or cognitive deficit, have also been determined as contributors to depression in students with learning disabilities. Therefore, children with learning disabilities are said to be at higher risks to depression due to their already low self-assurance levels, unstable emotional behaviors, and lack of acceptance from others.
School teachers and parents are too often mistaking depression as signs of a learning disorder. Ignoring, or not having precise knowledge of depression and its damaging capabilities can extend the disorder into much more serious matters, including suicide, which gives reason to question the awareness parents, teachers, and other school officials have on the subject. Misleading depressive symptoms should not be a frequent error when working for the advancement and progression of students learning, especially those with classroom difficulties, because good, or improving, cognitive performances in school provides students with higher self-esteem, general knowledge, and active social behaviors beneficial to their development (Palladino, Poli, Masi, Marcheschi 2000, p.142).
Poor performances in the classroom need to be recognized as possible signs of dejection and despair, rather than as a genetic or delinquent problem. The only way to accurately identify symptoms, teachers, as well as parents need to be sufficiently trained in the prevalence and dangers of depression. Acknowledging the warning signs for depression will allow students to appropriately get treatment and achieve self-improvement. “When children recognize that competence improves through their own efforts, they start enjoying learning, and conversely, positive feelings of self-efficiency influence motivation to effort” (Palladino, Poli, Masi, & Marcheschi 2000, p.146).
Depression is a common disorder that affects millions of people everyday. Although it is seen as a primary health problem in children with problematic behaviors and poor academic skills, it is an unfamiliar obstruction to most individuals (Wright-Strawderman & Watson 1992, p.259). Most people that are depressed go untreated, which affects the way they live, and also their learning abilities. Depression allows a person to short themselves of happiness and enjoyment, which makes the world seem dark and gray. It is critical that school faculty and staff understand how depression affects learning disabilities and how to distinguish the two in a student because treatment differs significantly. Therefore, further investigation on the subject is required. The dangers of depression on students with and without learning disabilities in the educational system need to be expanded through campuses to help reduce the enduring error commonly made by school personnel.
Bower, B. (1985). Depression may be key to some learning disabilities. Science News, 127, 132-132. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Colbert, P., Newman, B., Ney, P., & Young, J. (1982). Learning disabilities as a symptom of depression in children. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 15, 333-336. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Howard, K.A., & Tyron, G.S. (2002). Deepressive symptoms in and type of classroom placement for adolescents with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 185-190. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Huntington, D.D., & Bender, W.N. (1993). Adolescents with learning disabilities at risk? Emotional well-being, depression, suicide. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 159-166. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Maag, J.W., & Reid, R. (2006). Depression among students with learning disabilities: Assessing the risk. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39, 3-10. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Mokros, H.B., Poznanski, E.O., & Merrick, W.A. (1989). Depression and learning disabilities in children: A test of an Hypothesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 22, 230-234. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Navarrete, L. (1999). Melancholy in the millennium: A study of depression among adolescents with and without learning disabilities. High School Journal, 82, 137. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Palladino, P., Poli, P., Masi, G., & Marcheschi, M. (2000). The relation between metacognition and depressive symptoms in preadolescents with learning disabilities: Data in support of Borkowski’s Model. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 15, 142-148. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Wright-Strawderman, C. & Watson, B.L. (1992). The prevalence of depressive symptoms in children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 258-264. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Newcomer, P.L., & Barenbaum, E. (1995). Depression and anxiety in children and adolescents with learning disabilities, conduct disorders, and no disabilities. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 3, 27. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.