JAMA article teaches doctors about learning disabilities

September 30, 2013

Lisa Rossignol's daughter Lily had a stroke before she was even born. Afterward, the child suffered some 300 epileptic seizures per day. Ultimately, doctors determined that the best way to eliminate her seizure problem was to perform a hemispherectomy, or remove the right half of her brain. Today, Lily is an active six-year-old with some learning disabilities. Her mother is active in educating the medical establishment about how to communicate with children who have learning disabilities so that their health care needs are understood and met.

Rossignol, who only this fall was admitted into a doctoral program in the University of New Mexico Department of Sociology, is the primary author of "Empowering Patients Who Have Specific Learning Disabilities," an article that appears online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and will be in the print edition of the journal next month. Rossignol's co-author is Michael Paasche-Orlow, M.D., Boston University School of Medicine.

Rossignol met Paasche-Orlow at the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare in Scotland last year. "We both have an understanding of IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). Teachers already know how to communicate with and educate children with learning disabilities as a result of a federal mandate – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – that required school systems to accommodate the needs for an equitable learning environment," she said.

Dr. Paasche-Orlow said, "To improve health outcomes, clinicians will need to take the mission of patient education and empowerment much more seriously – the population of people with specific learning disabilities is actually much larger than many people realize. The IDEA has been broadly implemented - and over 12 percent of public school students have identified specific learning disabilities – this is much higher than most people would imagine."

He added, "The health care system is unnecessarily complex. We – the clinicians – need to learn how to help people with specific learning disabilities."

"It might not occur to physicians to ask patients or their parents if they have an IEP," Rossignol said. "Students who first had IEPs in the 1990s are now adults. It could give doctors good information about their best way to learn," she said, adding that many may be embarrassed about it, but even asking patients is a good start. "People develop tricks to work around their disability that they can teach to physicians to share with others," she added.

Among the learning disabilities that Rossignol and Paasche-Orlow explored is auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. "A patient with dysgraphia who was sent home with printed complicated dosing information that involved breaking pills and such, wouldn't be able to follow it and would need to be given easier delivery options," she said. Other options for accommodating learning disabilities could include having the patient voice record the doctor's treatment plan or email it to them.

"In other cases they might use visual aids, like Draw MD to explain things to both visual learners and those with auditory processing disorders," she said. Other doctors might give a patient a pen and pad to write things down. "We teach our children how to advocate for themselves in the world. They also need to know how to advocate for themselves in the medical system," Rossignol said.

The Affordable Care Act provides funding to PCORI, or Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Rossignol, affiliated with PCORI, said that their goal is for patients and the public to have the information they need to make decisions that reflect their desired health outcomes. "My husband and I are both educated, middle class people and we had a hard time getting care for our child. We want to close the gap in health disparities for others," she said.

Explore further: Learning disabilities affect up to 10 percent of children, study finds

Related Stories

Learning disabilities affect up to 10 percent of children, study finds

April 18, 2013
Up to 10 per cent of the population are affected by specific learning disabilities (SLDs), such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and autism, translating to 2 or 3 pupils in every classroom according to a new study.

Adults with learning disabilities at greater risk of sight problems

July 2, 2012
Adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to be blind or have impaired vision according to researchers from Lancaster University.

Study finds people with learning disabilities are more likely to have a premature death compared with general population

March 20, 2013
A three-year study into the extent of premature death in people with learning disabilities has found that those with learning disabilities are more likely to have a premature death compared with individuals in the general ...

Stroke systems of care essential to reducing deaths, disabilities

August 29, 2013
Several key elements in systems of care can reduce stroke deaths and disabilities, according to a new American Heart Association/American Stroke Association policy statement published in its journal Stroke.

Young adults with autism found to have difficulty transitioning into employment

September 5, 2013
A study published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have more difficulty transitioning into ...

Recommended for you

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

Scientists develop new supplement that can repair, rejuvenate muscles in older adults

July 18, 2017
Whey protein supplements aren't just for gym buffs according to new research from McMaster university. When taken on a regular basis, a combination of these and other ingredients in a ready-to-drink formula have been found ...

Study: Eating at 'wrong time' affects body weight, circadian rhythms

July 18, 2017
A new high-precision feeding system for lab mice reinforces the idea that the time of day food is eaten is more critical to weight loss than the amount of calories ingested.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.