Learning Disabilities and Self-Concept

Learning Disabilities and Self-Concept















Learning Disabilities and Self-Concept

Literature Review

Considerable research has indeed indicated the correlation between self-worth among children and learning disabilities. Mainly, children who possess a learning disability are more inclined towards having a lower self-concept in comparison to those who do not (Chapman, 1988; Hall, Spruill & Webster, 2002). From as early as they are, children tend to evaluate themselves based on the attributes exhibited by their peers (Möller, Streblow & Pohlmann, 2009). Areas that involve athletics, social connectivity and athleticism are commonly utilized as comparison platforms. For younger ones though, the assessments and consecutive self-concept may be rather unsophisticated. As such, children diagnosed with this respective incapacity tend to criticize themselves as slow or stupid in relation to academic comparisons. Such judgments are universal in nature in the sense that a child with a learning difficulty will be more predisposed towards perceiving himself or herself despondently in every other area of their development. Regarding this, studies based on education have considerably attempted to position both the general and academic self-concepts within the general school context.

Accordingly, self-concepts develop due to the experiences that an individual encounters within his or her environment as well as his or her assessments of such events. The opinions of other people, feedback and underlying attributions assume an important role in the self-concept development process. As noted, academic self-images are relevant within the educational milieu. Möller, Streblow and Pohlmann (2009) further add that such generalized, self-correspondent ability cognition are deemed as personal traits that may pose, elucidate and foresee achievement-related mannerisms. This largely correlates with Chapman’s study on the implications that learning disabilities impose on academic-based self-concept among children. In this respect, Chapman (1988) argues that the difference between general and school-based academic self-image is imperative. Based on this, the study shows that decrements that are more considerable take place in relation to academic-based self-concept rather than common self-concept (Chapman, 1988).

Nonetheless, several research studies have attempted to focus overly on the constitution of learning disabilities without necessarily separating the academic-based self-concept from the general one. Hall, Spruill and Webster (2002), illustrate that students experiencing learning disabilities encounter a myriad of difficulties throughout their academic careers. The main cause is the different problems they face which involve motivation, self-esteem, attributions and restrictions within self-evaluation and strategic knowledge. Moreover, Wong (2008) seems to emphasize on this point by establishing the complexity of learning difficulties as an influential factor based on the impact it poses on an individual’s general self-concept. In an attempt to thin the boundary between academic and general self-concept, Elbaum and Vaughn (2001) argue that the school context is logically, the most imperative setting responsible for the development of general perceptions of the self among children as well as adolescents.

Despite the lack of definition between the academic self-concept and the general self-concept, numerous studies have established certain interventions that focus more on the development of the former rather than the latter. The research illustrates that there exists a disparity between both variants of self-concept when applied in the context of learning disabilities. In this respect, some of the interventions that may be applied in an academic context may resonate more with the students’ academic self-concept in comparison with other types of self-images (Elbaum & Vaughn, 2001). Interestingly, Elbaum and Vaughn’s study indicate that interventions aimed at augmenting the academic skills and aptitudes of students with learning difficulties posed a positive impact on their academic self-concept rather than other present variants of the notion respectively (Elbaum & Vaughn, 2001).

Reverting to Chapman (1988), students with learning disabilities tend to focus overtly on their academic attributions rather than other points of comparison. As such, these learners will tend to experience a limited self-concept due to the overall nature of their difficulties. Hence, the academic context influences the overall self-worth of a student. The insufficient level of academic self-concept experienced by the students due to learning disabilities eventually poses a negative effect on their general self-worth. The impact of low academic self-concept on the students’ general self-worth is replicated in Elksnin and Elksnin’s study. Accordingly, students with learning disabilities and low academic self-worth experience social and emotional deficits especially in relation to academic success (Elksnin & Elksnin, 2004). This problem is evidenced by the repressed rates of school attendance in postsecondary school contexts due to the impact of learning disabilities on the need to achieve academic success (Hall, Spruill & Webster, 2002).

Despite the underlying focus on academic and general self-worth, much of the problem as indicated in research lies in the identification and mitigation of learning difficulties. Indeed, learning disabilities constitute a broad cohort of learning incapacities, which comprise a disorder within a single or more of the necessary psychological processes related to dysfunction within the Central Nervous System (Hall, Spruill & Webster, 2002). As an outcome of this, various studies have established different mitigation strategies depending on the type of learning disability and the impact it poses on the child’s academic achievement. On the other hand, Wong (2008) accentuates on the significance of interventions aimed at assisting students with learning disabilities rather than concentrating on the complexity of what underlies this psychological incapacity. This is because learning difficulties affect a student’s self-concept and subsequently, his or her academic success or performance.

In relation to the generalizability of learning disabilities, different interventions have been established. The aim of such strategies involves augmenting the academic self-concept of students with learning difficulties. Wong (2008) asserts that such students require various instructional approaches designed to influence self-regulation among them. Similarly, Trainor (2005) proposes the education and provision of self-determination aptitudes among such learners. Through transition planning processes, students with learning difficulties can gain self-determination, which will enable them to indulge in self-regulation by setting goals and objectives, engaging in decision-making, and self-assessment. Aside from this, such processes, while positively affecting the students’ academic self-worth, can equally benefit their general self-concept in the domestic and social contexts (Trainor, 2005). Furthermore, the impact of learning disabilities on the students’ general self-concept calls for the utilization of group therapy, which may function well as a natural intervention due to the disability’s impact on social adjustment and the desire to engage in social interaction (Mishna & Muskat, 2004).

To this end, there seems to be a difference between general and academic self-concept especially in the general context. However, focusing on students with learning disabilities, research seems to indicate a certain correspondence between these dimensions of self-worth. Even though certain studies seem to differentiate between both notions, most have attempted to integrate them in order to devise interventions that may be applicable in the mitigation of learning disabilities and repressed self-concept among students. Regardless, future research needs to consider the role that both academic and general concepts of the self can assume in affecting the performance of students with learning difficulties in all other contexts apart from the educational-based setting.



Chapman, J. W. (1988). Learning disabled children’s self-concepts. Review of Educational Research, 58, 347-371.

Elbaum, B., & Vaughn, S. (2001). School-based interventions to enhance the self-concept of students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis. The Elementary School Journal, 101(3), 303-329.

Elksnin, L. K., & Elksnin, N. (2004). [Introduction]: The social-emotional side of learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 27(1), 3-8.

Hall, C. W., Spruill, K. L., & Webster, R. E. (2002). Motivational and attitudinal factors in college students with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 25(2), 79-86.

Mishna, F., & Muskat, B. (2004). “I’m not the only one!” Group therapy with older children and adolescents who have learning disabilities. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54(4), 455-476.

Möller, J., Streblow, L., & Pohlmann, B. (2009). Achievement and self-concept of students with learning disabilities. Social Psychology of Education, 12(1), 113-122.

Trainor, A. A. (2005). Self-determination perceptions and behaviors of diverse students with LD during the transition planning process. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38(3), 233-249.

Wong, B. Y. (2008). The ABCs of learning disabilities. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic.

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