Environmental Factors and Learning Disabilities

Environmental Factors and Learning Disabilities Abstract This project focused on environmental factors and how these contribute to learning disabilities and delays. Research questions included: what is an environmental factor? How much of an environmental factor must be present in order to cause an impact? What are the most common environmental factors that exacerbate an existing learning disability? Is there a significant correlation between environmental factors and learning disabilities? The results of this research yielded data that has been used to develop a pamphlet for general educators about the correlation of environmental factors and developmental disabilities. Elementary school students aged five to twelve years old who each possess developmental disabilities ranging from physical, behavioral, developmental, and cognitive functioning were the main focus group of the study. San Diego County contains approximately 412 elementary schools in 23 districts with populations of students in the age range appropriate for this study. The researcher traveled to schools, homes and communities of the students to conduct research. Research instruments included a survey with questions pertaining to the main research question, as well as the 2013 San Diego County Census, School Accountability Report Cards, face to face interviews, and the researcher’s data collections regarding environmental factors present in the local community. Families who participated in the study were queried if and how often they are exposed to pesticides, fast food, mercury or lead, as well as what they believe their socio economic status to be. Interviews were conducted with students and families to obtain a first-hand account of the effects of environmental factors affecting their children. Copies of surveys were distributed to twelve schools within five elementary school districts in San Diego County which were identified with the greatest populations of students identified with disabilities in their School Accountability Report Cards. Districts included; Chula Vista, Escondido, Cajon Valley, La Mesa, and Santee. The researcher traveled to the different locations to meet with the Principals, Superintendents, Environmental Factors and Learning Disabilities and key staff of each district, described the project and obtained permission to distribute surveys and to interview students and families. Size of community, prevalence of lead, mercury and pesticides, and economic status were taken into account for the analysis of data. The overwhelming numbers of positive responses to exposure to one or more environmental factors in different areas of San Diego County confirmed the hypothesis that they may play a significant role in the increase and/ or contribute to developmental disabilities. Discussions with key participants in the study confirmed a general lack of knowledge concerning environmental factors and their effects upon cognitive and physical abilities of young children. Findings included several facts, leading to three types of conclusions. Genetic factors are not solely responsible for the dramatic rise in developmental disabilities seen in the past twelve years. Diet, presence of mercury and lead, socioeconomic factors, and presence of pesticides in homes and communities have also played a significant role in the rise of developmental disabilities. Key words: Center for Disease Control (CDC), Developmental delays, Developmental Disabilities, Environmental factors, Food sensitivity/intolerance, Lead, Mercury, Organophosphate pesticides, Pesticide, Prevalence, Pyrethroid insecticides, Toxicants.