Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.6, 376-387
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s . 376
Using Figurative Language to Assess the Stage of Acceptance of
Learning Disability as a Springboard for Treatment of Students
with Learning Disabilities
Sara Givon
Education Department, Lifshitz College for Teachers, Jerusalem, Israel
Received March 25th, 2013; revised April 27th, 2013; accepted May 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Sara Givon. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, dist ribution, and r eproduction in any medium, provided the o riginal
work is properly cited.
In order to examine the emotional and cognitive processes experienced by adolescents with learning dis-
abilities (LD), twenty tenth grade Israeli students were studied over three years. Data gathered through
in-depth interviews underwent an axial-coding process, and a grounded theory model was constructed.
The findings revealed various coping styles adopted by students throughout the process of accepting the
disability. Participants were asked to use figurative language to describe their method of coping with the
disability. Participants’ choice of phrase, metaphor or image characterized the phase of their acceptance
as well as their coping style. This can be served as an effective tool of detection. Identifying the stage of
students’ acceptance and their coping style may promote optimal treatment for students with LD.
Keywords: Figurative Language; Adolescents with Learning Disabilities; Coping Styles; Grounded
Growing awareness among parents and teachers of the need
of students with learning disabilities to acquire education as a
basic requirement towards obtaining a profession and integrat-
ing into society, led to increased commitment to diagnosis of
LD and hence an increase in dispensations and accommoda-
tions granted to students with LD (Margaolit, Efrati, & Da-
nino, 2002). In addition to accommodations, allocation of re-
sources and educational restructuring are also required, based
on understanding the factors that help or hinder the success of
these students in matriculation examinations (Ellis & Larkin,
1998; Ellis & Siegler, 1997; Larkin, 2009). The purpose of this
study was to add to theoretical and practical knowledge of
cognitive and emotional intra-personal and inter-personal pro-
cesses. The study identified the factors involved in both the
emotional and cognitive stages of accepting (and thus coping
with) learning disabilities, distinguishing between various types
of disabilities. Based on grounded theory, a model was cons-
tructed for the purpose of enabling counselors, teachers and
caregivers to match the type of intervention to the specific
needs of each group in order to improve the effectiveness of in-
tervention programs.
Students’ figurative language was shown to assist in identify-
ing the stage where they are at in the process of accepting the
disability. The figurative speech, phrase or image that students
choose for describing their acceptance of their learning disabi-
lity, reveals both the phase in the process and the style of their
coping with the disability. Detection of the stage and the coping
style may help counselors to create an intervention program
tailored to the precise needs of individual adolescents.
Learning Disabilities: Definition and
The definition1 of the National Joint Committee on Learning
Disabilities (NJCLD) is generally accepted by the US Ministry
of Education.
This definition refers to a possible source of disabilities-
central neurological dysfunction, i.e. primary disability that aff-
ects the learning ability and the connection between the indi-
vidual and his or her environment. Even in Israel it is now
customary to use this definition in order to characterize and
diagnose students with learning disabilities (Israeli Ministry of
Education, 2003) though this definition is somewhat contro-
versial and has undergone new formulations even in the United
The Relationship between Cognitive and Emotional
Until now, most studies of LDs have focused on the qua-
litative and quantitative aspects of the limitations of students
with learning disabilities and with understanding the reasons
1“Learning disability isa general term referring to a heterogeneous group o
disorders as expressed in significant difficulties acquiring listening,
speaking, reading, writing, conceptualizing and/or mathematical abilities
and the use thereof. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, and
assumed to stem from a central n eurological dysfunct ion. They may appear
at any point along the life cycle. Although the learning disability can occu
at the same time with other restrictive conditions (sensory damage, mental
retardation,emotional and social disorder) or external conditions (cultural
differences, inadequate or unfit instruction), the learning disabilities a not a
direct result of these conditions” (NJCLD, 1994).
for their difficulties in functioning. However, clinical ex-
perience has indicated that it is difficult to predict the chances
of adjustment in children with learning disabilities, if the only
aspect related to is their disability level and cognitive disability
(Frith, 1999). In the adolescence years, increased demands from
the environment, along with the need for independence and
building new friendships, raise in adolescents tensions and
feelings of commitment, ambivalence towards school and fam-
ily, plus the desire to belong to their peer group. Studies show
that sub-specific types of students with learning disabilities,
with clear patterns of capabilities and neuro-cognitive short-
comings, show different patterns of psychosocial functioning.
These patterns are evident especially among students with non-
verbal learning disabilities (NLD) who are more likely to deve-
lop emotional problems during adolescence into adulthood
(Court & Givon, 2003; Greenham, 1999; Little, 1999; Rour-
ke,1995). It was also found that the difficulties of students with
NLD increase with age and lead to reduced self-esteem in
adulthood, placing these students at increased risk of introvert
reactions of loneliness, depression, feelings of victimization
and chronic feelings of shame (Little, 1999; Palombo, 2001;
Petti et al., 2003; Pelletier, 2001).
Emotional Distress and Depression
The Children with learning disabilities reported more intense
feelings of depression than children without learning disa-
bilities; they also reported negative moods and a sense of sad-
ness and loneliness (Bloom & Heath, 2010; Lackaye & Mar-
galit, 2006; Margalit, Efrati & Danino, 2002). The prevalence
of depression symptoms is higher among adolescents than
among younger children and also higher among girls than boys
(Huntington & Bender, 1993). This is due to the fact that adole-
scence itself is characterized by sharp fluctuations in mood,
hormonal changes, search for identity and a desire to achieve
high social status. Symptoms of depression are more common
in students with NLD than in those with verbal LD (Dorfman,
2001; Petti et al., 2003). Lackaye et al. (Lachaye, Margalit, Ziv
& Ziman, 2006) found that even when students with learning
disabilities get higher marks than their friends because of the
extra help they receive, their social profile is still lower; they
are depressed, lack hope for the future, are lonelier and have
darker moods than their friends. Thus they are less acade-
mically effective because they lack motivation.
Self-Perception and Copying with Learning
For a long time researchers thought that students with learn-
ing disabilities would have lower self-esteem than their peers.
This assumption was based on the belief that the continued
academic failure of these students would undermine their self-
esteem (Chapman, 1988; Rogers & Saklofski, 1985). However,
a study which used multi-dimensional tools for the estimation
of self-perception and self-esteem, revealed that self-image is
composed of different sub-perceptions in different areas that
separate gradually over the period of formation of the self-
image (Dyson, 1996, 2010). Therefore, students with learning
disabilities who allocate a special place for their disability are
able to formulate a positive self-concept despite the disability.
The perception of disability (recognizing its existence and
reducing its importance), is another meaningful element in the
overall self-concept of students with learning disabilities (Ger-
ber, Ginsberg, & Gerber, 1994; Madaus, Gerber, & Price, 2008;
Mather & Gregg, 2006). A perception that refers to the limited
issue instead of a global perception can help foster self-esteem
in children with learning disabilities (Rothman & Cosden,
1995). The above research noted that self-image served as an
index to predict academic achievement, while the emotional
block, resulting from lack of awareness and non-acceptance of
the disability, prevents the formation of effective ways of cop-
Academic Copying of Adolescents with
Learning Disabilities
In interaction with the environment, the individual is subject
to external and internal requirements which oblige him or her to
recruit cognitive and emotional efforts. When these require-
ments exceed the resources at his or her disposal, it is said that
the individual is required to “cope” (Bailey, Barton, & Vignola,
1999). Gramzey and Masten (1991) define “durability” as the
individual's ability to successfully reach the stage of adaptation,
despite challenging or threatening circumstances. Many studies
have shown that an internal focus of control and higher self-
esteem are associated with better ability to withstand stress-
related learning tasks, higher persistence and greater willing-
ness to accept assistance and guidance in school (Abouserie,
1994; Maqsud, 1993; Mooney, Sherman, & LoPresto, 1991;
Sterbin & Rakow, 1996). Therefore, the more the student deve-
lops the sense of comprehensibility, control and meaning, the
more he or she will be able to persist in efforts to succeed. But
how can the student do so when the resources at his or her
disposal are few? The adaptive child, who is also the effective
learner, is an active learner, while the behavior strategies of
children with learning disabilities are characterized by passive
learning; they hold beliefs that attribute their difficulties to
uncontrollable factors and they develop acquired helplessness.
Both erroneous beliefs and passive attitudes affect the student’s
ability to learn and contribute to the creation of academic
problems, low self-efficacy, hopelessness and lack of motiva-
tion (Margalit, 1996).
Ways of Bypassing or Wa ys of Copying
The education system recognizes the special needs of
students with learning disabilities and invests efforts and re-
sources in the advancement of these students. The main ques-
tion in this regard is, whether it is more worthwhile to take care
of the disability itself or to teach the student ways around it. For
many years the prevailing view was that learning disabilities
tend to disappear by themselves. Today it is understood that
learning disabilities do not disappear with age; they are caused
by cognitive-neurological deficiencies, and except for slight
and gradual improvement which is a natural part of growing up,
the disability accompanies the person throughout his or her life
(Gerber et al., 1992; Gerber, 1994; Gregg, 2007; Gregg, Hoy, &
Gay, 1996; Madaus, Gerber, & Price, 2008; Mather & Gregg,
2006; Taymans, Swanson, Schwatrz, Gregg, Hock, & Gerber,
2009). Therefore, students with learning disabilities should re-
ceive learning accommodations. In order to reach the optimal
degree of utilization of those accommodations, caregivers
should listen to the students and learn their wishes and opinions
as to the various types of accommodation methods that are
offered, with reference to the effectiveness of each. This listen-
ing should be done with sensitivity, in an attempt to understand
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 377
the differences that may exist between students with different
types of learning disabilities (Margalit, Efrati, & Danino, 2002).
Figurative Language as a Tool for Diagnosis
and Treatment
Figurative language includes words and phrases that function
in a symbolic or indirect manner, as they are taken from a cert-
ain field and transferred to another one, carrying their original
meaning along with them. Figurative language consists of phra-
ses with an unclear semantic status that illustrates the abstract.
The main kinds of figurative speech are simile, metaphor,
personification, metonymy (“I am not Rothschild”), imagery
and irony. Symbols serve an important role in understanding
the human soul, since they represent an essence which is be-
yond their literal meaning (Young, 1964). Metaphor, as well as
metonymy and image, is a kind of linguistic expression which
can be used to convey an idea using a phrase from another
discipline, sometimes completely different, in order to add
“borrowed” meaning, and better explain the intent of the origi-
nal idea, add another layer of meaning, or “load” additional
meaning that was absent before.
The use of figurative language may assist in treatment, since
sometimes the student and the educational professional face a
dead-end when searching for a fitting word or definition and
only disengagement from the limitations of language helps in
overcoming and relocating from the verbal channel to the visual,
sensory or emotional alternatives. Using figurative language is
a very common practice in the clinical disciplines for the pur-
pose of treatment, but also for diagnosis, since figurative lan-
guage and images do not bear within them any threat. The user
can stay remote to some extent, and this fact is helpful in
identifying hidden messages (Elitzur, 1986). In a semi-struct-
ured in-depth interview, the access to the patient is direct,
which makes it difficult to discover hidden feelings as may be
expressed by the subjects without self-censorship (Sobel, 2006).
In understanding young people with learning disabilities, meta-
phor may help clarify the relationship between unexpressed
feelings and emotions and the manifest declarations that stud-
ents use to define their disability and describe the hardships of
Learning disabilities are often related to central cognitive
impairment or deficiency, and may involve the speech center in
the brain (verbal learning disability). Even in the case of non-
verbal learning disabilities, there are indirect effects on verbali-
zation. Metaphorical expression or figurative language is some-
times a solution if a particular idea or explanation that one
wishes to express is too difficult or abstract and a metaphorical
phrase adds the desired meaning.
It is extremely important to hear the views of young people
with learning disabilities who have difficulties in expressing
themselves and to encourage them to find the right way around
words in order to express their thoughts and feelings, to enable
them to receive meaningful assistance. Figurative linguistic
“detours” can help even when the disability is associated with a
deficiency in verbal expression. The ability to think on “bo-
rrowed” meanings and to find alternative images or express-
ions in order to convey their intentions may help youth with
learning disabilities to express ideas which they find difficult to
express. There are cases, especially when the disability is a
result of multi-system impairment, that metaphors and figura-
tive language are the only way to communicate and convey
ideas (Olsen, 2010).
Research Questions
The current study was guided by the following questions:
1) What are the emotional processes that students with diff-
erent learning disabilities undergo during their studying for a
high school diploma?
2) How do students with learning disabilities perceive their
coping with the academic goal of achieving a high school diplo-
ma, and what are the perceptions of students regarding the
difficulties they will face in the future?
3) How does figurative language reveal student’ stage of ac-
ceptance of their disability and their method of coping?
Research Method
This study was based on the testimonies of Israeli high
school students with diverse learning disabilities, with empha-
sis on students with non-verbal disabilities. The study was con-
ducted over three years (grades 10 - 12). In-depth, semi-
structured interviews were conducted during each year of the
study. In the eleventh grade interview, the participants were
asked to describe their coping with disability by using figu-
rative language. In the final interview participants were asked
to describe the process they went through by using an image or
a “linguistic drawing” and also to give a title to their life story.
This was not an intervention; it was a research study. But it
became clear that the conversations that the researchers had
with the students gave the students access to their inner world
in new ways and deepened their understanding of what they
were going through. Once this became clear, we added an
end-of-examinations interview with an additional student, Ofer,
who was interviewed only after the matriculation exams. Ofer
acted as a kind of “control group” since he did not experience
the “intervention” of the interviews.
The theoretical paradigm chosen was a qualitative, grounded
theory approach. After locating the core categories, new infor-
mation was re-assembled, while systematically referring cate-
gories to each other, and the data was axially coded as shown in
Figure 1. In addition, a link to previous theories was made and
finally a grounded theory was constructed, the center of the
model being the central phenomenon under investigation—the
central category around which the theoretical model was de-
veloped (Gibton, 2001; Strauss, 1987). This method is des-
cribed thoroughly in a previous article (author reference, 2008).
Study Par tic ip ants
Out of all the students in ninth grade in a six-year compre-
hensive school in central Israel, 20 students with learning disa-
bilities were selected as a directed sample. The sample consist-
ed of ten girls and ten boys with various learning disabilities,
verbal (VLD), non-verbal (NLD) and with Attention deficit-
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Data Collection
Semi-structured in-depth interview was a tool to get ac-
quainted with the experiences of the adolescents and listen to
their voices. The interviews were conducted at three time points
related to dealing with matriculation exams: 10th grade, 11th
grade and 12th grade.
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 379
Figure 1.
Model of the axial coding that describes the causal conditions and context around the core category led to
select the style of coping , and the coping results.
Research Procedure
In ninth grade, the 20 students with learning disabilities who
were selected underwent psychological and didactic diagnoses.
In tenth grade, the students were interviewed before the first
matriculation exams.
In eleventh grade, the students were interviewed for the
second time before the matriculation exams of that year. During
that interview they were asked to supply a metaphor describing
their coping with disability. After completing the matriculation
exams and at the end of the twelfth grade, students were inter-
viewed for the third time. During the last interview participants
were asked to describe the process of coping during the school
years by using a metaphor and to give a title to their life story.
Data collected in the interviews helped in establishing thema-
tic connections, while examination of the nature of relation-
ships between the categories helped to re-formulate the know-
ledge and organize it in a model of axial coding around a core
category that includes two key ideas:
In the field of learning—learning difficulties and repetitive
failures caused a feeling of helplessness and lack of control.
In the emotional field—fear of being labeled as incapable; a
sense of threat to the self.
The model shows the causative conditions and the internal
context that contributed to the ways students coped with accep-
tance of their disability—and the outcome—the results of this
The process of accepting the disability.
We found three stages in the process of acceptance of dis-
ability, starting at the discovery stage and ending at the stage of
1) Understanding the meaning of the diagnosis, its objective
and importance; understanding the nature of the disability and
its significance.
2) Readiness to recruit inner resources in order to invest
efforts, and to accept and use accommodations the educational
system provides to assist in learning.
3) Readiness to use the recommendations in full, and insis-
tence on the right to receive accommodations even if this invol-
ves a struggle, exposure or labeling.
Identification of the phase at which the student currently is,
provides a starting point for the beginning of treatment. For this
reason it is highly recommended that school counselors become
acquainted with the model as shown in Figure 1. Our data
indicate that all students undergo a similar process, from the
day they receive the significant diagnosis, to the day when they
understand the meaning of the diagnosis and its importance, are
willing to reconcile with and accept it, and it becomes part of
their self-perception, as expressed by Ofra:
[...] From the moment of diagnosis, all the time it is a
matterof process. At least for me it was an endless process in
order to accept... You accept yourself every time anew, every
time you step through another phase [...] (Ofra ).
As the process continues over a longer period, from middle
school to the beginning of high school, students go through the
various stages gradually, until they are willing to accept the
disability and reach a kind of reconciliation before the matri-
culation exams. With acceptance they are freed to invest the
bulk of their struggle in dealing with challenges of learning and
with the cognitive difficulty accompanying the matriculation
exams. When the process is prolonged or gets “stuck” in the
initial stage of denial, the students find it difficult to make their
energies available for cognitive tasks and they engage in deal-
ing with the emotions that accompany the problem, as Ofra
It is very difficult because beyond the fact that you need to
get used to being read aloud to, and all the technical things, for
me the mental process was a very significant thing, a very
inhibiting thing, when I came to the exam with depression and
a specific mental block [...]. (Ofra)
Although the learning disability shows its first signs long
before the diagnosis, when the adolescent faces the diagnostic
results this has an immediate effect and serves as an objective
point of reference. He or she gets the results objectively, from
an outside person, and the immediate result is a sense of loss-
loss of the fact that “I am like all the others.” This important
stage of discovery and coping with the loss is a necessary
condition to moving on to the stages that follow, until one
reaches the stage of reconciliation and adaptation. It seems that
the standard model of coping with a loss is compatible with the
process of acceptance of the disability. One can look at the
moment of diagnosis as the moment from which the process of
coping with the loss begins.
Characteristics of personality include self-perception and the
internal resources with which the adolescent copes with the
challenges she/he faces, particularly the matriculation exams.
These characteristics are influential in how the adolescent
accepts the disability, and the path of progress along the se-
quence the stages of accepting the disability as part of each
student’s self-identity. One girl said: “Once I accepted it, the
society accepted it better as well.” She explained that this did
not come easily. She called it “an endless process” with “steps
that went up and down”, and said that a cynical remark could
throw her back to the starting point of the process.
Copying Styles
How the adolescent first conceives the situation—as a threat
or a challenge—is the main factor in his or her selection of the
response to the stressful situation (Ellis & Larkin, 1998).
Reactions may focus on the problem itself, in an attempt to
channel resources into solving the problem that created the
stressful situation, or they may focus on emotions to ease the
Our findings reveal two frequently mentioned categories,
fear of being labeled and helplessness in learning, leading to
developing two parallel core strategies for coping. One is di-
rected toward dealing with the emotions that accompany the
difficulty, making the adolescent able to avoid being flooded
with emotions of threat to self and fear of being labeled as
incompetent. The other is aimed at coping with the learning-
cognitive difficulty—in order to overcome the helplessness,
powerlessness and lack of control over learning. The study
found four patterns of coping (these results are related fully in
author reference, 2008). These patterns can characterize a stage
in the process, can be situation-dependent or can even be asso-
ciated with primary features related to the disability, or other
characteristics of the adolescent’s personality.
Abstaining—or avoidance—a defensive pattern that includes
lack of faith in help, unwillingness to cooperate, suppression of
the situation, recessive behavior, tendency to withdrawal, seclu-
sion or excessive dependency on an adult.
Rebellion—a negative and denying pattern, resisting help,
with a tendency to blame others for their situation, rebellious
behavior, lack of acceptance of their situation, bargaining with
the surroundings.
Reconciliation—partial reconciliation with the disability.
Having not yet reached full adaptation, they sigh and cope, feel
limited in some sense, but are willing to cope and invest resour-
Determination—reconciliation and acceptance of the disa-
bility as part of the self-image. Behavior reflected in the per-
ception of the situation as a challenge and desire to prove abi-
lity despite the disability.
In addition to these four patterns of coping, three adaptive
strategies for coping with the sense of threat to self were iden-
tified. These were perception of the disability and its contain-
ment as part of self-identity, reconstruction of the difficulty and
translation of the threat into something less threatening, and
changing the attitudes of others, a response that creates a
change in the position of the others.
In-depth study of various patterns of coping among sub-
groups of students with learning disabilities sharpens the
differences between the coping styles of students with verbal
and nonverbal learning disabilities (Little, 1999). The descrip-
tion by our participants of their coping patterns indicates that
students with verbal learning disabilities ultimately reach a state
of behavior that is more adaptive, reconciled or even deter-
mined. In contrast, students with non-verbal learning disa-
bilities tend to demonstrate coping styles that are abstaining or
rebellious, and sometimes unrealistically determined, a poor
match for their situation. This is a result of an unrealistic self-
perception of their situation both because of denial and because
of personality characteristics rooted in the disability. This is
why some participants said that they were not going to report
their learning disability at university; they were planning to
start a new page.
There is great importance to the way the disability is defined
on the day of the diagnosis and the feedback conversation that
follows. If the definition and conversation are done correctly,
they have the power to positively motivate the process of ac-
ceptance of the disability. Intervention in the process to enable
the student’s advancement should be done by identifying the
stage where he or she is, the emotional or cognitive coping style
that he or she chooses and the factors that influence this choice.
Creating a personalized program tailored to the student on both
the emotional and cognitive levels helps him or her reach the
stage of adaptive behavior.
This study shows that most students have the ability to make
appropriate choices for the future when selecting further educa-
tional paths, realistically distinguishing between the desired and
the possible options and the unattainable and unrealistic ones,
while demonstrating academic initiative and efficacy. One par-
ticipant spoke of his desire to become a doctor, and said that if
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s .
he cannot study in Israel because of his low grade-point average,
he would go to study in another country but won’t give up, a
behavior that tends to indicate a determined style. The choice,
at the end of which stands the desire to advance and develop,
reinforces the impression that the prolonged experience of
difficulties and the continuous struggle that most participants
undergo, can be turned into both a spurring and an immunizing
factor, unifying all the personality elements toward being capa-
ble and withstanding difficulties in future studies. This is
evident from their answers to the question whether they will use
the academic accommodations in the future. As Ofra answered:
No doubt. I know that otherwise I cannot succeed at the
university; it will affect me very much. This is something I need,
without someone reading the questionnaire aloud to meIm
Using Figurative Language to Identify Students’
Stage of Acceptance of Their Learning Disability
In order to detect the inner feelings of the participants, they
were asked to use figurative language to describe the difficulty.
The goal was to explore the relationship between emotions that
were not expressed and the open declarations that were part of
their definition of the disability and description of their diffi-
culties in school. The question was asked of participants in
eleventh grade and again in twelfth grade. In the second inter-
view in eleventh grade, when they were well into the process of
acceptance of the disability, students were asked to find an
image that defined their difficulty by completing the sentence:
“For me, studying for tests with a learning disability is like …”
The second time, at the end of senior year, after concluding the
matriculation exams, the question was asked in the past tense:
“For me, coping with the matriculation exams was like …” In
the eleventh grade interview not all participants responded in
imagery, some due to their cognitive difficulty in creating a
figurative image of an emotional, abstract situation. These stu-
dents they gave concrete answers, descriptions of the difficulty
itself. Others found it difficult to give an image due to their
ongoing denial of their situation, and claimed that they had no
difficulty at all. But most students presented graphic and co-
lorful images taken from their inner world, opening a window
into their hidden feelings through a mechanism that allowed
them to be less controlled by rational criticism and self-
In eleventh grade seven students said they did not know how
to give an image. Some of them claimed to have no learning
difficulty. Batya said: “No. I do not have any difficulty, it does
not bother me.” Naama said: “I do not know. Studying is not
hard for me, but doing tests is hard for me.” Adam said: “It (the
difficulty) is not as high as the clouds, its not that hard.” And
Sara said: “Its just pressure, pressure caused by the need to
complete all th e material.”
Describing their experience in concrete terms, some partici-
pants saw dealing with the difficulty as part of coping with
difficulties in life. Eli said: “This is another stage in lifeit
will pass.” Michael said: “This is one more difficulty in life one
must pass.” Zohar explained: “Its like dealing with life itself,
when you learn from your experience and improve.” Nir said:
Its all the time persevering with the difficulty, but its only a
difficulty related to school.” Tali did use an image when she
defined disability as a feature: “Its a weak side to deal with”,
adding “Its like wanting to lose weight.” It should be noted that
Tali’s use of the image of losing weight may be revealing of an
emotional problem related to weight. Due to drastic reduction
of her weight she had to work hard to gain weight back, in
order to return to normal weight.
Nine of the twenty participants did express themselves in
images, some of which were focused on the difficulty and some
on the process. Those images focused on the difficulty concen-
trated on the disability, the restriction and being exceptional.
Ofra said: Its like hanging out with another five gallons on
your back, for nothing.” Later in the interview she described
her difficulty in day to day coping: “I feel like a person with
one hand tied behind her back.” Chaim said this, too: “It’s as if
my hands are tied” and added, “Yes, when someone is a special
person he is so special because of a unique feature, perhaps he
is wise in a way, perhaps he is very strong, any kind of special
advantage [...] its just that his hands are tied because of the
framework, because of the technical conditions, because of the
framework, just a person with tied hands”. Michal emphasized
the emotional aspect: “Its like a man with a hole in his heart.”
Aviya defined learning as “an endless war.” Martin said: “Its
like running 2000 meters without stopping, its tough.” Two
girls described the pressure as a state before explosion. Odeya
said, “Its like a box inside the brain thats going to explode
soon.” Zohar also described it in this way: “Its a pressure
cooker about to explode.” Meira described the process as
extremely difficult, like building a house, something like that.”
To the question of how she would build the house, she replied:
Gradually, step by step, thats the way it, like, has to be done,
really consistently.”
At the end of the matriculation exams, in the final interview,
all twenty students took up the challenge of describing in
images the difficulties they faced. It may be that they were
more mature at this time and felt it was easier for them to look
back and “draw” their coping retrospectively. The descriptions
and images given by students in the twelfth grade can be
characterized by the fact that these images revealed the whole
process they had undergone as well as their current situation.
Some focused on the difficulty, some focused on success and
some on the process or the transition from difficulty to success.
Although there were differences between the students regarding
their ability to “draw” images or even to give a concrete “flat”
description, they all admitted that they had difficulties.
Aviad, Uri and Zohar said it was like overcoming any dif-
ficulty, and stressed the overcoming. Sarah and Michal said it
was “like coping with something very big, difficult and impor-
tant that is very crit i c al in your life.”
Six students, when describing the process, focused on the
difficulty, but found it difficult to give a figurative description
and only said that it was like “a thing that had to be done”.
David said: “It was like a difficult thing that needed to be done
and there was no choice”. Na’ama said: “It was hard, like
dealing with a tough characteristic.” Michael said: “It was like
a difficult and annoying thing bothering you all the time.”
Adam said it was like “the feeling of showing everyone that I
can, like when you want to scream in order to silence
everyone.” Odeya said: “Like recruiting forces when there is a
desire to reach a certain destination.” Tali, when describing the
entire process said: “[It was] like everything that is at first
difficult and then easy.” She gave an example: “Like a puzzle
with many parts [...] Its difficult at first, then everything works
out and its easy” Figurative descriptions that describe the
process were given by seven participants. Ofra said: “Like the
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 381
exodus from Egypt.” Eli: “Like climbing up the stairs.” Aviya:
Like learning to drive a car.” Meira : “Like a long run and then
you finally reach the finish line,” moving her shoulders forward
in a motion as if she were touching the finish line (Meira is an
acclaimed runner and athlete). Nir at first described the diffi-
culty of the process as like a man recently weaned from smok-
ing being shown a cigarette, but then corrected himself and said:
“There is nothing that can compare to it (the difficulty) [...] It
was very difficult [...]”. Then he added, “Perhaps like a horse
and rider, the horse always feels it is being spurred and wants
the rider to get off his back and yet keeps going on and on,
something like this. Although you accept the contradictions and
all the difficulty you continue, like, to try things” (It is import-
ant to note that he imagines himself as the horse, not the rider).
He saw his story as a story of overcoming despite enormous
difficulty that nothing else can be compared to. Batya, who in
twelfth grade agreed to take the exams orally, and managed to
succeed, said that the exams were “like a corrective experien-
ce.” Danny said it reminded him of “the Bar Mitzvah fears,
when you are called to the Torah and have to read in front of
everyone and it's difficult [...] but as the Torah portion went on
and on it became easier and I was encouraged. Its just like
that in the matriculation exams; at first I had difficulties and
then as it progressed I felt it became easier.”
Ofer described the coping process as being “like climbing up
a mountain [...] to reach its summit at the end, a spot from
where you see everything well, you have all of it behind you,
you can see that you went through it all. To the question how
he felt after it all, he responded: “I feel good, I feel that I
arrived at the mountain okay, not completely exhausted, no,
and that way I knew where to exhaust myself hard and where
not to. (Ofer)
These descriptions show that students, even if at first they
denied the difficulty and claimed that it did not exist, admitted
at the end of the examinations that there was indeed a difficulty,
but they overcame it. Some saw their learning disability as a
restriction, a handicap, and stressed the necessity of coping
with a “restriction” or “a difficult feature,” a highlighting that
characterized the students who were still deep in the difficulty,
in the middle of the process. Those who internalized the disabi-
lity and accepted it, described a situation of “transfer from diffi-
culty to success”, “overcoming difficulty” their descriptions
showing flow, motion, riding, a long run without stops, or
climbing stairs. The difficulty was mentioned in all the descrip-
tions, but also the finish line or summit, and the pride that was
felt when looking back at the results. The great upheaval was
felt in what Batya said, when in eleventh grade she said angrily,
No! I have no difficulty” when asked if she thought that she
had difficulties. In twelfth grade she said that matriculation
exams were basically like a “corrective experience. She came
to terms, moderately, with the difficulty and correctly accepted
her learning disability as part of her growing up and her self-
perception. This is what she said in the final interview, at the
end of the end of the twelfth grade:
If I need (accommodations) why not [take them]? Its like
why should I feel ashamed of it or something... I was really
ashamed at first, really. I was really, really ashamed at first but
now when I think about it I say, like, what was I ashamed about,
it is like what we learned in civics, it isaffirmative action.”
Batya’s words show that she made the transfer from a
conception focused on difficulty to a conception that expresses
reconciliation, acceptance and a feeling of higher self-esteem.
Even the titles students gave to their life stories reveal the
stage they were at, since the titles were in accordance with the
previously chosen images and show whether they were still
focused on the difficulty or had moved to focus on the process
of acceptance. This insight could help educators match the
treatment to the student’s needs. The data is presented in Table
The Story of My Life
In the final interview at the end of twelfth grade students
were asked to give a title to their life story. Some students were
still focused on diffi cu lty. These are the names they gave:
Ofra: The never-ending story
Tali: Here it all started but it did not end
Michal: The difficult years
David: The three difficult years
Adam: The war of survival
Other students were focused on the process of coping and
overcoming difficulty. These are the names they gave:
Danny: Descending for the need of ascending
Odeya: A descent with an ascent at its end
Batya: The story that started badly and ended well
Eli: Overcoming—the story of an unidentified child
Uri: Overcoming the difficulty
Martin: A child who overcame, or, A story of overcoming
Nir: Overcoming
Chaim: Overcoming in spite of everything
Aviya: From exile to redemption—a process of self-dis-
Zohar: The success that followed the failure
Two students were focused on success:
Michael: A story of success
Aviad: A story of success
Three students gave a name that shows a conclusion they
reached or an insight for life:
Na’amah: The way to life
Sarah: Do no t despair
Offer: The art of education
During this study an attempt was made to outline the journey
of the individual in his or her passage through the educational
system. Early detection and identification of learning disability
and the emotional problems that may accompany it, as well as
appropriate intervention, are essential for arming young people
to effectively cope with learning disability during high school
and beyond.
This research demonstrated that students’ perception of the
situation, as either a threat or a challenge, is a main factor in
their selection of coping style—coping with the learning diffi-
culty itself and with the feelings that accompany the difficulty.
The selection of coping strategies is related to a variety of in-
gredients. The main ingredient is the stage of acceptance of the
disability and processing the sense of loss that accompanies
diagnosis. It is important to look at the student’s feelings,
which are natural to loss or grief, as well as other factors such
as personality structure, family system, social environment and
school system.
It appears that the day of the significant diagnosis, the speci-
fic day that a student receives th information about the disabi- e
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 383
Table 1.
How figurative language reveals the stage of acceptance of learning disability and methods of copying: from diagnosis to acceptance.
Stage Response and
Action Characteri stics of
Figurative Language Examples Directions for
Denial, blaming
Inability to provide an
image; negative words
about the disability;
images of a criminal
I have no difficulty; it’s not hard for me; I don’t
have a learning disability; I have n o idea how to
give an im age because I don’t have a problem; it’s a
whole bunch of things that got thrown at me ; lik e a
file they created on me in order to categorize me, a
label they stuck on me
self-awareness: defining
the disability and presenting
the idea of recruiting
resources t o deal with
Stage 1:
The shock of
diagnosis: Denial
and lack of
understanding of
the disability Disregarding the
Comparison with coping
with other di f f i culties in
Not relevant; like any difficulty; jus t another one of
the difficulti es one has to cope with; another stage
of life; like coping with life
Developing academ i c
competenc e: realistic
understanding of the
disability and its
Focus on the
Flow, running, endless
galloping movement;
path with no exit;
ascending and climbing
to no destination
Like running 2000 m. without stopping; endless
war; going up and down stairs and never g etting
anywhere; like learning to drive; like a horse with a
rider spurring it – the horse wants the rider to ge t off
but it goes on and on
Setting re alistic goals and
providing effective
strateg ies: realistic
dispersal of pressure and
investment in the correct
Stage 2:
Understandi ng the
nature of the
disability; partial
readiness to
recruit inner
resources to ward
cognitive a n d
emotional cop-
Focus on the
Being stuck, obstruction,
lack, limit, difficult
characteristic, heavy
burden, war before
Like walk in g around with 5 gallons on your back;
like a man with his hands tied behind his bac k; li k e
a man with a hole in his heart; like a dim screen that
you have to get by with; like s omething in your
brain that is about to explode; a pressure co ok er
about to explode
Breaking through
emotional barr ie rs and
being “stuck” at the
difficulty: emotional
support for the passage
from the fe eling of threa t t o
learning challenge, and
belief in ability to defend
one’s self
Focus on coping
with the
Difficulty of the passage
itself from difficulty to
Overcoming difficulty; a difficult thing that you
have no choice but to do; a difficult and frustrating
thing that i s always there; coping with a difficult
thing that is holding you back in life; something that
is difficult in the beginning and the easy; like a
puzzle with lo ts of pieces – it’s difficult at the
beginning and then as it be gins to fit together it gets
Inclusion of the disability
as part of self-image:
emotional support and
“straight talk” about t h e
nature of the difficulty ;
narrative therapy whose
goal is freeing the stude n t
toward complete
acceptance; realistic coping
with difficult y; identifying
the difficulty as one
characteristic that is part of
a positive self-i mage; con-
structing a positive
Stage 3:
of the disability;
readiness to
accept and use
the educational
system provides
and insistence on
the right to
receive them Focus on
success a nd
thoughts about
the future
Finish line, reaching the
summit and looking back
with satisfaction, good
experience, redem ptio n
Like a long road and you finally reach the finish
line; something that requires you to marshal your
resources toward a specific goal; like climbing a
great peak an looking back at where you came from
and saying, “I did that”; like reading the Torah at
your bar m itzvah, it gets easier as you go along an d
in the end it’s a corrective experience; like the
Exodus from Egypt
Setting directions and
goals for the future:
effective preparation for
university studies;
recruiting determination to
realize realistic goals f o r the
lity that he or she has, is an important turning point. If delivery
of the information is done properly and accompanied by the
right emotional assistance, it has the potential to motivate the
process in a positive direction and bring it to the stage of
reconciliation and the attribution of appropriate meaning to the
situation, such that the student learns to contain the disability as
one part of self-perception and treat it as a particular feature,
one that makes normal learning more difficult, but something
that she/he has the power to cope with. Recruiting and mobili-
zation of forces depends on the place that the student allocates
to the learning disability within his or her personal world. This
study indicates the need to hear the voices of students, learn
from them about the ways to cope, what helps them succeed
and what drives the process be tter so th ey can re ach the st ag e of
reconciliation. In order to understand where and how to inter-
vene properly, educators must take into account all the factors
involved, such as fear of labeling, personality characteristics,
cultural norms and different styles of coping. Proper inter-
vention tailored to the stage of acceptance of the disability
which the student is at, and to the coping style, will help in
deve- loping optimal intervention program.
One fruitful method that can help in detecting the stage of
acceptance of disability and the style of coping is open dialogue
with the student and the suggestion that students describe their
experiences by using figurative language. Figurative language
gives expression to overt and hidden feelings that help the edu-
cational professional focus on what is needed to help a student
emotionally as well as academically. Promoting the emotional
process is key to breaking through the obstruction that delays
progress during complex academic learning.
Optimal treatment-intervention and optimal emotional ad-
vancement, as opposed to just promotion of learning in high
school students with learning disabilities, will help them in the
future in adaptive integration into university, in order to turn
their future understanding of higher education from threat to
This study found that Figurative Language is an important
and effective tool for identifying learning-disabled adolescents’
stage of acceptance of their disability. It also helps to identify
the coping style chosen by the adolescent to manage the disa-
bility. Accurate identification of the stage and coping style can
be a Springboard for Treatment and can help strengthen the
student emotionally and academically. It is therefore recom-
mended that the tool be used in schools for detection and treat-
ment with learning disabled students. One limitation of the stu-
dy is the narrow age range researched. Future studies should
examine other age groups such as elementary and junior high
school students, in order for the tool to be used for detection
and preventive care before students reach high school. Pretreat-
ment will help adolescents cope better with the challenges of
high school.
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Guide to Interview 1: semi-structured in-depth interview
conducted for participants in the tenth grade before matri-
culation exams:
I’m interested in the life stories of the students taking their
matriculation exams while using accommodations. Please tell
me the story of your life since you recall to this day.
Specific Questions (According to the Subjects that
Students Bring Up)
History of education:
First signs of difficulty, the response of the surrounding and
the coping.
Who located the difficulty, in what grade and how?
What did you use as educational assistance - how effective
was it?
Replies of the family, friends and teachers at the various
stations at school.
What grade did you formally started using the accommo-
dations and how did the surrounding respond?
How did the transfers between educational frameworks affect
you, in the context of learning difficulties?
Concept of learning disability and its effects:
When were you diagnosed (the full diagnosis), what were
you told and how did your parents react?
Can you define the difficulty and what is it like?
How did friends react and when did you, decide, if ever to
share the information with them?
Describe positive and negative experiences in the context of
the disa bi lity.
How do you cope today with learning and with responses
from the surrounding?
What do you do at leisure—do you have other occupations?
Vision for the Future
What is your chance of success in matriculation exams?
How do you see yourself in future practice?
What will you advise another child who started high school
and is in your sit uation?
How will the difficulty affect your choice of profession?
What would you like to do “when you grow up”?
Interview Guide 2: Semi-Structured In-Depth
Interview for Eleventh Grade Students before
Matriculation Exams
An Open Question
A year has passed since we met the day before Passover last
year. I’m still interested in what goes on with students who
struggle with matriculation exams while using the accommo-
dations. Please tell me what happened since we parted until
Specific Questions (According to the Subjects That
Students Bring Up)
Description of cognitive coping with matriculation exams;
How do you prepare for the tests/and what are the support
systems you use within and outside the school?
Describe the test event and what you thought before/after it.
Describe your daily routine during the tests.
Describe how to cope, in your learning and emotionally, with
academic stress.
Describe a situation where you felt a change in your attitude
towards yourself and towards the school.
Support of parents, teachers, family—who helped you par-
Friends’ attitude—social coping—social activities outside of
school and in leisure.
Description of the way the accommodations were used, their
effectiveness, how the school organized for that and the
response of the surrounding.
Describe difficulties - what is difficulty un learning? Give an
image to the difficulty: for me to study for the matriculation
exams is like…
Describe the experience of coping with learning - how it puts
you in compare of the others?
Implications for the Future
Results against expectations—what is the feeling? Are the
grades so far compatible with the expectations?
Description of an event—the day when he/she received the
results and his/her personal response/reaction of the surround-
Thoughts about the continued success in matriculation exams
and the extent of investment required.
Thoughts about the chances of success in adulthood.
Tips to another child who has difficulties and is in the be-
ginning of the way.
Plans for the future and how learning disability will affect the
choice of profession.
Message to the school and teachers.
Interview Guide 3: Semi-Structured In-Depth
Interview with Students in the Twelfth Grade
An Open Question
A year has passed since we parted the day before Passover
last year. I’m still interested in what goes on with students who
struggling with matriculation exams while using the accom-
modations. Please tell me what happened since the day we
parted until today.
Specific Questions (According to the Subjects that
Students Bring Up)
Description of experience and difficulties:
Description of test preparation, support systems and daily
Compare 10th grade, 11th grade and 12th frade (senior year
in terms of emotional and cognitive coping.Use of the accom-
modations, the attitude of teachers, friends and estima- tion of
the extent of effectiveness and organizing.
Observing the experience—a description of things that have
changed/if cha nged:
The attitude of the society, parents, teachers.
The role of counselor/psychologist/diagnosist.
I as compared to the others—self-perception in relation to
peer group.
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 387
Perception of disability and its impact on coping with learn-
Are the results consistent with expectations so far?
New Insights and Vision for the Future
Thoughts of the future—how difficulty will affect occu-
pational or profession choices.
How will the difficulty or what you learned from your coping
on your future and your life?
Will you use accommodations out of school, in future
Thinking back—what was most helpful to you?
What is the message to school, and what advice will you give
to a child with a learning disability in the beginning of his way?
Give an image to your coping: For me, to pass the matri-
culation exams, was like: _________________
What would you like/want to contribute to others from your
Plans for next year and their connection to what you went
The process you went through—Name the story:
Choose a name for yourself: