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LEARNING DISABILITIES: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES - page 13 / 42

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had IQs from 51 to 107. Thus, several of the students had IQs in the normal range, and several more were thought to have depressed IQ scores because of behavioral characteristics such as distractibility. Cruickshank et al. wrestled with criteria to use for inclusion in the study and ended up focusing on hyperactivity:

The authors of this study and members of the Diagnostic Team struggled for many hours to obtain a meeting of the minds regarding definitions. They were hindered by the stereotypes of the several professions and by the literature which employed such terms as brain injury, brain damage, and brain disorder….

The children about whom this monograph is concerned are those who are defined as hyperactive, with or without the diagnosis of brain damage. Specific brain injury is difficult to delineate in every instance….

Hyperactivity is herein defined to include…short attention span, visual and auditory distractibility, and disturbances of perception leading to dissociative tendencies. (Cruickshank et al., 1961, pp. 9–10)

Even though they focused on hyperactivity, the extensive case histories Cruickshank et al. presented indicate that many of the children, today, would be considered learning disabled and/or learning disabled with comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Similar to the educational program recommended by Strauss and Lehtinen (1947), the Montgomery County Project focused on providing an environment that would help students cope with their distractibility and hyperactivity. Thus, the program emphasized (a) reducing irrelevant stimuli, (b) enhancing relevant stimuli, and (c) providing highly structured assignments. For example, students frequently used cubicles to shield them from irrelevant stimulation; windows were opaque; the classrooms were painted in a uniform color; closets and cabinets were enclosed; and materials such as calendars, handwriting charts, paintings, murals, and so forth were only put on display when needed. On the other hand, there was an attempt to make teaching materials used during instruction as colorful and stimulating as possible:

  • what is meant by a structured program? For example, upon coming into the classroom the child

will hang his hat and coat on a given hook—not on any hook of his choice, but on the same hook every day. He will place his lunch box, if he brings one, on a specific shelf each day. He will then go to his cubicle, take his seat, and from that point on follow the teacher’s instructions concerning learning tasks, use of toilet, luncheon activities, and all other experiences…. The day’s program will be so completely simplified…that the possibility of failure experiences will be almost completely minimized. (Cruickshank et al., 1961, p. 18)

It is fair to say that the primary focus of the Montgomery County project, at least as described in the 1961 publication, was on controlling the learning environment in comparison to academic instruction. The academic instruction recommendations tended to be dominated by readiness training in the form of perceptual and perceptual-motor exercises, handwriting, and arithmetic, with relatively little attention devoted to reading. Also, there was relatively little reference to phonics instruction.

Results after 1 year indicated that the program was effective in increasing perceptual-motor abilities as measured by the Bender-Gestalt test and in reducing the degree of distractibility as measured by a visual figure-background test. However, no effects were found for academic achievement or IQ. A 1-year followup found the perceptual-motor and attention advantages for the experimental group students had been eliminated.7

EMERGENT PERIOD (C.1960 TO 1975)

From about 1960 to 1975, learning disabilities began its emergence as a formal category. It was during this period that (a) the term learning disabilities was introduced; (b) the federal government included learning

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