disabilities on its agenda; (c) parents and professionals founded organizations for learning disabilities; and (d) educational programming for students with learning disabilities blossomed, with a particular focus on psychological processing and perceptual training.
Introduction of the Term Learning Disabilities
Kirk’s definition. Most authorities credit Samuel Kirk as the originator of the term learning disabilities. In the first edition of his Educating Exceptional Children, which became arguably the most widely used college introductory text for special education of its era, Kirk (1962) defined learning disabilities as follows:
A learning disability refers to a retardation, disorder, or delayed development in one or more of the processes of speech, language, reading, writing, arithmetic, or other school subject resulting from a psychological handicap caused by a possible cerebral dysfunction and/or emotional or behavioral disturbances. It is not the result of mental retardation, sensory deprivation, or cultural and instructional factors. (Kirk, 1962, p. 263)
Addressing a group of parents of “perceptually handicapped” children a year later, Kirk (1963) again used the term learning disabilities. Several of the parents at the conference had approached Kirk before he spoke, saying that they needed help in selecting a name for their proposed national organization (Kirk, 1976). Ironically, Kirk first talked of his distaste for labels but then proceeded to introduce a term that has become, by far, the most frequently used label in special education:
I have felt for some time that labels we give children are satisfying to us, but of little help to the child himself. We seem to be satisfied if we can give a technical name to a condition. This gives us the satisfaction of closure. We think we know the answers if we can give the child a name or a label—brain injured, schizophrenic, autistic, mentally retarded, aphasia, etc. As indicated before, the term “brain injury” has little meaning to us from a management or training point of view. It does not tell me if the child is smart or dull, hyperactive or underactive…. The terms cerebral palsy, brain injured, mentally retarded, aphasic, etc. are not actually classification terms. In a sense they are not diagnostic, if by diagnosis we mean an assessment of the child in such a way that leads us to some form of treatment, management, or remediation. In addition, it is not a basic cause since the designation of the child as brain injured does not really tell us why the child is brain injured or how he got that way.
Recently, I have used the term “learning disabilities” to describe a group of children who have disorders in development in language, speech, reading, and associated communication skills needed for social interaction. In this group, I do not include children who have sensory handicaps such as blindness or deafness, because we have methods of managing and training the deaf and the blind. I also exclude from this group children who have generalized mental retardation (Kirk, 1963).
Motivated by Kirk’s speech, the parents immediately formed the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (ACLD), now known as the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), which is generally acknowledged as the largest and most influential learning disabilities parent organization in the United States.
Bateman’s definition. In 1965 a student of Kirk’s, Barbara Bateman, offered the following definition:
Children who have learning disorders are those who manifest an educationally significant discrepancy between their estimated potential and actual level of performance related to basic disorders in the learning process, which may or may not be accompanied by demonstrable central nervous system dysfunction, and which are not secondary to generalized mental retardation, educational or cultural deprivation, severe emotional disturbance, or sensory loss. (Bateman, 1965, p. 220)