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LEARNING DISABILITIES: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES - page 24 / 42

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In 1982, the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD) was founded as an organization separate from CEC. Several key figures in the old DCLD immediately organized and petitioned CEC to start a new division. In 1983, the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of CEC was established, with its first president being Sister Marie Grant.

Over the years the philosophies of the two organizations have become more and more similar. Today, there are virtually no philosophical differences between the two organizations, and many professionals, especially academics, belong to both organizations. In fact, some have pointed out that having two organizations—CLD, with about 3,000 members, and DLD, with about 10,000 members—makes it difficult to provide a united front with respect to advocacy for learning disabilities.

TURBULENT PERIOD (C.1985 TO 2000)

During the most recent period of learning disabilities history, several things have occurred that have solidified the field of learning disabilities even further, but several issues have also threatened to tear the field apart. Driving much of the concern for the latter issues is the extraordinary growth in the prevalence of learning disabilities. From 1976–1977 to 1998–1999, the number of students identified as learning disabled has doubled. There are now more than 2.8 million students identified as learning disabled, which represents just over half of all students with disabilities (USOE, 2000). Although some (Hallahan, 1992) have argued that there may be good reasons for some of this growth, most authorities acknowledge that there is a very good chance that many children are being misdiagnosed as learning disabled.

Areas in which there has been further solidification are definition, the research strands of the learning disabilities research institutes, research on phonological processing, and research on biological causes of learning disabilities. Issues contributing to the turbulence in the field include concern about identification procedures, debate over placement options, and denunciation of the validity of learning disabilities as a real phenomenon by constructivists.

Learning Disabilities Definitions

Early during this period, several new and revised definitions surfaced: the ACLD (now the LDA) definition of 1986, the Interagency Committee on Learning Disabilities (ICLD) definition of 1987, and the NJCLD revised definition of 1988. In the meantime, the definition in federal law covering learning disabilities remained virtually unchanged.

ACLD/LDA definition (1986). The LDA definition is distinctive for its emphasis on the lifelong nature of learning disabilities, its lack of an exclusion clause, and its reference to adaptive behavior:

Specific Learning Disabilities is a chronic condition of presumed neurological origin which selectively interferes with the development, integration, and/or demonstration of verbal and/or nonverbal abilities. Specific Learning Disabilities exists as a distinct handicapping condition and varies in its manifestations and in degree of severity. Throughout life, the condition can affect self- esteem, education, vocation, socialization, and/or daily living activities. (ACLD, 1986, p. 15)

ICLD definition (1987). The ICLD, consisting of representatives from several federal agencies, was charged by Congress to report on several issues. Although Congress did not direct them to do so, they did formulate a definition. Their definition was essentially the same one as the 1981 NJCLD definition, except for two changes. It mentioned deficits in social skills as a type of learning disability, and it added attention deficit disorder as a potential comorbid condition with learning disabilities:

Learning disabilities is a generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities, or of social skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual and presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction. Even though a learning disability may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions (e.g., sensory impairment,

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