Yet another misuse of LD

In “City Pushes Shift for Special Education,” New York Times reporter Jennifer Medina made the same mistake that many reporters before her have made. She used “learning disabilities” as a synonym for “students with disabilities.” I wonder what Ms. Medina’s editor thinks the term “learning disabilities” means.

Here’s a snippet from the article, showing how Ms. Medina lumps autism in with Learning Disabilities:

Enrollment in special education programs has climbed to some 177,000 students, or more than 17 percent of the system, up from roughly 13 percent in 2003. Experts in special education say it is difficult to know what has caused the increase. Theories include better identification of students with learning disabilities, particularly autism….

If readers read the entire story—which is interesting in its own right, despite the error in reporting—they’ll see the mistake in the lede, too. It’s the first time I’ve gotten to use the “Not LD” category in quite a while.

2 Responses to “Yet another misuse of LD”


  • Lumping groups together is so convenient when we want to prove our point, for example, LD and ADHD.

    Then we can look further into who actually “qualifies” as having a learning disability.

    Now, what about the term “learning differences”? A very useful term, but I ask myself whose interests it actually serves?

    Are learning disabilities and learning differences the same thing? Or, are there some with learning differences who wouldn’t “qualify” for having learning disabilities. Does everyone with a learning disability have a learning difference?

    It does seem to be that autism is something different than a learning disability, even though they may have some things in common.

    Let’s try to judge the author favorably and give her the benefit of the doubt.

  • NitzanIsrael, thanks for dropping a comment. Your notes on ‘lumping’ are intriguing. I agree that people sometimes aggregate categories in useful ways; for example, just as dogs can be lumped with cats to make a point about pets, students with Autism can be lumped with students with LD as students with disabilities. Groups can also be disaggregated in beneficial ways; for example, students with LD can fruitfully be separated into those with LD and ADHD and those with LD but not ADHD.

    The author’s mistake was is mis-using legal terms. One might forgive her for that, but in my view it’s still important to separate fact from mistake.

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