Archive for the 'Foundation' Category

Ensley on LD

In a post on her blog that was also carried by the Huffington Post, Karem Ensley discussed “3 Things You Should Know About Learning Disabilities.” I don’t want to steal her content (better that one read it in its original form), but suffice it to say that she focused on foundational points (e.g., having LD does not mean one is dumb) and avoided falling into popular traps (e.g., she addressed “learning differently” without going for learning styles).

Procedural learning theory of dyslexia and dysgraphia

In “Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Procedural Learning and the Cerebellum,” Roderick Nicolson and Angela Fawcett present a fascinating and, to me, strong argument for unifying theoretical views of dyslexia and dysgraphia. To be sure, their analysis is preliminary and basic, but my first read left me feeling as if they’d hit lots of good points. They’ve emphasized impairment of automatic procedural learning in the cerebellum at the level of neural circuits, but in dysgraphia the problems are with motor circuits and in dyslexia they are in the language circuits. In developing their case, they integrate a broad range of neurological and psychological research.

In this review we focus on the developmental disorders of dyslexia (a disorder of reading) and dysgraphia (a disorder of writing), considering their commonalities and differences with a view to reflecting on the theoretical implications. Interest in dysgraphia was stimulated by the distinction between phonological and surface dyslexia (Castles and Coltheart, 1993), which claimed that orthographic problems (spelling) were separable from phonological reading problems. While this distinction has received mixed support ([Snowling et al., 1996] and [Stanovich et al., 1997]) it led to a fruitful analysis not only of the underlying causes of orthographic difficulties, but also to the widespread recognition of developmental difficulties in handwriting control ([Deuel, 1995], [Manis et al., 1996] and Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000 L. Sprenger-Charolles, P. Cole, P. Lacert and W. Serniclaes, On subtypes of developmental dyslexia: Evidence from processing time and accuracy scores, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology-Revue Canadienne De Psychologie Experimentale 54 (2000), pp. 87–104. Abstract | Full Text via CrossRef[Sprenger-Charolles et al., 2000]). The result of this theoretical and empirical progress is that there are two usages of the term dysgraphia. One takes dysgraphia to refer to errors of writing that are analogous to errors in reading (e.g., surface, phonological or deep dysgraphia corresponding to surface, phonological and deep dyslexia), the other relating to difficulties in handwriting control. Furthermore, despite these attempts at differentiation, there remains some controversy in the literature as to whether motor difficulties in handwriting should be subsumed under the label dyslexia.
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Willingham making sense of brain research

In what will be his last guest column for the Washington Post education column, “The Answer Sheet,” cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham advises people to be skeptical about the poppycock that masquerades as scientific advice about brain-based education. Under the headline “Willingham: 3 brain facts every educator should know,” Professor Willingham explains clearly and with the force of evidence and plain, ordinary reason why “most of what you see advertised as educational advice rooted in neuroscience is bunkum.”

Professor Willingham contends that there are three facts educators should know.
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LD opinion survey: good news, bad news

For the fourth time, the Roper Public Affairs &’ Corporate Communications group has reported a survey of US opinion about Learning Disabilities to the Tremaine Foundation. Although the report is entitled “Measuring Progress in Public & Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities,” it also includes data about the views of the general public, teachers, and school administrators. It’s worth reading the entire document, but here are a few notes to whet the appetite.
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HB, H. Myklebust

photo of Myklebust in lab

On this day in 1920 Helmer Myklebust was born in Lester (IA, US). Professor Myklebust was among a half-dozen educators and psychologists who provided the critical academic support for the creation of the special education services for students with Learning Disabilities. Although Professor Myklebust’s work influenced Learning Disabilities, he also made substantial contributions to the assessment and treatment of individuals with hearing problems and the deaf.

Professor Myklebust taught at Northwestern University (Chicago, IL, US), Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL, US), and the University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, IL, US; it was called “University of Illinois Chicago Circle” at that time). He published scores of articles and books, including the five-volume Progress in Learning Disabilities which collected papers by experts during the early days of LD.

In 2000 Naomi Zigmond, one of the people who was fortunate enough to study with Professory Myklebust, commented on his influence on her research career.

It was easy to be passionate about children with learning disabilities in those early days. We knew so little. We had so much to find out. Under Myklebust’s tutelage, we approached each child as a detective approaches a new case. We looked for clues in what the child could and could not do, how he or she learned, how to get through to that brain where others had failed. He had us search relentlessly “for the right way in” so that a child could be helped to learn how to understand, or communicate, or read, or write, or calculate, or behave in a socially appropriate manner. If a child didn’t learn, we were responsible. We hadn’t figured her out well enough yet. We hadn’t found the right way to teach her. We hadn’t been good enough detectives.

Professor Myklebust died 26 February 2008. Link to the LD Blog post announcing Professor Myklebust’s death.


Zigmond, N. (2000). Reflections on a research career: Research as detective work. Exceptional Children, 66, 295-304.

Kirk used “Learning Disability” before 1963

I was fiddling around with a new feature of Google and thought I’d test its use on a task. Having just read the only entry in the proposed canon for LD (please add to it, folks), I thought I’d search for instances of the perpetuation of the myth that S. A. Kirk coined the term Learning Disability in 1963 in a speech to the group that would become the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (and, ultimately, the the Learning Disabilities Association of America, and of many other countries, too).

“But, everybody says that’s when he coined it, don’t they?” Not really. Some folks know that Professor Kirk and Barbara Bateman had already used the term “Learning Disabilities” in a paper published a half year earlier (and, given the delay between submission and publication of an article, they’d likely used the term at least a year before the famous meeting).

This analysis does not take anything away from the importance of the meeting in Chicago; that was a signal event, an illustration of the political clout of parents who rally around a common theme in the service of their children. That meeting was the beginning of what one might call the Learning Disabilities movement in the US and now the world. In fact, the LDA site doesn’t make the mistake about the birth of the term; it simply recounts the momentuous events that occured there and then.

Professor Bateman explained it correctly (and she should know) in her 2005 paper “The Play’s the Thing”: “The definition of LD, now controversial, was not an issue when the term learning disabilities was first introduced by Kirk in 1962.”

Anyway, I started a list of places where writers have perpetuated the myth that the term “Learning Disabilities” was introduced in 1963 at the Chicago meeting. Here are a few.

  • “Dr. Kirk’s most influential pronouncement was a speech he delivered to an education conference in 1963, when he coined and defined the term ‘learning disabilities.'”
    New York Times obituary for Professor Kirk.
  • “The phrase ‘learning disability’ was coined here in Chicago in 1963 by Kirk”
  • “The term learning disabilities was first coined in 1963 by Samuel Kirk”
    2005 Newsletter of the Oregon chapter of Learning Disabilities Assocation of America.
  • “The term learning disabilities was first coined in 1963 in Chicago, Illinois, by Samuel Kirk,”
    Doris Johnson’s abstract for a plenary session at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • “The term learning disability was first coined in a speech that Samuel Kirk delivered in 1963 at the Chicago Conference on Children with Perceptual Handicaps.”
    S. W. Lee in The Encyclopedia of School Psychology (p. 290).

But, I really ought to give credit to those who got it right, who didn’t repeat the misinformation. Ahhh, but that’s another entry.

Bateman, B. (2005). The play’s the thing. Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 93-99.

Sigh–new content

Despite getting virtually no recommendations about future content (3 votes!), I’m starting to post some new content. The new content is, in my obviously biased view (else, why would I post it?), pretty important stuff. It’s about research, practice, knowledge, and all that sort of stuff as it connects to Learning Disabilities. In this page, I discuss big-idea concepts that recur in Learning Disabilities. These are the themes that one sees when one reads a diverse array of literature on the topic of LD.

I recommend it. What’s more, you won’t have to find this post each time you want to refer to the page; it will always be directly accessible under the “special content” link in the top navigation bar.

Helmer Myklebust

Helmer R. Myklebust, one of the pioneering figures in Learning Disabilities, died 26 February 2008. Predicated on his work on differentiating among speech disorders, Professor Myklebust emphasized the language-based aspects of Learning Disabilities. He theorized that there were different types of Learning Disabilities and that these types required different treatments. Throughout his career, Professor Myklebust promoted empirical study of language disorders and Learning Disabilities.

Professor Myklebust came to the study of Learning Disabilities after extensive work in hearing and speech disorders. In the 1940s he studied deafness and in the 1950s he focused on aphasia. In 1967, with his collaborator Doris Johnson, Professor Myklebust published one of the first books focused on Learning Disabilities: Learning Disabilities: Educational Principles and Remedial Approaches and later he edited a series of volumes presenting research and theory about Learning Disabilities under the title Progress in Learning Disabilities.

Professor Myklebust sought to differentiate among different variants of Learning Disabilities. He thought that Learning Disabilities could be separated into disorders of auditory language (generalized auditory disorders, auditory receptive disorders, and auditory expressive disorders), disorders of written language (auditory dyslexia, visual dyslexia, and written expression), disorders of arithmetic, and disorders of a non-verbal type. Professor Myklebust proposed that the problems children experienced were a consequence of difficulties in “interneurosensory learning.”

Professor Myklebust, who was born 2 august 1910 in Lester (IA, US), was among a small group of educators and psychologists who generally credited with founding the study of Learning Disabilities. Along with Samuel Kirk, William Cruickshank, Marianne Frostig, Newell Kephart, and perhaps a few others, Myklebust pursued the recognition of the difficulties experienced by these children and their families.

He received a bachelors degree from Augustana College, a masters degrees from Gallaudet College and Temple University, and a doctoral degree from Rutgers University. He taught and conducted research at several institutions, including Northern Illinois University; Northwestern University, where he spent most of his career and where he founded the Children’s Hearing and Aphasia Clinic; University of Illinois, Chicago. Memorial services were held 8 March.

Johnson, D. J., & Myklebust, H. (1967). Learning disabilities: Educational principles and remedial approaches. NY: Grune & Stratton.

Myklebust, H. (1954). Auditory disorders in children: A manual for differential diagnosis. NY: Grune & Stratton.

Myklebust, H. (Ed.). (1968-1975). Progress in learning disabilities (vols. 1-5). NY: Grune & Stratton.

I am late in publishing this note; thanks to Hal McGrady for alerting me to the death of this giant figure in the history or LD.