Archive for the 'History' Category

S. A. Kirk, 1904-1996

Sam Kirk

Twenty years ago I posted a message to a mailing list named “SpedTalk” that Samuel A. Kirk had died. Along with William Cruickshank (and a few others), Professor Kirk was instrumental in helping a group of parents establish what we now call “the field” of learning disabilities. I preserved a copy of the content of that message on a Web site I was managing at the time, so you can read it in its entirety if you wish.

Samuel Alexander Kirk, one of the most influential figures in the history of special education, died 21 July 1996. He is survived by his wife and long-time collaborator Winifred D. Kirk, his son Jerry, daughter Lorraine, and sister Hannah.

Kirk, who was born in Rugby, ND, in 1904, obtained bachelors and masters degrees in psychology from the University of Chicago and a PhD in physiological and clinical pscyhology from the University of Michigan. He began his career in 1929 with children with disabilities through employment at the Oaks School in Chicago, working with boys who were delinquent and had mental retardation. During this time, he recalled, “I arranged to tutor [a] boy at nine o’clock in the evening, after the boys were supposed to be asleep. This boy, who was eager to learn, sneaked quietly out of bed at the appointed time each night and met me in a small space between the two dromintory rooms and, actually, in the doorway of the boy’s toilet….I often state that my first experience in tutoring a case of reading disability was not in a school, was not in a clinic, was not in an experimental laboratory, but in a boy’s lavatory” (1976, pp. 242-243).

Link for the copy of that message.

Janet W. Lerner

Janet Weiss Lerner, author of one of the first and most enduring texts about Learning Disabilities, died 25 May 2015. She was 88 years old. She began her career studying under Sam Kirk, Alfred Strauss, and Laura Lehtinen; having learned from the pioneers in the history of special education, Professor Lerner went on to exert giant influence, herself, especially in the area of Learning Disabilities.

Professor Lerner completed a Bachelors of Arts at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) when Professor Kirk chaired the special education department there; later she took a Masters of Education from National Louis University and a Doctor of Philosophy from New York University. She taught at multiple grade levels in both general and special education in New York and Chicago, often focusing on helping children with reading problems.
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Ingvar Lundberg: 1934-2012

Ingvar Lundberg—an internationally renowned psychologist who studied the psychology and pedagogy of reading and writing, learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, and problems in language development—died 23 April 2012. He was 77 years old.

Born in Stockholm 30 September 1934, Professor Lundberg began his academic career after teaching elementary school in the 1950s. He completed undergraduate and graduate training in the 1960s at the University of Stockholm and then began his academic career in the department of psychology at Umeå University in 1967. In 1995, he moved to Göteborg University and held dual appointments at Åbo Akademi, Finland, and Bergen University, Norway, during his tenure there. At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus in Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Although Professor Lundberg’s research ranged across many areas of psychology, we remember him here especially for his work on learning disabilities. He was a long-time member of the International Academy of Research in Learning Disability and the Society for Scientific Studies in Reading. As a perusal of the accompanying selected list of publications will show, he contributed a lot to our understanding of reading processes and problems.

Jacobson, C., & Lundberg, I. (2000). Early prediction of individual growth in reading. Reading and Writing, 13, 273-296.

Lundberg, I. & Nilsson, L.G. (1986). What church examination records can tell us about the inheritance of reading disability. Annals of Dyslexia, 36, 217-236.

Lundberg, I. (1988). Preschool prevention of reading failures: Does training in phonological awareness work? In R. L. Masland & M. W. Masland (Eds.), Preschool prevention of reading failure (pp. 163-176). Parkton, MD: York Press.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1989). Phonemic deficits: A core symptom of developmental dyslexia? The Irish Journal of Psychology, 10, 579-592.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1990). Patterns of information processing skills and word recognition strategies in developmental dyslexia. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 34, 231-240.

Lundberg, I. (1994). Reading difficulties can be predicted and prevented: A Scandinavian perspective on phonological awareness and reading. In C. Hulme & M. Snowling (Eds.), Reading development and dyslexia (pp. 180-199). Philadelphia: Whurr.

Lundberg, I. (1998). Why is learning to read a hard task for some children? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 39, 155-157.

Lundberg, I. (2006). Working memory and reading disability. In L.-G. Nilsson & N. Ohta (Eds.), Memory and society: Psychological perspectives (pp. 198-214). New York: Psychology Press.

Olofsson, Å. & Lundberg, I. (1983). Can phonemic awareness skills be trained in kindergarten? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 24, 34-44.

Mildred Wood inducted to hall of fame

Mildred Hope Fisher Wood, long-time teacher and advocate for Learning Disabilities, was inducted into the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women Hall of Fame 27 August 2011. Ms. Wood, who began teaching in 1939, later became a speech therapist, and eventually migrated to higher education, was 91 years old at the time of recognition. According to published reports, she has served on boards for both the Iowa chapter and the national Learning Disabilities Association.

Dr. Mildred Hope Fisher Wood is a pioneer who brought special education for learning disabilities to the forefront in Iowa, empowering thousands of students each year to lead productive, respected lives. Born in Alta in 1920, Wood earned four degrees from the University of Northern Iowa, did postgraduate work at Syracuse University and the University of Oregon, and earned a doctorate at Indiana University – all to study learning disabilities in children and to develop practices to transform them into learners. She created and taught the first courses on learning disabilities to future teachers at the University of Northern Iowa and conducted hundreds of workshops for teachers, principals, parents, psychologists, and juvenile court officers. Not only is she an advocate for children, she is a mentor for parents and has bettered the lives of innumerable families – often through volunteer work in communities, the church, and throughout the state. Wood is a recognized leader and is a charter member of the National Association for Children with Learning Disabilities and the Iowa Association. She has also been the president of the Iowa Learning Disabilities Association. Wood is a published author, a co-author of a diagnostic test for pre-school children, and the recipient of many awards. Wood was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

News coverage of the Ms. Wood’s induction is available: “Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame inductees announced” by Danielle Plogmann; “Innovative educator, Fischer Wood, inducted into Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame” by John Molseed; “Four Iowa women cited for honors.”

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.

J. Lee Wiederholt

Lee at a desk
J. Lee Wiederholt

J. Lee Wiederholt, a widely published author in special education and assessment, died suddenly 19 August 2007. Professor Wiederholt, who was senior vice president of the publishing firm Pro-Ed, trustee for the Donald D. Hammill Foundation, and the trustee of the Hammill Institute on Disabilities, was widely known for diverse contributions to special education and, especially, Learning Disabilities.

After obtaining a doctorate from Temple University in 1971, Professor Wiederholt served as a member of the faculty at the University of Arizona and University of Texas. For much of his career, he was also affiliated with Pro-Ed, a publishing firm that specialized in tests, books, curricular materials, and journals in the area of special education and related disciplines. For ten years he served as editor of the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

As an academic, Professor Wiederholt provided valuable contributions to our understanding of Learning Disabilities. In 1974 he authored an important history of Learning Disabilities that is still routinely cited in texts and other histories of the discipline. For ten years he served as editor of the Journal of Learning Disabilities. As an author and publisher, he developed widely employed assessments such as the TOAL-4: Test of Adolescent and Adult Language and the GORT-4: Gray Oral Reading Tests, among many others.

Thanks to the Donald D. Hammill Foundation for providing the accompanying photograph.