I’m wondering what readers hope to find when they come to LDBlog. Drop a comment to let me know, please.
In an article to appear 10 July 2013 in Neuron, Olumide Olulade, Eileen Napoliello, and Guinevere Eden present a series of studies that greatly help educators, psychologists, neurologists, and others understand the relationship between visual deficits and dyslexia. Although most people interested in reading have understood that problems with phonological processes undergird dyslexia, personal accounts of those with dyslexia and some anomalous evidence about the visual cortex and the performance of individuals with dyslexia on certain visual tasks kept the possibility of a visual component open to debate. Professor Eden’s group devised studies and collected the data that shed light on these issues.
In a nutshell, in their first study, Eden’s team found the same results that others had found: When their participants with dyslexia were compared to similar aged children, they showed certain deficits in visual processing associated with a particular part of the brain shown by fMRI. However, when their participants were compared with younger children of like reading ability, there are no deficits in the visual performance; so, these children must not have had the visual problems all along. In their third study, the researchers provided even stronger evidence: The provided powerful remedial reading instruction to their participants and they observed not only improved reading outcomes, but they also found that the students had improved performance on the visual tasks as reflected in fMRI. (Click the accompanying image for a movie of Professors Eden and Olulade explaining the experiments.)
Here is the abstract:
Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-domi- nated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identifica- tion and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion pro- cessing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age- matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonolog- ical-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunc- tion is not causal to dyslexia but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.
Olulade, O. A., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Abnormal visual motion processing is not a cause of dyslexia. Neuron, 79, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.002
In the spring of 2012, Louisa Moats published an article in New Times for DLD, the newsletter of the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of the Council for Exceptional Children, that presented concerns about the consequences of US states’ adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on the teaching and learning of students with Learning Disabilities. Moats, who is well-known for her work on early literacy and professional development, noted that the CCSS consists of goals that must be turned into curricula and lesson plans by others, and it is those instructional procedures that will be critical for students with or at risk of developing Learning Disabilities. Given how common students with Learning Disabilities, language problems, and other learning risks are, Moats said that instructional practices cannot leave mastery of fundamental skills up to incidental learning or embedded instruction.
With the recent promotion of the CCSS’ emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, the kind of instruction most necessary and beneficial for students with LD is getting very little emphasis in workshops, publications, and policy discussions. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best for students with LD and learning challenges (Archer & Hughes, 2011) are receiving much less attention than they deserve, and the result will be lower student achievement, not higher.
Moats made additional points, including a strong appeal for advocating to prepare educators to teach literacy skills effectively. Interested readers can obtain a copy of the full copy of “Reconciling the CCSS with Realities of Learning Disabilities” from the DLD Web site, TeachingLD.org.
[Disclosure: I’m associated with DLD as a member, a former officer, and its executive director.]
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) posted a video of Susan E. Swedo, M.D. and Chair of the APA’s work group that developed the revised definition of “learning disorder” for APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), explaining that the new definition will allow psychiatrists to use a broad classification and then focus on specific characteristics of individual cases. You can watch this 50-sec video of Dr. Swedo explaining not very much about what’s been a pretty controversial decision.
I would encourage folks not to work themselves into too much of a lather about the APA’s decision to alter its definition of “learning disorders.” The psychiatrists’ definition of these problems doesn’t have much effect in the USA on the legal definition of LD that influences decisions about services in schools. The APA (not, by the way, to be confused with the American Psychological Association, aka “APA”) uses its definition for the purposes of classification and (importantly) billing insurance companies. The diagnostic and statistical manuals are designed to be used by “a wide range of health and mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, occupational and rehabilitation therapists, and counselors” (see the DSM site), not by educators.
For folks wanting to learn more on this topic, the Learning Disabilities Association of America posted a brief document in the summer of 2012 in which Larry Silver summarized background and updated information about DSM and learning disorders in DSM-5.
The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, a film by James Redford that portrays dyslexia as both a real problem with learning to read and also a force in individuals’ lives to develop alternative strengths, is scheduled to air on US national television 29 October 2012. Mr. Redford uses the life experiences of individuals, including children and well-known public figures, to dispel myths about dyslexia.
A dyslexic high school student pursues admission to a leading college—a challenge for a boy who didn’t learn to read until 4th grade. Additional accounts of the dyslexic experience from children, experts, and iconic leaders at the top of their fields, help us to understand that dyslexia, a persistent problem with learning to read, can be as great a gift as it sometimes is an obstacle.
In The Big Picture (also known as The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival), Mr. Redford incorporated interviews with and content about many different people. As the faces of dyslexia, some of those involved in the production (Allison Schwartz, producer Karen Pritzker’s daughter, and Dylan Redford, Mr. Redford’s son) will be new to readers of LD Blog. Of course, some public figures who have remarkable achievement despite their dyslexia (e.g., businessman Charles Schwab, attorney David Boies) and some of the researchers (Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, naturally) will be familiar to readers of these pages.
Some themes (e.g., LD does not stand for “lazy and dumb”; reversals are not particularly meaningful) should be familiar. But familiarity with these themes and authorities are not reasons to miss this film. I’m looking for a place to see it and I hope you are, too.
According to Jennifer Radcliffe’s story for the Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Experts can’t explain drop in state’s special education numbers,” students with disabilities—and, especially, students with Learning Disabilities—
… seem to be disappearing in Texas.
The Lone Star State diagnosed just 8.8 percent of its public school students as having special needs in 2011, down from 12 percent in 2000. Texas now has the lowest percentage of special education students in the nation – a full 4 percentage points below the U.S. average. Urban giants like the Houston and Dallas school districts identify even fewer children at 7.9 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.
Ms. Radcliffe describes Texas as an atypical state in the distribution of states on the basis of percentages of students identified as having disabilities. And she explains that people do not have adequate explanations for the observed declines. She asks experts for explanations. Under the heading “National rates steady,” she focuses on Learning Disabilities.
The largest category in special education is children with a “specific learning disability.” In Texas, that category peaked in 1999 at 266,934 children, but fell to 172,148 by 2011, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nationally, the percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities dropped from 6.1 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2010, according to the latest federal data.
Overall, national special education rates remained steady at 13 percent in that same span.
That data has [sic] prompted different interpretations.
“It’s very encouraging,” said Jack Fletcher, a University of Houston professor who heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities. “I don’t think people fully understand why, but it does seem to coincide with the state and federal initiatives for beginning reading instruction.”
Teachers are putting forth a greater effort to provide all young children with solid reading instruction and intense intervention, preventing the need for many to be referred to special education, Fletcher said.
Later in her coverage, Ms. Radcliffe interviews Gene Lenz, director of federal and state education policy for the Texas Education Agency, who refers to response to intervention (or instruction; RTI) as a way of avoiding “over-diagnosing” students. She quotes Mr. Lenz as saying, “Districts are taking care to make sure [every effort is made to refer students only after they fail to respond to intervention is] 100 percent true before they place a label on a child.”
These and similar discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification of students as having LD got me to thinking about the topic anew. Of course, alert readers recognize that the topic’s been on the front element a few times in the past (e.g., Does RtI reduce numbers of children in special education? 25 Feb 2010). There are at least a couple of ways to look at these discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification rates.
(1) One might start by looking at RTI as an independent variable. If (musing) RTI were a faithfully implemented approach to managing instructional programming (good screening, powerfully tiers of instruction, careful monitoring, flexible regrouping, strong administrative support, and so forth), what outcomes would one reasonably expect it to affect? Let’s make a list (and here I invite readers to expand my tentative list):
- Higher achievement, especially at the lower tail of the distribution;
- Fewer disciplinary referrals;
- Fewer absences;
- Fewer tardies;
- Higher self-concept outcomes;
- Fewer referrals for special ed;
- Fewer placements in special ed;
- [your dependent variable goes here…].
(2) Alternatively, if one had reduced identification rates, one would have to examine myriad possible causes for that reduction. Why might the percentage of students with, let’s say, SLD, have declined? Let’s make a list (and here, again, I invite readers to expand my tentative list):
- Teachers, those imperfect tests, have gotten the message that referring kids is bad;
- Musical diagnoses: Percentage of kids with autism (Shattuck, 2006) or ADHD has increased;
- RTI has been effective;
- Political systems have changed, leading to new biases (Wiley & Siperstein, 2011);
- The measurement systems themselves have changed;
- [your independent variable goes here…].
So, rather than looking at the situation with the preconception that RTI leads to reduced identification (i.e., RTI ==> lower SLD identification), I’m thinking we ought to be reflective about this issue. In one case, as illustrated in the first image, one is essentially looking at the matter from point of view of the independent variable, sort of looking forward in time. In the other case, one is looking from the effect, looking backward in time (see the second image).
I’d like to see the effects of RTI on these other dependent variables. Some clever data analysts ought to be able to conduct a quasi-regression discontinuity design on a grand scale to assess the effects of RTI in Florida, Texas, or elsewhere, no? Wouldn’t some of these outcomes be just as (or even more likely) to show the benefits of RTI than special education identification, which identifications are made by committees and other hard-to-model factors?
And, I’d like to see some stellar statistical models of variations in identification. In addition, to what extent is what’s being seen in prevalence today different from what was seen when Hallahan and colleagues reported about variation in rates of identification some years ago. Are the differences within the same ranges? Could any changes be essentially normal variation?
Shattuck, P. T. (2006). The contribution of diagnostic substitution to the growing administrative prevalence of autism in US special education. Pediatrics, 117, 1028-1037 doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1516.
Wiley, A., & Siperstein, G. (2011). Seeing red, feeling blue: The impact of state political leaning on state identification rates for emotional disturbance. Behavioral Disorders, 36, 195-207.
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.
Over on The Rundown, a blog affiliated with the US PBS show The Newshour, Jason Kane has an entry focused on Learning Disabilities as a prelude to segments to appear on the TV news show. In collaboration with our friend Sheldon Horowitz of the National Center on Learning Disabilities, Mr. Kane describes “Five Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities.” Check it out and that watch the segments.
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.”