Just Give Me 5 More Minutes
This is all about The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon between the Earth and the Moon...
Thank you for giving me just five more minutes to discuss a very important topic, Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD). The interested reader is aware that approximately 7-10 percent of students nationwide are diagnosed by IEP teams with SLD. As a professional school psychologist, an educational specialist, a consumer, a humanist, a parent, and a taxpayer, I think it is important to continue to think about what we are doing.
2) To diagnose learning disabilities, a discrepancy model was invented. As per the formula, if there was a
discrepancy between ability and achievement, it was assumed there must something wrong with the child's brain (i.e., s/he had a "disability"). This cognitive model was determined through consensus by a bunch of people.
3) In the early to mid-nineties, the behaviorists noted the flaws in the cognitive model and rebelled. They invented their own model to identify learning disabilities. This behavioral model, like all behavioral models, strived to manipulate the environment and provided "interventions." If a student did not respond positively to their "powerful research-based interventions," then the behaviorists assumed there must be something wrong with the child's brain (i.e., s/he had a "disability"). This behavioral model (now known as RtI) came to fruition through consensus too.
4) At this point in history (2000-2013), it is quite evident the old traditional discrepancy [cognitive] model and the new RtI [behavioral] models are seriously flawed. Neither model effectively assesses or diagnoses learning disabilities, if you believe in that kind of thing. You don't have to believe me here, just ask a cognitivist if the behavioral model works and ask a behaviorist if the cognitive model works.
5) So everyone got together and held another big summit meeting and once again, through consensus, agreed there is indeed such a thing a learning disability... there must be (otherwise we'll all be out of a job). They recommended further research.
If Program A doesn't work and Program B doesn't work, what should we do?
a) Use Program A
b) Use Program B
c) Find a Better Program
d) Conduct Further Research
The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon
The original title of this piece was to be, "Construct Validity." But let's face it, that's too boring... no one would ever click on that link. So let's examine this topic In Real Language.
First, what is construct validity? Just so you don't think I'm trying to trick you, let's go to the Psychology Dictionary. Here is their [commonly accepted] definition:
Construct validity: "the magnitude to which an analysis or tool is able to gauge an abstract characteristic, capacity, or construct."
In real language, that means how well is your RtI or traditional model able to measure the abstract/invented concept of a learning disability? Everybody's talking about the old way or the new way to assess for a learning disability. Everybody's talking about the validity of the test or method they are using, but nobody's talking about whether or not the abstract concept even exists.
Let me provide an example. Let's say you were given the assignment to determine the best way to measure the exact location of The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon pictured above. This dragon is reportedly located somewhere in space between the Earth and the Moon.
How would you determine it's exact location? Well you would probably first research all methods available to you and make your decision based on the accuracy/validity of the instrument, ease of use, cost, time, and other factors. I'm guessing you would check out NASA and other government and private agencies and choose a modern instrument utilizing GPS, lazers, satellites, and/or other [expensive] state-of-the-art technologies. From all optionss available you would ultimately choose the most accurate method to determine the exact location of The Elusive Blue & Silver Dragon. You would of course want a valid instrument to provide an accurate measurement!!! Of course you would.
But are you one of the very few who would first stop and ask, "is there even such a thing as The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon somewhere out there between the Earth and the Moon?" Would you? That's what I would do. In fact, that's what I'm doing here. I don't believe The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon is out there. In fact, I just made it up just like SLD was made up. You can have the best, most valid instrument in existence to determine it's location, but really it doesn't matter, because there is no Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon. Sorry.
So there you have it. Which way do you prefer to use to measure an invalid construct? If you want, you can choose the old traditional model or you can choose the new RtI model to measure this thing that, um, just doesn't exist.
As always, it's your choice of course, but you have to choose.
"Not to decide is to decide."
Other Programs & Approaches
You might/should be asking, "what other programs, models, and philosophies are there?"
- Scientific: Acknowledge LD is an invalid construct and disinvent it. It's not scientifically sound.
- Educational: If the child is low in reading, provide professional reading instruction;
- Humanistic: Children suffer when misdiagnosed;
- Noncategorical: RWOL used to be endorsed by NASP (now replaced by RtI [cop out]);
- Spiritual: Most private religious schools do not believe in LD and do not provide special education;
- Functional: Is the current model working?
- Existential: Should LD even exist?
- Reality Orientation: Rejects the concepts of mental illness, diagnosis, and punishment;
- Utilitarian: Is it useful to call the student disabled just because s/he struggles with reading?
- Phenomenology: Your belief regarding SLD is based on your perceptions. Gather knowledge.
- Rationalism: Does it make sense? Is is logical?
- Taxpayer: How many billions does this failed construct cost the taxpayers?
Okay, here's the question, in the form of a scenario, for you to consider.
You are the parent and your son is in the third grade. He hates homework and brings home sad faces on a daily basis because he doesn't complete his homework. He also dislikes school and his teacher. In particular, like 50% of the class (all the other boys), he struggles with reading. His teacher administers the DIBELS and finds that he is a year behind grade level in reading fluency. She tells you that she suspects he has a learning disability and would like to refer him for consideration of special education. She also pulls you aside in the hallway and says, "I'll deny ever saying this but he obviously has ADHD and you need to put him on medications." The teacher says, "go home and think about it, tomorrow, come in and talk with the school psychologist to sign the consent form. I'll get the psychologist right on that."
You go home and ponder this serious issue. You had never suspected anything was wrong with your son's brain before. He is the Captain of his basketball team. He has a lot of friends. He is building a boat in the garage as he is working toward attaining his Eagle Scout badge.
You go on the internet and read up on learning disabilities, ADHD, and special education to gather information so you can make a great decision for your son. You go in to school the next day to consult with the school psychologist at 8 o'clock a.m. sharp.
What do you do?
a) Give consent for your son to be assessed for SLD and consider special education eligibility;
b) Place your son in special education (Tier III RtI Intervention) and then start assessment to see if he has LD;
c) Take your son to the local mental health center to be assessed for ADHD;
d) Have mental health place your son on meds and then begin ADHD assessment;
e) Assess for SLD and ADHD;
f) Assess for SLD, ADHD, and all other disabilities just to make sure once and for all;
g) Tell the school psychologist, "thank you for the offer but no thanks;"
h) Ask the school psychologist what method(s) [RtI or discrepancy model] s/he will use to determine SLD;
i) Request a 504 plan because your son is now "regarded as possessing a condition" by his teacher;
j) Ask the school to just provide the best reading instruction they can. Ask them to provide reasonable amounts of homework. Ask the teacher to quit yelling at your son. Ask that no more sad faces are given or if they must be, then your son gets to give the teacher sad faces too;
k) Ask if they know or care they will be doubling your son's chance becoming unemployed if they diagnose SLD;
l) Tell your son to start completing his homework and pay attention in class or else;
m) Ask if the SLD or ADHD results will show up on a CAT scan;
n) Tell the school you read this article and you don't believe in SLD and offer to start a new parent-school group to bring a noncategorical program into the school;
I can't tell you what the right answer is. I know what my answer is, but you, as the expert in your child's life, will make the very best decision you can based on all the information available to you as you seek to find The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon.
You get to decide if you believe any of this or if it's all just crazy talk. But the key word is, "believe." Any way you look at it, it's still just a belief based on your perceptions of reality. Millions still believe in SLD but millions of others are starting to get it.
Do you believe in The Elusive Blue & Silver Space Dragon or not? Join in with the post-modernists, the humanists, the existentialists, the rationalists, the spiritualists, the um, Republicans, the bleeding hearts and the artists, and the rest!
First, read their "Fact Sheet," and then spread the word and contact each of the individuals from NJCLD below and politely ask them to consider the views presented by the post-modernists and humanists. Cite this site if they would like additional information in order to make a great decision.
You could do something terrific right now...
References, Further Reading, & Um, Research
I always encourage all humans to gather information, think, and then make great decisions.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Developmental Disabilities increasing in US. According to CDC, 7.66% of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with LD, an increase of 5.5% in the past ten years. Lots of interesting data on this page including the fact that males are twice as likely to be diagnosed in our present matriarchal educational system and that children from poverty and those insured by Medicaid were twice as likely to be diagnosed with LD. Hmmmm, this couldn't be all about money, could it? I've been in this field for approximately 30 years and this is the first I've heard SLD is considered a developmental disability. I guess if you're a male born into poverty, covered by Medicaid, and you hate homework, you must have a developmental disability? How can this disease be controlled?
National Center FOR Learning Disabilities. The State of Learning Disabilities. Published every ten years, this is kind of an interesting read if you believe in SLD. Just remember, the NCLD is FOR learning disabilities.
National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD).Learning Disabilities: Historical Perspectives (Page 4). Read all seven pages of this interesting and pretty accurate piece by Hallahan addressing the history of LD, from it's invention to modern day. You will find I am categorized as a post-modernist, and rightfully so, but not because of cyncism. I think the modern system is unethical, unscientific, and harms children and society; I would prefer to think of my views as skeptical, honorable, and ethical. It's time to move on from the old ineffective models... it's what's best for humans.
In 2001, The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), US Department of Education, held a big summit meeting to address issues related to SLD. It is important to note all those issues still exist twelve years later, but, this page will provide the interested reader a list of several of the key issues. Learning Disabilities Summit: Building a Foundation for the Future White Papers.
Specific Learning Disabilities: Building Consensus for Identification and Classification. Here's the final result of the great LD Summit Meeting. Everyone got together and agreed, through consensus, that they'll keep trying really, really hard; further research was recommended.
Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). LDA White Paper. This is the cognitivist's manifesto, 2010. The cognitivists use the old traditional discrepancy model to find out what's wrong with your child's brain. The behaviorists have pretty much ripped this approach to shreds, but it's still fun to read.
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) and Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE) White Paper on RtI. They're gettin' together to tell you why they're liking RtI. Great minds think alike.
LD Online, featuring the NJCLD (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities). Navigate down the page... under LD Topics, click on the link, "Report: Learning Disabilities: Implications for Policy Regarding Research and Practice" (note, it will open a PDF document). It starts, "...NJCLD affirms that the construct of learning disabilities (LD) represents a valid, unique, and heterogenous group of disorders, and that recognition of this construct is essential for sound policy and practice." You gotta' believe, baby! Lots of other great links on that page to explore, for example, "NJCLD's current definition of LD."
There are a lot more... I'll probably add more links as time goes on. As you read up on this topic I'm sure you will find millions of related links. SLD is a pretty big business.
That's all I have time for right now because my 5 minutes are up.
Updated & Revised on July 6th, 2019
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