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Everything Counts

Do You Realize...

...No One Knows What A Learning Disability Is?

"Do you realize?" Flaming Lips, 2002

I have been questioning not only how we identify it, but if SLD even exists, for years. But since it's been brought up again, this time on the national level, ”Maybe if we reached a consensus on what a learning disability actually is, we could identify it…” (NASP-ListServe, August 27, 2008, Message #53876), I wilI provide another opportunity for you to make a great choice regarding the myth of SLD. You could do something terrific right now.

XP's 25 All-Time Favorite Approaches to SLD:

We usually have the most fun with the lawyer's legal approach, although the government's political approach is, at times, pretty humorous also. Still, there are plenty of other approaches to consider and employ when necessary and appropriate! From an original list of 100, here are my All-Time Top 25 finalists, in no particular order!

01. The Government Approach:

Specific learning disability (34 C.F.R. §§300.7 and 300.541) means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage


02. The Diagnosed Needs Approach:

The student is struggling in reading and needs the individualized and specialized services only available in a special education classroom.

03. The NCLB Approach:

We have a better chance of meeting our API and AYP if he is part of the special education testing population… in fact, his parents can request that he doesn't even have to take the test.

04. The Team Approach:

Hey, SLD is a team decision!

05. The Teacher's Approach:

This kid is driving me up the wall. Get him out of my class now!

06. The Job Security Approach:

We need to disable seven to ten percent of the population in order to keep our jobs.

07. The Oh Well! Approach:

I don't like it either but it's the way the game is played. SLD is a necessary evil. We have to call students bad names in order to, uh, help them.

08. The RtI Approach:

He hasn't responded positively to the third tier of my powerful research based interventions so he must have a learning disability...

09. The Chicken and the Egg Approach:

Sure he doesn't do his homework, but that's because he's frustrated; if we put him in special education, then he'll start doing his homework because he will no longer be frustrated.

10. The Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right (or Blackmail) Approach:

The school says they will retain Johnny unless he's put into special education… so we'll put him in special education - that's better than retention.

11. The Shotgun (or H & P) Approach:

He's fallen so far behind we'll provide everything including special education, school site counseling, mental health therapy, anger management, medications, language development, parent training… then we'll hope and pray something will help him with his learning disability!

12. The There Must Be Something Wrong With Him Approach:

This second grader can't sit for three hours at a time and listen to my awe-inspiring lectures - there must be something wrong with him... he must have some kind of a brain disorder.

13. The Logical Approach:

He can't read so we're going to put him in a classroom with other children who can't read. That will help.

14. The Nepotistic Approach:

The parent wants her kid in special education and she is best friends with the superintendent.

15. The Processing Deficit/Neurological Approach:

He can't remember to do his homework. He has a memory disorder. He requires special education.

16. The Making the Best of a Bad Situation Approach:

It's not a disability… it's just a, um, different way of learning!

17. The Let's Pretend We're Psychiatrists Approach:

I really suspect he has Aspergers, but since there's no research to support Aspergers, we'll call him SLD and exclude him from his peers so he can get the social skills training he requires from me. He'll learn to interact appropriately with peers if we, um, remove him from his peers.

18. The Just Relax Approach:

It's the way the system works. There's nothing any of us can do to change it. Relax!

19. The Empathetic Approach:

I really want to help this kid... let's give him the help he needs.

20. The Consensus Approach:

We all got together one day in our district and the majority of us agreed that a learning disability is…

21. The We're Just Playing The Game Approach:

Look, everyone knows there's no such thing as a learning disability, but if we are going to place him in special education, we have to mark this little box. Shhhhhh.

22. The FAPE Approach:

General education can't provide a free and appropriate education in the most appropriate and least restrictive environment so we're going to call the kid learning disabled and put him into a special education class to get an expensive and less appropriate education in the more restrictive environment.

23. The General Education Approach:

Look, we're already three weeks into this semester and he's fallen so far behind, there's nothing he can do to ever catch up; ever since I've told him that he seems to have given up. I've done all I can, now it's up to special education.

24. The Legal Approach:

I don't care if it's educationally, scientifically, psychologically, or ethically sound or not, it is legally required that you identify SLD.

25. The Let's Flip A Coin Approach:

Heads, he's in... tails, he's out.

I always have a lot to say and I like to often remind my fans, at least once per year, that "Specific Learning Disability" (SLD) is an invented legal and political term... it's a psychological construct - not a, you know, real thing. There certainly is not any sort of scientific or medical or psychological basis for the term. However, the public schools are legally required to call your kid learning disabled when the educational system doesn't work ("Don't blame us, we're gonna blame your kid's brain... but not to worry, we'll give him or her some extra help with that math homework and by doing so we'll be documenting that we're providing FAPE/LRE so we're legally covered when we all go off to mediation"). Think about that for a second.

No matter what you believe SLD actually is, when your child eventually exits the public education system, viola, s/he no longer has it! It's almost like magic.

What's your favorite approach to address your belief in SLD? Ultimately, it really doesn't matter how the recipient of the process was diagnosed and placed... it most likely won't help.

If... oh, never mind. 

Page Revised on June 24th, 2019

Do You Realize © 2007, 2014-21. Donald J. Asbridge, Ed.S. Bakersfield, CA USA. Some rights reserved.