A Brief History of Learning Disabilities, Part 2: From 1970 to Present Day
In Part 1 we traced the history of Learning Disabilities through the Napoleonic age until 1970. In Part 2, we will see what developments have taken place since then. These include notable legislative advances as well as scientific progress.
South Africa has had a long history of dealing with these challenges. It is a very interesting subject of history. We have written about it in this article.
Up until the 1970’s, the electroencephalogram (EEG) was very often used in diagnosing children for learning challenges. It was in the top 10 most frequently recommended tools for assessing a learning disorder. This declined by the end of the decade, due to serious doubts whether an EGG could actually detect any abnormal brain activity in children with learning disorders.
Dyscalculia was first defined by Ladislav Kosc in a 1974 article.
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. Known as PL 94-142, it was a landmark in legislation. It required that all children receive appropriate education for their needs. It aimed to meet four goals: Special education services would be available to those who need them; decisions with regards to services for students with disabilities would be fair and appropriate; there would be auditing requirements to manage special education; and federal funds would help educate students with disabilities.
Learning disabilities are a lifelong challenge to those who have them. This fact had been established by the end of the 1980’s. Children and adults need support with their condition. This support could be vocational and/or academic. Learning challenges also need support that focuses on social skills.
One of the gaps in the field of learning disabilities was in the transition to life beyond high school. To this end, the three-year Learning Disability Transition Project was commissioned. It followed a learner from the last two years of high school until the end of her first year in tertiary education. The findings of the project revealed the needs in many areas. It showed how important it is to work closely with parents of students with learning disabilities. It also highlighted the need of specialised programs.
These studies had by now revealed the need to integrate a variety of disciplines when it comes to education. They had shown the need among students with learning disabilities for specialised guidance in order to set themselves up for independence in life. It also showed that it is possible for someone in need of remedial assistance to achieve at the tertiary level.
This project was very encouraging. If given the correct support, remedial learners would be able to achieve academically after high school. But another study revealed a very sobering fact. By the end of this decade, only 15% of learners with a learning challenge would go on to tertiary learning after high school.
In 1987 the Interagency Committee on Learning Disabilities released a significant report. It called for centres for the study of learning and attention to be established. They would have a very specific focus. They would do specific research to expand understanding of the phenomenon of learning disorders.
At the very beginning of the decade, PL 94-142 was renamed The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The term “disability” replaced “handicap.” The new law made transition services for students with learning challenges a requirement. Autism and traumatic brain injuries were recognised as eligible conditions for appropriate assistance.
Regions of the brain that behave differently for those with dyslexia were identified. The National Institute of Mental health used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to do this. This allows researchers to look at brain activity in real time. Dr Guinevere Eden led the research team in 1996.
In the same year ldonline.org went live. This offered the first web resources for learning disabilities. Parents and teachers looking to help students with these challenges now had ready access to these resources.
In 1997 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was added to the list of conditions that made a child suitable for services under IDEA. It was categorised with “other health impairments.”
A gene was identified that was closely associated with dyslexia. Its patterns and variations showed a link with the condition. A research team at Yale University identified it in 2005. Dr Jeffrey Gruen led the team.
Lynda Price was one of the researchers who headed up the Learning Disability Transition Project. She was one of Temple University’s associate professors of special education. In 2006 she estimated that one in ten adults in the American workplace have a learning disability. The vast majority would have hidden this from their bosses.
In 2009 Canadian researchers identified Netol, a protein crucial to learning. Dr Michael Salter headed up the team. A deficiency in Netol could result in learning difficulties and disorders.
The stigma of learning disabilities was definitely shown to be on the wane. A child with a learning disability is usually as smart as a child without one. Many experts have known this from the beginning of investigating the phenomenon. A 2010 survey found that 80% of Americans agreed. This is incredible progress. Those in need of assisted learning are being embraced by society at large.
In the same year a biological logical reason for trouble attention was shown. This was by researching the electrical patterns of the brain. Children with ADHD showed differences to those without the condition. Researchers at the M.I.N.D. Institute made this identification.
In 2016, Japari School celebrated its 50th anniversary. It commemorated the golden jubilee with a gathering of past and present pupils. There was also a big walk to mark the occasion. The school has grown to over 200 enrolled students. To this day, it maintains classes of no more than 15 students.
In 2019 a controversial theory about dyslexia was debunked. It was thought that children with this disorder had deficits in their cerebellum. But research revealed that this part of the brain is not engaged during reading. It also showed the cerebellum was the same in both dyslexic and non-dyslexic children.
Into the Future
This two-part overview has been very brief. The history of remedial advances is a very broad and complex subject. We have only been able to touch the surface of the development in the field. So much progress has been made. Scientific advances and social awareness about Learning Disabilities have come a long way. But there are still many mysteries to solve in the former and much work still needs to be done in the latter.
Students with a learning challenge have never been simply unintelligent or lazy. It is real progress that most people now understand this. It is very encouraging. Teachers are better able to address the needs of these students at any age. Those needing this specialised help are better able to receive it. This is thanks to the progress in research into these disorders.
Japari has been the premiere school for primary school students with these needs. We will remain the best assisted mainstream learning environment for our learners. We have been on the cutting edge of the latest advances for decades now. We will continue to provide excellent support to our children for many years to come.