“Learning Disablities’ movement turns 50


 by Valerie Strauss on April 12, 2013 at 4:00 am

brainIt was 50 years ago this month that the movement to help students with learning disabilities began. Here’s what happened. This post was written by Jim Baucom, professor of education, has been teaching for more than a quarter of a century at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont.

By Jim Baucom

This month, we will commemorate an important historical event that opened doors for generations of students with learning differences and, in essence, may have made Landmark College, where I teach possible. At Landmark, we specialize in teaching students who learn differently, using methods designed specifically for those with dyslexia, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Fifty years ago, on April 6, 1963, a group of concerned parents convened a conference in Chicago to discuss a shared frustration:  they all had children who were struggling in school, the cause of which was generally believed to be laziness, lack of intelligence, or just bad parenting.  This group of parents knew better.  They understood that their children were bright and just as eager to learn as any other child, but that they needed help and alternative teaching approaches to succeed in school.

One of the speakers at that conference was Dr. Samuel Kirk, a respected psychologist and eventual pioneer in the field of special education.  In his speech, Kirk used the term “learning disabilities,” which he had coined a few months earlier, to describe the problems these children faced, even though he, himself, had a strong aversion to labels.  The speech had a galvanizing effect on the parents.  They asked Kirk if they could adopt the term “learning disabilities,” not only to describe their children but to give a name to a national organization they wanted to form.  A few months later, the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities was formed, now known as the Learning Disabilities Association of America, still the largest and most influential organization of its kind.

These parents also asked Kirk to join their group and serve as a liaison to Washington, working for changes in legislation, educational practices, and social policy.  Dr. Kirk agreed and, luckily, found a receptive audience in the White House. Perhaps because his own sister, Rosemary, suffered from a severe intellectual disability, President Kennedy named Kirk to head the new Federal Office of Education’s Division of Handicapped Children.

In this position, Dr. Kirk helped persuade Congress to write laws requiring schools to provide an appropriate education for children with learning disabilities, and his influence in Washington helped create financing for the training of teachers so students received the expert guidance they needed.

At the time of that historic meeting in Chicago, the most powerful force for change in America was the Civil Rights movement.  Today, we would do well to remember that the quest for equal opportunity and rights for all was a driving force for those who desired the same opportunity for their children who learned differently.

Five months after the Chicago meeting, Martin Luther King Jr. led the march on Washington where he delivered his inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech. Twelve years later, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted, guaranteeing a free and appropriate education for all children.

Special services for students who learn differently began to flourish, giving those who had previously felt little hope an opportunity to learn and succeed in school.

The ripple effect kicked in, and these bright young people set their sights on college, a goal that would have been rare in 1963.  This led to the historic founding of Landmark College 27 years ago, as the first college in the U.S. created specifically for students with learning differences.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty emphatically declares:  “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”  If only that were true of diagnostic categories, like “learning disabilities.”  Our students are bright and creative learners who ultimately show no limitations in what they can achieve either academically or in their professional careers, so we prefer “learning differences.” It’s reassuring to know that even Dr. Kirk thought the term did not fully capture the capabilities and needs of these unique learners.

At our campus celebration, we won’t parse labels, or any other words for that matter.  But instead, we will recognize the actions taken by a small group of concerned parents gathered in Chicago a half century ago who only wanted their children to receive a better education. Today, we call that advocacy and it’s worth celebrating.

Common Signs of Dysgraphia: Children Grade 3 – 8

From NCLD.org


Dysgraphia Warning SignsDysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Is your child is having trouble with the physical act of writing or putting thoughts down on paper? If so, the following list of common warning signs of dysgraphia in children in grades 3-8 may help you to more clearly identify the specific areas of concern and seek help to address these problems.Everyone struggles with learning at times, although learning disabilities such as dysgraphia will persist over time. If your child has displayed any of the signs below for at least the past six months, it may be time to seek help from your child’s school or other professionals.And because some of the “symptoms” listed below also apply to other types of learning disabilities and/or to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), which often co-exist, you may want to review our more comprehensive Interactive Learning Disabilities Checklist.

For At Least the Past Six Months, My Child Has Had Trouble:


  • Gripping a pencil comfortably when writing or drawing.
  • Writing neatly, evenly, and legibly.
  • Using either printed or cursive (or mixing the two styles).
  • Leaving consistent spacing between letters and words.
  • Writing on a line or within margins.
  • Copying letters and numbers neatly and accurately.
  • Spelling even familiar words correctly.
  • Being consistent in spelling.
  • Writing/printing neatly and without a lot of cross-outs and erasures
  • Expressing written ideas in an organized way.
  • Preparing outlines and organizing written work.
  • Writing without saying the words aloud.
  • Thinking of words to write.
  • Remembering to use all the words he intends to in his written work.
  • Focusing on the meaning of what he writes; (because of the physical demands during writing)
  • Maintaining energy and easy posture when writing/drawing.


  • Aligning numbers correctly when doing math problems.


  • Being motivated and confident about writing.
  • Taking pride in written work.

If your child displays several of these warning signs, talk with a professional right away. Use a printed copy of this article — marked with the warning signs that apply to your child – to start the discussion with your child’s teachers or other professionals. By seeking proper identification and support in a timely way, your child will soon be on track for success in school and in life.

Sally Gardner: Ten Tips for a Dyslexic Thinker (like me)


Award-winning author and illustrator Sally Gardner offers advice on dyslexia at the start of Dyslexia Awareness Week.

Author Sally Gardner, who is dyslexic. Her work has been translated into 22 different languages and she has sold more than 1.5million copies of her work in the UK

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Author Sally Gardner, who is dyslexic. Her work has been translated into 22 different languages and she has sold more than 1.5million copies of her work in the UK Photo: Kate Christer

By Sally Gardner

6:45AM BST 08 Oct 2012

To coincide with Dyslexia Awareness Week (Monday 8th – Sunday 14th October), author Sally Gardner offers 10 tips for dyslexics.

• 1. Remember dyslexia comes in all shapes and sizes, so it cannot be swept over with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Firmly ignore and disregard all humans who tell you it’s a disability and those who patronise you. Don’t give up on what interests you.

• 2. A good sense of humour is vital. Try not to take yourself too seriously, especially when you make a muddle up. Laughter is the best remedy. Remember too that non dyslexic thinkers can often make a muddle of the things we find easy to do.

• 3. Listen to audio books. I listen to at least two per month – dyslexia is not an excuse for not being well read – far from it.

• 4. Use a dyslexic font, there are several available online to buy and download. Find the one that works well for you. They are fab and finally for me, at least, it has stopped the B and the P getting muddled up.

• 5. I find writing in different colours very useful. I start the day in one colour, in the afternoon I use another and cut paste together before putting it all back to black. Double spacing and larger font is essential.

• 6. Try and learn joined up writing, what they call ‘handwriting’ at school. Even good spellers’ writing is illegible in this format and so you can get away with very bad spelling. If not sure which way round the ‘i’ or the ‘e’ goes, do a ‘u’ and dot the middle. BN. This only works with joined up writing.

• 7. Leave more than enough time if going for a job interview or other important meeting in case you’ve written the number of house or building etc. down wrong eg. 47 could be 74… Apparently there’s no excuse for being late – well, I think this is a reasonable one.

• 8. I keep a piece of soft sand paper which helps when learning how a word is spelt. Write it once to feel it on the sand paper, then write it again.

• 9. Holding a hand exercise squeeze ball, or something pliable like playdough, is very helpful for concentration. I find that if I read a page holding one, I remember much more than without it.

10. Remember you are unique. Every one of us on this plant has special needs. Spelling is just the tip of the iceberg – dyslexia is a way of thinking, a way of being, it is who you are. Be proud of yourself. After all most humans can read but we can make letters dance and much more besides. Dyslexia rules KO.