Category Archives: Learning Disabilities Over-identification

A category which overlaps sli.

Learning Disability Overlap

A factor in the misidentification of hard-to-teach children is “Co-occurring Disabilities.” In 2000, the U. S. Department of Education reported (Education Report 2000):

“One-third of students with disabilities who received special education and related services had co-occurring disabilities. The most common combinations were learning disability and speech/language impairment and learning disability with emotional disturbance.”

We see that speech-language pathologists and school psychologists have been pivotal in the identification of learning disabled children, though their determinations are parallel. Overlap results from the fact that the two disability categories result from the same underlying cognitive-linguistic condition.

LD Mystery

We are pulling apart the LD over-identification mystery.

One piece of the puzzle has been how pupils are evaluated for learning problems: ” a predominant approach to determining whether a child has a learning disability is comparing an IQ test score (as a measure of “ability”) with an achievement test score for reading or math…..Some researchers point out that these kinds of comparisons cannot be made much before 4 th grade when “meaningful” scores can be compared. Thus a child might be learning disabled or be at risk of developing a specific learning disability but not be identified and receive special education and related services until he or she is well into elementary school” (Congress Report).

We see the origin of the “wait to fail” approach (Ed evolve). The psychologist must “get good numbers” before diagnosing LD.

But where are the LD children waiting? Here is the answer: They are buried in the SLP caseload in the speech and language impairment (SLI) category. A significant portion of SLI pupils morph into LD children. The underlying pathology for the two categories is the same, a genetically-based cognitive-linguistic processing disorder (Speech genes).

Surveying criteria across states, the processing perspective is not applied often to SLD placements. “The presence of a processing disorder, while prominent in the federal definition of SLD, was relatively absent from most states’ classification criteria. Only 13 states required determination of a processing disorder” (Greatschools).

IDEA 2004 does correctly sketch the symptoms of LD which include oral language processing:

“Oral expression
Listening comprehension
Written expression
Basic reading skill
Reading fluency skills
Reading comprehension
Mathematics calculation
Mathematics problem solving (Great schools)”

The SLI category is a holding area for later psychometric evaluation. In grades 1 and 2 SLPs carry approximately 50% of all special education pupils, whereas by age 14 the percentage drops to 4%. Congress reported: “This pattern results because most speech and language impairments are mild and tend to diminish, or disappear, as these children mature and receive speech/language therapy.” A significant number “disappear” because their symptoms move to literacy performance.

A sequence of misidentification errors is happening:

First, LD is misidentified as SLI — “Under-identification.”

Second, LD is identified but late — “Late identification.”

Third, SLI drops out of the eligibility picture — “Under-identification.”

According to the Congressional Report (1998-1999) all other disability categories remain relatively stable across age groups. The trading relationship exists between SLI and LD.

The definition of LD, however, does not explain placement of non-disabled children. They come in LATE. adding to total numbers — “Over-identification.”

Learning Disability Identification

LD diagnosis is not easy: “Because there are lots of kinds of learning disabilities, it is hard to diagnose them and pinpoint the causes. LDs seem to be caused by the brain, but the exact causes are not known. Some risk factors are: Heredity; low birth weight, prematurity, birth trauma or distress; stress before or after birth; treatment for cancer or leukemia; central nervous system infections; severe head injuries; chronic medical illnesses, like diabetes or asthma; poor nutrition. LDs are not caused by environmental factors, like cultural differences, or bad teaching. Sometimes a sight or hearing problem, family stress, worry, or communication problems can affect a child’s ability to learn well (Boyse, 2008, University of Michigan Health System).”

The critics (e.g., President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002) said it was necessary for psychologists to move away from the “discrepancy model,” the search for differences between general intelligence and academic learning. Though the concept is right (dating back 50 years to childhood aphasia), the misdiagnosis was in the area of statistical prediction. A score on a standardized test does not necessary predict learning potential, along the lines of response to intervention, nor does it separate out children whose learning patterns mimic learning disability, English language learners.

In proposed rules for IDEA 2004, the misdiagnosis opinion was made unequivocally: “There are many reasons why use of the IQ-discrepancy criterion should be abandoned. The IQ-discrepancy criterion is potentially harmful to students as it results in delaying intervention until the student’s achievement is sufficiently low so that the discrepancy is achieved. For most students, identification as having an SLD occurs at an age when the academic problems are difficult to remediate with the most intense remedial efforts (Torgesen et al., 2001). Not surprisingly, the “wait to fail” model that exemplifies most current identification practices for students with SLD does not result in significant closing of the achievement gap for most students placed in special education. Many students placed in special education as SLD show minimal gains in achievement and few actually leave special education (Donovon & Cross, 2002).”

It is unclear how SLP statistics are affected by the “wait to fail” model. Often SLPs place such children in the SLI category and begin treatment for oral language and phonology. Perhaps the number of SLI placements might be reduced if SLPs placed more children in the SLD category in the first place. Intervention could start early and be conducted by special education teachers.


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