The field of learning disabilities (LD) first came into its own back in the early 1960s, a time when children who struggled to learn in school were still being pushed to the margins of the educational community. Few of these students were expected to make it through high school, and many ended up in the workforce without the academic or social skills that would help them achieve and sustain independence.
Those who remained in school (the lucky ones?) were tested, labeled and more often than not, moved out of general education settings. Yes, some students attended class in converted closets or dusty spaces adjacent to boiler rooms. Others were housed in classrooms at the end of hallways, away from their peers, with little or no contact with the mainstream school population. This system was well meaning but ineffective. The prospects of a child “breaking out” of this system was slim. But parents never gave up hope, nor did the “guiding lights” in the emerging LD community.
Fast forward through the 1970s when the first federal law (Public Law 95-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed, making specific mention of "specific learning disabilities" and ensuring that children with LD were included in schools in ways that provided access to "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) in the "least restrictive environments" (LRE).
Keep moving through the 1980s and 1990s when greater attention was paid to early recognition and intervention and when there was growing awareness of the need for educators who have expertise in evidence based instruction.
Continue through the early 2000s when research on effective instructional strategies blossomed, and when assistive technologies, universal design for learning, and a commitment to data-based decision making (RTI and MTSS) became areas in which the field of LD made important contributions to the well-being of all students, and especially those with learning disabilities and difficulties. An expanding understanding of the neurobiology of learning, especially in the areas of reading (dyslexia) and math (dyscalculia), contributes to these exciting and promising times.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” Surely these are no longer “dark times” for children with LD, but a bright future depends upon our dreaming and taking action.