Position Paper of the Learning Disabilities
Association of America
Approved June 1996 and Updated April 2001
LDA is concerned about the numbers of individuals with
learning disabilities who have not learned to read and are currently
not learning to read in school. According to the U.S.
Department of Education, 1 in 5 American adults is functionally
illiterate. Three-fourths of the unemployed lack sufficient skills
to function successfully in the nation's work force. There are
many reasons for illiteracy - one cause is neurologically-based
learning disabilities which have not been recognized and/or dealt
Many children, including children with learning disabilities,
do not learn to read in the first grade because they lack the
basic readiness skills or the school's method is not appropriate
for them. They may be allowed to fail for two or three years without
effective intervention. Unless these children are identified early
and appropriate instruction provided they may be passed along
in school until basic reading instruction is no longer available.
Quality reading programs must be available across the age range
if we are to significantly reduce illiteracy. While accommodations
may be appropriate, they must not be substituted for direct reading
Common educational practice is for schools and adult literacy
programs to adopt a single method for teaching reading, with the
assumption that it will be effective for everyone. Research indicates
that some students with learning disabilities need a multisensory
phonics approach, with instruction in phonological awareness;
some students need a more meaning-based approach; while other
students need interventions to address comprehension problems.
For many students a combination of approaches is effective. LDA
EMPHASIZES THAT NO SINGLE READING METHOD WILL BE EFFECTIVE FOR
ALL STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES.
As expressed in 1996, LDA continues to believe that illiteracy
is a national crisis. It is LDA's position that to effect a significant
increase in reading achievement for all people the following elements
must be in place:
- a variety of methods for teaching reading in schools (in regular
and special education) and in adult literacy programs,
- intensive teaching of reading, written language, and spelling
in elementary and secondary schools,
- screening and diagnostic programs to identify students with
- evaluation of program effectiveness that goes beyond mandated
- teacher certification requirements for elementary, secondary
and special education teachers include substantive courses in
- individualized reading programs for students with learning
- a strong commitment to research which will identify causes/prevention
of reading failure and effective interventions.
Data reported in 2001 by the National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development (NICH) indicates taht 20% of elementary
school students are at risk for reading failure and of that number,
5-10% of those students have difficulty learning to read despite
reading instruction that is successful for most students. LDA
believes that these are students with learning disabilities who
require more individualized reading programs that are specially
designed to help them succeed.
LDA˜supports the current efforts at both the federal and
state levels to strengthen reading instruction in the early school
- improving teacher competence in teaching reading,
- using careful diagnostic reading assessments,
- providing reading instruction that is research-based; and
- implementing data-based evaluation of student reading achievement.
However, it must also be reemphasized that such programs will
not meet the educational needs of all children.
Some children in the early grades will require more intensive,
highly individualized instruction from specifically trained teacher
specialists in order to learn to read. Many students who acquire
basic reading skills will have difficulty understanding, organizing,
and retaining content information that they read. Other students
will encounter problems in speaking, writing, spelling, and mathematics
that impact life skills, post-secondary education, and workplace
success. For many students with learning disabilities, basic
reading skills are a necessary, but not sufficient base upon which
to build lifelong success.
The variety of new local, state, and national initiatives that
seek to improve early reading skills in all students can be an
important approach to improving the academic skills of individuals
with learning disabilities. Those same initiatives, however, should
not be expected to:
- markedly reduce the number of students identified as having
- justify elimination of the specific learning disabilities
category under IDEA, or
- reduct the "cost burden" of special education at
any of these levels.
LDA reiterates its recognition that reading is crucial to success
in school, to realizing one's potential, and to becoming a productive
member of society. Therefore, every person must be given the opportunity
to learn to read. LDA also reiterates its expectation that
appropriate reading programs must be available to students at
all ages... it is never too late to learn to read.