Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Temperament and Learning Disability

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Temperament and Learning Disability

Article excerpt

Abstract. The link between learning problems and social-emotional difficulties is well documented and both are associated with temperamental risk factors. Whereas temperament refers to individual differences in biologically based dispositions for responding to and engaging with one's surroundings, developmental outcomes are the products of experiences as influenced by temperament in concert with other variables and the opportunities, challenges, and supports of the child's various contexts. A review of the research supports pathways between temperament and outcomes that are direct, indirect, bidirectional, and hierarchical.

Interventions that are informed by temperament may address the various pathways through which temperament influences outcomes.


Current views of learning and development recognize the complex and interactive contributions of biological, social, and psychological processes that produce both individualistic trajectories and age-related developmental patterns (see "Learner Centered Psychological Principles" suggested by the APA Task Force, 1997; also see Alexander & Murphy, 1997). A focus on the individual learner is central to the field of learning disabilities (LD), which aims to maximize academic progress by matching the learning and performance conditions to the needs of the learner. Temperament, an important source of individuality, is a general rubric subsuming individual differences in tendencies to respond to the environment on the basis of biologically rooted predispositions that are evident early in life and remain stable over time while being subject to the influence of maturation and experience (Buss & Plomin, 1984; Rothbart, 1989; Thomas & Chess, 1977).

Temperamental dispositions are often described in terms of behavioral style, or the how of behaviors such as their persistence, energy level, as well as valence and intensity of emotional responses (Thomas & Chess, 1977). Although the what (content) and why (purpose) of behaviors do not fall under the purview of temperament, these aspects of behavior are often linked to temperament, directly or indirectly. For instance, temperament may be expressed as preferences to seek or avoid certain activities or experiences (what) or as efforts to regulate temperamentally rooted reactivity (why). All children are born with a set of temperamental attributes, each distributed along the normal continuum. No single temperamental trait is inherently good or bad but exerts its influence on learning and development in the context of other traits and in response to situations. The configuration of these attributes, in concert with the child's other characteristics, shapes the cumulative exchanges between the individual and the environment, thereby influencing developmental outcomes.

Various models of identifying children with LD share the two related constructs of "unexpected low achievement" and "discrepancy" while focusing on different aspects of discrepancy (see Fletcher, Morris, & Lyon, 2003). All models agree that a "discrepancy" is usually first noted as lower than expected achievement in the classroom (local norms) or on standardized tests (national norms) that is not attributable to exclusionary criteria such as lack of opportunity to learn.

In contention are the procedures for calling that discrepancy a "learning disability." Currently, two contrasting models focus respectively on discrepant performance relative to the child's baseline ability (intra-individual discrepancies) and expected responses to an instructional intervention (problem solving). Limitations of the problem-solving model (see Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003), and dissatisfaction with implementation of the intra-individual model, call for an integration of the two approaches (Fletcher et al., 2003). This review focuses on the impact of temperament on academic learning and social development without addressing specific criteria for identifying children with a learning disability. …

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