Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Learning Disabilities and Young Children: Identification and Intervention: A Report from the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities * October, 2006

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Learning Disabilities and Young Children: Identification and Intervention: A Report from the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities * October, 2006

Article excerpt

This paper addresses early identification, services, supports, and intervention for young children, birth through 4 years, who demonstrate delays in development that may place them at risk for later identification as having a learning disability (LD). Such delays include atypical patterns of development in cognition, communication, emergent literacy, motor and sensory abilities, and/or social-emotional adjustment that may adversely affect later educational performance. Development in each of these domains may be related to individual variations in rates and patterns of maturation, environmental factors such as language exposure, and quality of learning opportunities. Although the focus of this paper is on developmental rather than academic expectations, it is recognized that adequate development across multiple domains is essential for subsequent school success. It also is important to recognize that when children are exposed to high quality learning opportunities prior to kindergarten, they are less likely to experience school failure and be misidentified as having LD in the early grades.

LD has been defined by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) as a heterogeneous group of disorders of presumed neurological origin manifested differently and to varying degrees during the life span of an individual. These disorders are developmental in nature, occur prior to kindergarten, and continue into adult life. Various manifestations of LD may be seen at different ages and as a result of varying learning demands (NJCLD, 1985/2001a, 1990/2001c). Early indicators that a child may have LD include delays in speech and language development, motor coordination, perception, reasoning, social interaction, prerequisites to academic achievement and other areas relevant to meeting educational goals. These indicators may occur concomitantly with problems in self-regulation, attention, or social interaction (Lowenthal, 1998; McCardle, Scarborough, & Catts, 2001).

In effective programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, professionals (1) examine risk and protective factors, (2) conduct systematic observations of individual children, (3) assess developmental status, (4) create rich and varied learning opportunities, (5) plan and deliver services and supports, and (6) provide intervention based on assessment data. These programs are culturally and developmentally appropriate, linguistically sensitive, and based on scientific evidence.

This paper describes how such programs can be established and implemented, emphasizes the importance of family and caregiver involvement and responsibilities, discusses issues in professional preparation and development, and articulates critical research needs.


New legislation, advances in research, and changes in practice have occurred in the more than 20 years since the publication of the 1985 NJCLD paper "Learning Disabilities and the Preschool Child" (NJCLD, 1985/2001b). In that paper, the term preschool included the period from birth through kindergarten. This 2006 revision uses the term young children and focuses on the period from birth through age 4, or pre-kindergarten. In addition, this revision reflects new research in risk assessment, evaluation procedures, and high-quality learning opportunities and interventions, as well as an increased understanding of the links between early spoken language development and LD.

In 1985 when the NJCLD paper on preschool children was originally published, families and professionals were celebrating nearly a decade of benefits from the landmark legislation, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142). School-age children (ages 6-21 years) with disabilities were entitled to a free and appropriate public education, in the least restrictive environment (LRE), based on individual needs and family preferences. This legislation set the stage for children with disabilities to obtain necessary services and to have opportunities to interact meaningfully with children without disabilities in general education settings. …

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