DEFINING LEARNING DISABILITIES: CONSONANCE AND DISSONANCE
Kenneth A. Kavale University of Iowa Division of Special Education
Steven R. Forness UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."
-- Lewis Carroll.
For a field that was officially recognized only about 25 years ago, learning disabilities (LD) has experienced unprecedented growth and has had significant impact on special education. Besides being the largest category in special education, LD is also among the most problematic because of continuing controversy, conflict, and crisis. Many of the difficulties experienced by the LD field appear to emanate from a failure to answer the seemingly straightforward question, "What is a learning disability?" The vagaries and antagonisms associated with any response has placed the LD field at a critical juncture. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the enduring problem of definition and to suggest positive and rational approaches for resolving many fundamental problems.