Learning Disability: Issues of Representation, Power, and the Medicalization of School Failure
Carol A. Christensen
Traditional learning-disability theory grew out of pioneering work by Strauss and Lehtinen ( 1947). Their work was based on the observation that many children exhibiting academic and behavioral difficulties performed similarly to children who were known to have sustained brain damage. Therefore, they argued, if brain injury produced certain types of behavior, it could be inferred that children who exhibited similar behavior may also have suffered brain injury. Subsequent researchers and practitioners were less tentative in applying this logic. Consequently, in the early 1960s, prevailing professional opinion about children with normal intelligence test scores and from reasonably advantaged families who failed to achieve as expected rested strongly on the assumption that their learning problems resulted from some neurological abnormality or pathology.
The term "learning disability" was introduced by Kirk in 1962 to describe students who "displayed retardation, disorder, or delayed development in one or more of the processes of speech, language, reading, writing, arithmetic, or other school subjects resulting from a psychological handicap caused by possible cerebral dysfunction and/or emotional or behavioral disturbances. It is not the result of mental retardation, sensory deprivation, or cultural or instructional factors" ( Kirk, 1962). A variety of psychophysiological variables have been used to indicate brain pathology for learning-disabled (LD) students. These have included inadequacies in motor development ( Kepart, 1960), visual and auditory perception ( Frostig, 1972; Wepman, 1958), psycholinguistic ability ( Kirk & Kirk, 1971), and memory and information processing skills ( Connor, 1983).