Questions and Answers
Question # 36
Some would maintain that the formulation/classification, "learning disabilities
(LD)," is one that applies solely to challenges to successful progress in formal
education in schools. Do you concur with this view?
If not, why not?
Although I can understand why some might maintain this view for
socio-political and other reasons, embracing it completely makes
absolutely no scientific or clinical sense. Consider the following:
(1) It is widely acknowledged that LD are the result of disordered
(2) Disordered brain functions have probably been with us since about
the time of Adam and Eve. (A little humour: Adam's failure to
realize the ramifications of his apple-eating may have been the
first instance of the appearance of one of the cardinal symptoms
of NLD: that is, poor judgment regarding the consequences of one's
(3) There is no reason to believe that (say) roaming aboriginals
in Australia or similar groups in other parts of the world (who,
at least at one time, did not go to school) were/are immune to
brain dysfunction and, in consequence, LD.
(4) There is very good scientific evidence to support the view
that one subtype of LD (BPPD) has very little impact on the learning
necessary for adequate psychosocial functioning, whereas another
subtype (NLD) involves significant and profound learning deficits
that are likely to have very negative implications for social
learning and psychosocial functioning. [Our definition of LD (see
reference to this below) embraces these dimensions and accentuates
the role of subtypes of LD in both the definition of LD and in
prognostications based thereon. It also emphasizes the necessity
for (a) conceptualizing LD within particular socio-cultural-historical
contexts, and (b) within the context of the developmental demands
that face children, adolescents, and adults at various stages of
development in such contexts.]
Bottom Line. LD do not start and end at the school-room door.
The brains that maintain LD are not picked up when exiting the
school bus in the morning and put back in the school locker before
embarking on the trip home in the afternoon. More generally, LD
usually commence well before entry into the school system, and
they tend to persist well beyond school termination. Along the
way, they are very likely to have significant implications for
learning in venues of functioning that are quite distinct from
schools and other formal learning situations.
Some references germane to these issues:
(1) A definition of LD that transcends school-based views:
Question #1 in the Q & A section.
(2) Hypotheses relating to the brain-behaviour issues in LD:
Rourke, B. P. (1975). Brain-behavior relationships in children
with learning disabilities: A research program. American
Psychologist, 30, 911-920.
(3) Reviews of results relating to tests of these hypotheses:
Collins, D. W., & Rourke, B. P. (2003). Learning-disabled brains: A review
of the literature. Journal of Clinical and Experimental
Neuropsychology, 25, 1011-1034.
Dool, C. B., Stelmack, R. M., & Rourke, B. P. (1993). Event-related
potentials in children with learning disabilities. Journal of
Clinical Child Psychology, 22, 387-398.
Stelmack, R. M., Rourke, B. P., & van der Vlugt, H. (1995). Intelligence,
learning disabilities, and event-related potentials. Developmental
Neuropsychology, 11, 445-465.
(4) Literature regarding the impacts of subtypes of LD on social
learning and psychosocial functioning: see
Question #18 and
Rourke, B. P. (2000). Neuropsychological and psychosocial subtyping:
A review of investigations within the University of Windsor laboratory.
Canadian Psychology, 41, 34-50.
Rourke, B.P., & Fuerst, D. R. (1991). Learning disabilities and
psychosocial functioning: A neuropsychological perspective.
New York: Guilford Press.
Rourke, B. P., & Fuerst, D. R. (1996). Psychosocial dimensions
of learning disability subtypes. Assessment, 3,
Rourke, B. P., van der Vlugt, H., & Rourke, S. B. (2002).
Practice of child-clinical neuropsychology: An introduction.
Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Tsatsanis, K. D., Fuerst, D. R., & Rourke, B. P. (1997).
Psychosocial dimensions of learning disabilities: External
validation and relationship with age and academic functioning.
Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 490-502.
(5) Overviews and some future possibilities:
Rourke, B. P. (2005). Neuropsychology of learning disabilities:
Past and future. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 28, 111-114.
Rourke, B. P., Ahmad, S. A., Collins, D. W., Hayman-Abello, B. A.,
Hayman-Abello, S. E., & Warriner, E. M. (2002). Child-clinical/pediatric
neuropsychology: Some recent advances. Annual Review of Psychology,