Questions and Answers
Question #36


Questions and Answers

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 brain functions.

(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 behaviour).

(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, 277-290.

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, 53, 309-339.

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