A universal history of learning disabilities would be very difficult due to the various definitions of learning disabilities used by the many educational systems throughout the world. For this discussion, we refer to the phenomenon as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of the United States. However, while this history is specific to the educational system in the US, the causes, preventions, interventions and treatments may be applied universally.

The history of learning disabilities begins shortly after World War II when educators began to experience a new phenomenon in the classroom. Teachers worldwide were experiencing increasing numbers of children with average or above average intelligence who were having difficulty learning, and sometimes performed below their peers who were also of average intelligence.

New Phenomenon of Historical Significance

This new phenomenon of varying learning strengths and weaknesses of the children of interest were completely different from anything known to educators. It was suspected, at one time, that the teaching challenges they presented might be due to heredity or other unknown mysterious factors. As this developing phenomenon was carefully observed, new insights were gained.

While trying to determine a proper classification for these new learning behaviors, researchers first eliminated those classifications that were primarily the result of poor vision or hearing, motor disabilities, mental retardation, autism, emotional disturbance, cultural and/or economic disadvantage because some of the children in question were of normal intelligence and did not have either of these known disadvantages.

New Advances in Technology Provide a Historical Breakthrough

In the history of learning disabilities, advances in technology played an important role. With the use of technology it was discovered that the way in which the brain and nervous system develop is influenced by the experiences that the child has during infancy and childhood while the nervous system is developing.

Based upon this new information, it was concluded that the development of the brain and nervous system differs from child to child and that the specific differences in brain and nervous system development accounted for differences in the ability to benefit from traditional teaching methods.

Therefore, these learning problems are named and identified by the specific nervous system dysfunction that accounts for them, i.e., visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor, etc. And for each of these specific learning disabilities a specific environmental experience has been identified as the cause.

Parents Identified as Key to Prevention, Intervention and Remediation

A new chapter in the history of learning disabilities began when advanced research techniques identified many early learning experiences that contribute to the development of specific learning disabilities. However, the environmental factor identified as having the most impact upon the child’s development was found to be the parent's attitude toward the child, and their knowledge and dedication to child rearing. This was because parents create the environment in the home that the developing child experiences.

The exciting result was that parents need not despair about their child’s learning problems. Scientific information suggested that specific learning disabilities can be prevented, remedied, or corrected in 98% of diagnosed children. This is demonstrated by identifying, and removing the specific factors in the environment that were interfering with the normal development of the child's brain and central nervous system.

Simply stated, these identified causes of learning disabilities suggest that if you become actively involved in removing toxic chemicals that may be causing allergies; see that your child eats nutritious food; and gets plenty of sleep and physical exercise it will go a long way toward making him a better student. Researchers report that, in some instances, suggested methods have shown results in only a few days.

Lack of Support for Parents and Children

Unfortunately, the history of learning disabilities does not include widespread publication of these facts, and many parents and their children continue to suffer the consequences of a lack of information about learning disabilities. Specifically, the missing information is about the effects of the environment on the developing child.

Extended families are no longer the social norm in many societies, and there is no experienced elder in the home to assist with child rearing. Mothers of their first child are left to experiment by trial and error with raising infants, and evidence suggests that the damage to the developing child occurs within the first six months after birth.

Learning disabilities are increasing in our society at the rate of 10 to 20% every 10 to 20 years. Autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years, yet, the medical profession continues to deny the impact of mercury in the form of amalgam fillings and thimerosol in immunizations upon the developing central nervous system of children.

Our Current Status

The current chapter in the history of learning disabilities includes the environmental irresponsibility that is responsible for a status of learning disabilities in 10% of the world's children, and the number is growing rapidly. That figure is consistent in the US, Jamaica, Australia, Puerto Rico, the UK and rural India. In some industrial areas of the US, enrollment in special education is as high as 14% of the total population, and 50% of that number has been identified as having a specific learning disability.

This problem is not limited by economic income, ethnicity, or social class because equally deadly toxins are found in our food, and the air we breath in our homes. Known as indoor air pollution our homes are contaminated with the chemicals in our toothpaste, cosmetics, deodorant, our new carpet, cleaning products, benzene and other chemicals that we can’t pronounce in our new furniture. These chemicals are toxic and cause specific learning disabilities. Chemicals also contaminate our food and the water we drink.

A history of learning disabilities reflects the age old principle that parents are the only persons who can control the degree to which their children are exposed to these environmental toxins. It took a lot of years to collect the evidence, but now we know that we have been poisoning our children for the 60 years since WWII.

Education's contribution to the history of specific learning disabilities has been to modify and accommodate varying strengths and weaknesses in the classroom with a continuing effort to meet increasing demands.

Education has done its best to adapt to the special needs of these children, but assessments and individualized education plans do little to prevent or modify the problem. There appears to be an outstanding need for more parent advocacy on behalf of the rights of children to a healthy environment in which to develop.

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