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by Patricia M. Lillie, LDA President

Please come and join us for the 55th Annual International Conference of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), held this year in Atlanta, Georgia, February 21- 24, 2018.  On behalf of the members of the Board of Directors, it is my pleasure to invite you and all who are involved and interested in the field of learning disabilities, to join us at the conference; individuals with learning disabilities, their families, and the legions of professionals and volunteers who work in the field of learning disabilities and related disorders.

Our 55th Anniversary celebration will surely bring a remembrance of LDA’s 1st Conference and the dedicated group of parents and professionals from across the country who met in Chicago in 1963 to discuss children who had a yet unnamed condition.  The children were having a difficult time in reading, math and written language, and were known to have some learning strengths and also pronounced learning weaknesses.  The conference ended with Dr. Samuel A. Kirk, Associate Professor from the University of Illinois, Urbana, naming the condition “Specific Learning Disabilities,” and the participants attending the conference naming their group The Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, (ACLD, now known as LDA).  We often fondly refer to that founding group of parents and professionals who met in Chicago, as the Pioneers of LDA.

This year, on Tuesday, February 20th, we are beginning the celebration with a Pre-Conference Symposium titled: Results Driven Accountability: Is RTI producing the promised results? Has it changed the construct of specific learning disabilities?  Join LDA as some of the nation’s top experts discuss Response to intervention (RTI) and Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD), followed by a discussion of three very important issues:

  • How are students with learning disabilities different from students who are low achieving?
  • Why is it important to define the difference?
  • Why is this difference instructionally important?

Our eminent presenters will be:

  • Douglas Fuchs, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Nicholas Hobbs Chair in Special Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University
  • Dawn Flanagan, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of School Psychology training programs, St. John’s University
  • Brett Miller, Ph.D., Director, Child Development and Behavioral Branch, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
  • Samuel Ortiz, Ph.D.,  Professor of Psychology, St. John’s University, chair and three term member of American Psychological Association’s Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment
  • Lee Swanson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Peloy Chair at the University of California, Riverside, and immediate past editor in chief, Journal of Learning Disabilities

The full conference begins on Wednesday, February 21st, where you will find the latest and most up-to-date information on Specific Learning Disabilities; an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of disorders and symptoms, such as dyslexia (reading), dyscalculia (math), dysgraphia (written language), issues with short and long term memory, non-verbal learning disabilities, visual motor learning disabilities, auditory processing and language processing disabilities and related disabilities such as ADHD and executive function.  All of these subjects and more will be covered in depth during the conference.  Since the last LDA conference, several federal and state policy changes have come about in the fields of education and special education so please note there will be sessions addressing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and sessions about Section 504 and IDEA as well as changes going on within the U.S. Department of Education.

The conference is designed to provide information and to shine light on the positive characteristics and attributes of each individual diagnosed. Continuing in that tradition, you will find Conference Co-Chairs Jennifer Harkins and Lori Parks and members of the Program Committee have selected an outstanding array of sessions and workshops addressing the pertinent topics in both special and general education. Changes and challenges in state and federal public policies affecting children and adults with specific learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will also be addressed in keynotes and sessions throughout the conference.

Conference planning is a year-round effort and I thank our outstanding Conference Committee for working tirelessly to organize this outstanding event. Ann Kornblet, Chair, and B.J. Wiemer, Assistant Chair, along with committee members, and LDA’s national office staff under the leadership of Executive Director Mary-Clare Reynolds will be ready to greet you and look forward to answering any questions you may have during the conference.  Continuing Education Credits will be offered.  Please view the complete conference program here.

And for the rest of the Story:  What happened to the Pioneers of LDA who left us with such a rich legacy? For the next twelve years they carried out their mission of advocacy, education, information and support.  They marched in Washington to advance the awareness of this new condition of Specific Learning Disabilities, a condition that was invisible to the eye, but was indeed a disability.  When something cannot be seen, it is very difficult to believe and convince others that it is there.

It was through the Pioneers’ persistence that Specific Learning Disabilities was included in the first federal legislation, Children with Specific Learning Disabilities Act, which was included in the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) of 1970 (PL 91-230). Later, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142), approved by President Gerald Ford in 1975, gave federal rights and protections to all children with disabilities and their parents.  Prior to the passage of the federal legislation, most children with disabilities received little if any public education.  The school house door was mostly closed to them and their parents.  They had no rights that allowed them to go to school and receive the benefits of education.  During the period between when ACLD was formed in 1963 and EHA became law, the Pioneers of LDA were busy forming state and local affiliates, growing membership and working with state and federal legislators to establish legislation that would guarantee an education for children with specific learning disabilities as well as for all children with disabilities.

By 1975 when PL 94-142 was passed, several colleges across the country were developing special education programs in their Schools of Education and some were providing certification in Specific Learning Disabilities.  It was about that time parents and teachers were beginning to realize that learning disabilities were not cured by the end of elementary school.  While some students might have learned how to read or do math, by and large, the symptoms of learning disabilities remained with the student thru Jr. High, High School and into their adult years.  From our beginning in 1963 as the Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities (ACLD), to today, 55 years later as the Learning Disabilities Association of America, we continue to serve as a grassroots, volunteer, education, information, advocacy, support organization for parents, professionals and individuals with learning disabilities.  We will be forever grateful to the Pioneers. We invite you to join us in our journey of advocating and supporting individuals with learning disabilities by becoming a Member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America if you have not already joined.  Information for membership is on the LDA Website.

Here’s to a great week of learning and discovering how to advocate, collaborate, and create new opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities.

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