In 1963, an assembly of motivated parents hosted a conference to present professionals and anyone impacted by learning disabilities with the need to address learning disabilities specific legislation, theories, diagnostic procedures, educational practices, research and training models. Soon thereafter, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) was founded. With the group’s participation, in 1969, legislation passed to offer a working definition of learning disabilities within federal law. This achievement was significant for the LDA, whose mission is to create opportunities for success for all individuals affected by learning disabilities and to reduce the incidence of learning disabilities among future generations. Today, the organization continues to host its innovative annual conference which now draws upwards of 3,000 participants, serving parents, educators, professionals and adults with learning disabilities.
Carolyn Phillips first attended the Learning Disabilities Association Conference as a college student. “I had been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I felt lost and overwhelmed,” Carolyn recalls. The experience changed and shaped her life. Twenty-eight years later, she’s nationally recognized for her work in the field of assistive technology and disabilities thanks to her role as Director and Principal Investigator of Tools for Life, Georgia’s Assistive Technology (AT) Act Program at Georgia Tech | AMAC. “LDA understands that learning disabilities can be both a struggle as well as a strength! People with learning disabilities absolutely think differently. That is a gift in a world that needs people to think differently, creatively and be true problem solvers,” says Carolyn, who’s become a conference presenter. “LDA supports and celebrates people with learning disabilities so we can accomplish our educational, workplace and independent living goals.”
Empowering All Individuals
“LDA is constantly in motion trying to preserve the rights of individuals with learning disabilities, as well as educating the public on why this is important,” says LDA’s President Beth McGaw. LDA defines learning disabilities as neurologically-based processing problems which includes seven disorders: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing, language processing disorder, nonverbal learning and visual perceptual/visual motor deficit. McGaw says each may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following: oral language (e.g.listening, speaking, understanding); reading (e.g. decoding, phonetics knowledge, word recognition, comprehension); written language (e.g. spelling, written expression and writing fluency); and mathematics (e.g. computation, problemsolving, number sense and math fact fluency, spatial sense and verbal mediation of math concepts).
Learning disabilities are life-long, says McGaw, and, thus, LDA’s effort addresses one’s lifespan and those who serve them. “Children with learning disabilities grow up to be adults with learning disabilities. So, it is hard to target just one audience without also serving another as well and the professionals who service them,” she says. The LDA maintains an Adult Topics Committee which, among other tasks, helps to answer questions submitted via the website. Plus, in an effort to support adults with learning disabilities, the organization has advocated for workplace and employment issues, testing and accommodations for high school equivalency exams (HSSE) and driver’s license testing; and hosts regular webinars.
Teacher training is another pressing issue. “With more of our learning disabled students being placed in the general education classroom, it is more important than ever to make sure that both the general education and special education teachers understand not only how to recognize there is a problem but also how to utilize strategies in the classroom to help the student be successful,” McGaw explains.
Some may be surprised to know that the LDA is invested in addressing toxic chemicals; MaureenSwanson, Director of LDA’s Healthy Children Project, says it’s a necessity.“The science is now clear and definitive that toxic chemical exposures, especially to the developing fetus and young children, can contribute to learning and developmental disabilities,” she says, adding, “The National Academies of Science, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have all stated that toxic chemicals, interacting with genetics and other factors, can harm brain development, resulting in problems with learning, behavior and attention.”
Swanson shared with AmeriDisability Services that, in 2016, an alliance of scientists, health experts and children’s health advocates published a consensus statement in a peer-reviewed journal on toxic chemicals contributing to learning and developmental disorders to provide a foundation for action to prevent exposures. “We can’t change our genes, but we can advocate to get toxic chemicals out of consumer products, food, water and air and soil to protect healthy brain development for all children,” she proclaims.
Benefits of Membership
While the LDA does offer some free online resources, paid members receive added benefits, such as local and state support systems, a community forum, advocacy programs, newsletters, discounts to conferences and more. McGaw believes the fact that LDA is a trusted organization is most invaluable. “When parents are concerned and wake up at 3 am in the morning worrying about their children, they often search the internet for information to help their child. They can land upon just about anything which may or may not be accurate,” she explains. The LDA does not receive federal or state funding and, thus, memberships and donations are what steer the organization’s resources, education and advocacy in an effort to support persons with learning disabilities at school, at work, in relationships and in the community.
Here’s what members shared:
“I became a member of LDA because my son was struggling in school and I was able to get the resources I needed from LDA to share with my son’s teachers and to help at home. It also gave me the peace of mind that I am not alone.” – Beth, parent of child with a disability
“I became a member of LDA because the students in my classroom needed more individualized attention and LDA provided the resources and support to help me help my students. I often share what I learn with colleagues.” – Ernie, classroom teacher
“My membership in LDA means that I have access to the laws that protect me as an adult with learning disabilities helping me be an advocate for myself. It also provides the types of accommodations that I might receive to help me succeed in the classroom and in the workplace.” – Jodi, an adult with a disability
“As a pediatrician, I often see parents who are unsure of where to turn after their child is diagnosed with a learning disability. I refer them to LDA to help them start on their journey.” – Dr.Susan Smith, professional
The 56th Annual International Learning Disabilities Association Conference will be held on February 18-21, 2019 at the Omni Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas. The organization hopes to engage teachers/assistants (of both special and general education), school administrators, counselors/social workers, parents of children with disabilities, professionals (researchers, medical/mental health experts) and adults with learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. With this wide-ranging audience, the conference is set to offer an array of topics aimed to impact all. For more information, visit ldaamerica.org.