HomeLearning DifficultiesLegal Rights & AdvocacyIndividuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004

The History and Reauthorization of IDEA

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By Brett Schaeffer

Identification: The Sooner the Better

In recent years, parents and LD advocates have again shifted their attention. As concerns over access to the general curriculum are resolved, questions over the identification of learning disabilities have grown.

For the 2003 round of IDEA reauthorization, school officials, special education experts, and policymakers across the country said revising the eligibility criteria was a top priority.

The steady increase in the number of students identified with LD is certainly a main reason for the attention. Experts noted, however, that the LD identification process has been flawed for some time.

The process used in many states prior to the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA is officially known as the discrepancy model. It measures the discrepancy between a child's academic performance and his intellectual ability. A significant discrepancy, according to this method, typically indicates LD. Critics have called this the "wait-to-fail" model, because it requires a child to fall behind his peers before being identified with LD.

What should be occurring, according to leading expert in reading research Dr. Reid Lyon, is early screening and intervention for all children. Lyon, Chief of Child Development and Behavior at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says there is strong evidence for investing in early identification and prevention programs.

Lyon and other experts say early screening and intervention can:

  • Address the needs of some students who may otherwise be inaccurately labeled with a learning disability.
  • Provide services much sooner to students who may, in fact, have a learning disability.
  • Greatly benefit those students identified with LD at a young age.

"A learning disability is harder to establish than, say, a vision impairment. It's a much longer problem-solving process," says Linda Lewis. The sooner that process begins - whether in pre-school or kindergarten - the better, she says.

In other words, imagine yourself in second grade in 2003. You have had trouble reading, but under the discrepancy model your reading disorder might not have been identified until you reached the third or fourth grade. That kind of delayed identification might, in fact, have prevented you from ever catching up to your classmates.

On the other hand, if you had been screened for a reading disorder when you were in kindergarten and had received specialized instruction - as experts such as Lyon are suggesting - you might not have needed special services or testing accommodations.

Reviewed January 2010

Comments from readers

"What day month and year was this article published?"
"My grandson, age 9, is in the second grade at a private school for LD/ADHD students. This school is very expensive. He was first diagnosed with a severe LD in kindergarten. His mother, a single parent, sold her home to be able to put him into this school. My question is: Where is the financial help for these LD children? There seems to be help for the college bound with LD. But we need help getting our little one through each grade with the hopes of one of him getting to college. My daughter is stressed beyond belief. I worry for her health. I can only do so much. Can you respond to this e-mail with maybe some answers as to what can be done in the way of financial help?"