According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), learning disabilities (LD) arise from neurological differences in brain structure and function and affect a person’s ability to receive, store, process, retrieve or communicate information.  Challenges in these abilities can often help explain why a person has trouble with learning and performance. In addition to difficulties with reading, math and written expression, the inability to process information efficiently can lead to frustration, low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

LD is the largest category of students receiving special education services. There are 2.4 million American public school students (approximately 5 percent of the total public school enrollment) identified with learning disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Forty-two percent of the 5.7 million school-age children with all kinds of disabilities who receive special education services are served in this category. Two-thirds of students identified with LD are male.

In the NCLD report from 2014, Response to Intervention (RTI) was discussed as one reason that the number of children identified as LD has been declining in recent years. Response to Intervention (RTI) is a “data-based process of decision-making  conducted in a Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) that ensures early identification and support for students with learning and behavioral difficulties and disabilities. The RTI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom and provides struggling learners with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. Components of RTI/MTSS include:

  • data-driven decision making
  • curriculum
  • instruction
  • assessments
  • leadership
  • an empowering culture
  • professional learning

These services may be provided by a variety of personnel, including general education teachers, special educators and specialists. Student progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and the level of performance of individual students. Educational decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on an individual student’s response to instruction. RTI is intended for use at all grade levels, from pre-K through high school, and when implemented with fidelity, will result in a well-integrated Multi-Tier System of Supports driven by child outcome data.”
Although much of this description of RTI describes the work of developmental optometrists with the learning disabled, I do not know of one developmental optometrist who has ever been asked to become part of the “multi-tier system of supports.” Instead of making our services universally available to all children, developmental optometrists are integrating themselves into this multi-tier system of supports, one patient at a time.  How I wish we could fight for our learning disabled patients from the inside out, instead of from the outside in.  What if every child had a comprehensive vision examination to provide struggling students with the vision therapy services they need?  We definitely NEED MORE COWBELLS. 

Are you in NYC?  Don’t miss Wendy Rosen discussing this topic at Bank Street Books on November 9th.