Rethinking Learning Disabilities: Understanding Children Who Struggle in School

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Experts have yet to reach consensus about what a learning disability is, how to determine if a child has one, and what to do about it. Leading researcher and clinician Deborah Waber offers an alternative to the prevailing view of learning disability as a problem contained within the child. Instead, she shows how learning difficulties are best understood as a function of the developmental interaction between the child and the world. Integrating findings from education, developmental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience, she offers a novel approach with direct practical implications. Detailed real-world case studies illustrate how this approach can promote positive outcomes for children who struggle in school.

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Editorial Reviews


"Waber proposes a well-thought-out developmental model of learning disabilities that incorporates Piagetian (Piaget, 1963) views of adaptation, risk, and resilience and the notion of 'good fit' between the child and his or her learning environment....A very readable and fascinating book that incorporates scientific research and case studies....Waber's writing style is clear and understandable. She uses simple yet interesting analogies (e.g. comparing the child's brain and learning environment to a basketball team and brain specialization to a start-up business) and offers numerous vignettes and examples to make her points. The book clearly illustrates Waber's advanced knowledge of developmental psychology, clinical neuropsychology, genetics, comparative psychology, special education, and educational law, as well as her skill in distilling and integrating research findings from these disparate areas into her learning disabilities development model....I believe that this book will do for the field of learning in general what Sally Shaywitz's (2003) book Overcoming Dyslexia did for the field of dyslexia."--PsycCRITIQUES
Educational Therapist

"Expands our thinking about treating learning disabilities by offering us a different perspective from which to understand and respond to children who struggle in school....Waber's book presents a developmental strategy for considering learning disabilities.....Her model is designed to complement current research-based, skill-focused models, which she suggests are necessary but not sufficient for solving the problems of struggling students....Waber's book gives us strategies to think in novel and creative ways by integrating a developmental perspective into our practices. This is a definite must-read."--Educational Therapist
From the Publisher

"Rethinking Learning Disabilities provided a useful framework for my graduate-level learning disabilities course. The research studies cited were compelling and clearly explained, and students appreciated the experience-near clinical case examples. The text deepened our class discussion and helped us maintain focus on the cultural and social context that is paramount in understanding individuals with learning problems."--Sandra T. Mann, PsyD, Center for Professional Psychology, George Washington University

"Waber's perspective is sophisticated and exceptional, having evolved from her developmental psychology background, her neuropsychological research, and her applied/practical clinical work. She never oversimplifies (while describing lucidly) the multiple factors from which 'learning disabilities' emerge."--Martha Bridge Denckla, MD, Director, Developmental Cognitive Neurology, Kennedy Krieger Institute; Professor of Neurology, John Hopkins University School of Medicine

"It was with gratitude that I read each chapter of this book, immediately identifying its relevance for graduate students in school psychology, developmental psychology, and special education. Waber's thoughtful case study analyses comprehensively examine each child as a learner in the multiple contexts of his or her life, instead of focusing narrowly on the culture of school. She addresses the individualized education plan and beyond, emphasizing the child's need to develop a sense of identity and self-esteem. This perspective is too often overlooked."--Jane Utley Adelizzi, PhD, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology

"Waber brings a much-needed lifespan developmental perspective to bear on both science and practice in the field of learning disabilities. This book is 'must' reading for anyone interested in how advances in cognitive neuroscience are changing the way we think about the many children who struggle in school, and how this new science can lead to more humane, individualized education for all children."--Bruce F. Pennington, PhD, John Evans Professor of Psychology, University of Denver

"Waber’s wise and thoughtful book is a revelation. Most books about learning disabilities are too narrowly focused on one aspect of the problem to understand or address it meaningfully. As a first-rate neuropsychological researcher, Waber has the ability to consider, and then integrate, all of the parts of the whole child: genetics, neuroscience, development, psychology, epigenetics. As a practicing clinician who sees real children from real schools, she also has the vision to recognize that learning disabilities cannot be adequately understood or remediated by considering only the child. Her developmental approach--addressing the abilities and disabilities of both children and their environments--is clear sighted, refreshing, brilliant, and hopeful."--David Rose, PhD, Chief Education Officer, Center for Applied Special Technology, Wakefield, Massachusetts; Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781462503346
  • Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/21/2011
  • Pages: 241
  • Sales rank: 987,164
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah P. Waber, PhD, is Senior Associate in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Boston and Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Her research includes innovative work on the development of children with learning and attention disorders and large-scale studies of the typical development of schoolchildren. Dr. Waber has published peer-reviewed studies on related topics, including neuropsychological effects of therapy in childhood cancer patients and outcomes in children with neurogenetic disorders, prematurity, and early malnutrition. In addition to her research work, she has a clinical practice as Senior Neuropsychologist in the Learning Disabilities Program in the Department of Neurology at Children’s Hospital Boston. She is also actively engaged in clinical training and mentoring young investigators.

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Table of Contents

I. The Developmental Approach to Learning Disabilities

1. The Dilemma: What Is a Learning Disability?

2. A Learning Disability Is a Developmental Problem

3. A Developmental Science Perspective on Learning Disabilities

4. A Lifespan Perspective on Learning Disabilities

5. Identifying Learning Disabilities: A Developmental Approach

6. Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience: Automatic and Effortful Processing

II. Diagnosing the Child–World Interaction

7. Identical Twins

8. An Adequate Achiever with Learning Problems

9. Beyond a “Reading Problem”

10. Learning-Disabled Children Grown Up

11. A Developmental Strategy for Resolving the Dilemma

Appendix. Publications of the Children's Hospital Boston Learning Disabilities Research Center

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