Re: DSM: Learning disabilities at SVS

Cathy Lachapelle (
Mon, 25 May 1998 14:56:30 -0400

Teresa Gallagher wrote:

I've now heard two sides to the reading issue. Most people have said
>that all SVS kids eventually do learn to read. Someone else (I forget
>who) disagreed, but maybe that wasn't about SVS per se, just democratic
>schools. When these kids graduate, do they read WELL? Does a kid that
>learns how to read at age 13 read as well at age 17 as his peers? Kids
>brains are elastic only to a certain age, and then it's harder to learn
>certain subjects (like foreign language, for example). I have no idea
>about reading skills, but there might be an age limit for that as well.
I'd have to look up the studies (or better, ask my professor for cites),
but actually it's not harder to learn a foreign language later (that is,
brain-wise. Kids do tend to have lots more time than adults to spend on
such things). Adults have much more experience and ability that allows
them to learn new things well and efficiently, as long as they don't have
psychological blocks (like against math).

The "elasticity" as you call it (it's usually called a critical period)
that's relevant to kids vs. adults learning a foreign language has to do
with accent: it's much much easier for children (up to adolescence) to
learn to speak with a native accent than it is for adults. There's
something about puberty that shuts down people's abilities to hear phonetic
differences relevant to learning languages with phonemes different from the
native language(s).

There is also a critical period, it seems, for learning grammar. In the
few sad cases where adolescent children have been found neglected to the
extent where they knew no language at all, the children have been able to
learn vocabulary, but never grammar. THere are problems, with these
studies, though, so the results are not particularly clear.

I have never heard of any critical period for learning to read. I would
guess there is none: aren't there (and haven't there been) many illiterate
adults in the world who have learned to read and write? It would make
sense to me: adults are perfectly capable of learning new languages (think
of all the anthropologists in the world), and reading is just a graphic
language. I know lots of adults who have learned to read Chinese or
Japanese -- while they were learning to speak the language! An adult
learning to read in his own languages should encounter no particular
barriers beyond the complication that they may be unfamiliar with the
"culture of reading" -- that is, the uses and purposes and styles and
genres. But I have a hard time believing that anyone in this country would
be so unfamiliar with reading as to be crippled in learning it.


Cathy Lachapelle

1221 Pawtucket Blvd. #79
Lowell, MA 01854