The Need for Subject Descriptors in Learning Disabilities Research: Preschool Through High School Years

Position Statement

National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities

About this Document

This statement was developed by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD). Representatives of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) were Rhonda S. Work, chair; Mabel L. Rice; Stan Dublinske, ex officio. Ann L. Carey, 1988–1990 vice president for professional and governmental affairs, was the monitoring vice president. Other member organizations of the NJCLD include the Association on Handicapped Student Services Programs in Postsecondary Education; Council for Learning Disabilities; Division for Children with Communication Disorders; Division for Learning Disabilities; International Reading Association; Learning Disabilities Association of America; National Association of School Psychologists; Orton Dyslexia Society. This statement was approved by the ASHA Legislative Council in November 1989 (LC 3-89). Note: This statement could not be published until other members of the NJCLD had approved the document.

Research activities in the area of learning disabilities are extensive. The findings from these studies have influenced funding, program development, education, and treatment for individuals with learning disabilities. Research is based on the use of single subject, within subject, and group comparison models. Across studies there is inconsistency in the description of subjects. There is also inadequate information regarding subject selection and study methodology. These inconsistencies and omissions are of concern to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD). Limited subject description makes it difficult to interpret and generalize research findings and interferes with replication studies.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a set of descriptors the NJCLD believes are necessary to describe subjects in studies of learning disabilities. Documentation of these descriptors will facilitate replication of research and application of findings by practitioners. This paper will provide guidance to funding agencies, investigators, university programs and other agencies that conduct or supervise research as well as to authors, editors, and publishers who disseminate research findings.

The need for specific subject descriptors in learning disabilities research is based on recognition of the following factors:

  • the heterogeneity of learning disabilities necessitates a description of subjects included in a research study;

  • many research studies include individuals classified as learning disabled on the basis of state or local service agency criteria, which vary among agencies;

  • various procedures are used to determine ability, aptitude, and achievement.

The NJCLD recognizes that there may be problems collecting subject information as a result of factors such as study setting, e.g., school, clinic, hospital. These difficulties can limit the kinds and amount of subject information available. Therefore, the NJCLD recommends that investigators report all relevant facts related to the collection of subject information.

The NJCLD urges all investigators to document the criteria for subject inclusion as well as provide a description of all tests and experimental measures used in the study. To facilitate replication, consistency in research design, and reporting of subject information across studies, the following subject descriptors are recommended:

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I. Demographic Data

  • Sample size

  • Gender

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Cultural/ethnic background

  • Dominant language dialect

  • Chronological age

  • Race

  • Maternal education

  • Locale: urban, suburban, rural

  • Geographic region

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II. Health and Medical History

  • Medical, including neurological/developmental, history

  • Sensory system problems

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III. Education Data

  • Grade placement

  • Education history, including current educational setting

  • Related services provided

  • Curricular and instructional histories

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IV. Characteristics at the Time of Study

  • Sensory and medical status at the time of the study

  • Intellectual level

  • Behavioral and emotional status

  • Receptive and expressive language abilities

  • Achievement levels

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Index terms: children, adolescents, learning disabilities

Reference this material as: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1991). The need for subject descriptors in learning disabilities research: preschool through high school years [Position Statement]. Available from

© Copyright 1991 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association disclaims any liability to any party for the accuracy, completeness, or availability of these documents, or for any damages arising out of the use of the documents and any information they contain.


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