In this paper I draw on several data sources to make the case that the attribution of superior creative resources and related alternative and/or enhanced cognitive styles to Learning disabilities (LD) was embedded within the original conception of LD and continues to be propagated by many in the LD community. I conclude by offering an exploration of the political/ethical consequences of this discursive practice.

Now I think [dyslexia is] … a gift because … the more I see in him, the more I see in other dyslexic kids, it's just they have such a river … of wonderful creative depth and thought processes. And then that the dyslexia is … part of who he is. And it doesn't stop him from being brilliant and he's brilliant in ways that maybe he wouldn't have been otherwise.

The words above are those of Elizabeth, a mother of a boy diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD) and a participant in an ethnographic study (Hale, 2011). Her expression represents the sentiments of a loving mother, and one that disability advocates would no doubt find attractive, in that, Elizabeth clearly asserts her son's gifts over and above the pathologizing power of the LD label. But is there more in this assertion than initially meets the eye? Is Elizabeth's attribution of her son's qualities to LD one she arrived at independently, or might it possibly owe its inspiration to a longstanding phenomenon stretching back to the origins of LD theory? More importantly, if the latter is so, how is that significant?

In this paper, I examine the differentiating power of LDC (learning disabilities creativity)—as an annex of LD—and its implications for maintaining social class distinctions. I begin by considering the history and ideological implications of the inception of LD as a recognized disability category. I also explore literature that focuses on a related phenomenon, the posthumous attribution of the gifts of remarkable historical figures (e.g., Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) to LD. From there, I investigate expressions of LDC-based beliefs held by groups and individuals at various points in the LD community. To this end, I look at expressions of LDC found on LD-centric websites, in the writings of a respected and nationally renowned LD researcher, public expert, and activist, and in the sentiments of Elizabeth (quoted above) the mother of a child attending a private school for children with LD. Finally, I explore the implications of LDC for social class distinction.

Clarification of Terms

While LD and dyslexia are distinguished as discreet phenomena by various sources referenced in this paper, I use LD as an umbrella term to refer to both. I do so because dyslexia and LD are both associated with enhanced creativity and other characteristics and dyslexia, or developmental reading disability, is a specific learning disability and therefore a subset of LD. The term LD discourse is meant to refer to what people associated with the field of LD (i.e., parents, teachers, researchers, etc.) say (or write), what they do, their values, their beliefs, and their social identities. Like all discourses, LD discourse is ideological, representing certain values and viewpoints about relationships among people and the ways social goods should be distributed (Dudley-Marling & Dippo, 1995). The term LD discursive community is used here to refer to those who participate and are stakeholders in LD discourse. LD discourse deploys a discrepancy-based theory of LD to deflect the stigma associated with academic failure. LD theory holds that a discrepancy between intellectual potential, as determined by an IQ test, and achievement can be explained by a neurological malfunction, an intrinsic disorder, within the individual (Carrier, 1986; Dudley-Marling & Dippo, 1995).

Historical Context

The ideological threads that run through LD discourse and provide context for the construction of LDC can be identified through an examination of the history of the establishment of LD as a disability category. Increasing academic standards in post-World War II America left many middle and upper-middle class parents groping for an acceptable explanation and a potential solution for their children's academic failure. Accordingly, they organized and effectively argued for recognition of a new disability category, LD, which would provide access to academic support and a relatively benign explanation for their children's struggles (Carrier, 1986; Sleeter, 1987).

These parents hoped that special education services would be a source of academic support, but the existing special education categories (slow learner, mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, and culturally deprived) were fraught with stigma, making them unacceptable to white parents with means. Each category was stigmatizing for its own reason (e.g., mentally retarded representing a total diminishment of a child's cognitive ability and academic potential) and all were seen as additionally problematic because most of the children assigned to them were from marginalized groups (African-Americans, poor whites, and so forth). Middle and upper-middle class parents therefore rejected existing categories and sought to carve out a more acceptable place for their children in special education (Sleeter, 1987). To this end parent-dominated advocacy groups mobilized to pressure states to establish LD programs and were eventually successful in obtaining federal recognition of LD as a special education service category (Carrier, 1986).

Ideological Implications

Identifying the ideologies that informed parents' and others' advocacy for the LD category provides insights into the discursive purpose of LD discourse and sheds light on LDC's function within that discourse. Appropriation of the ideology of biological determinism permitted parent—advocates to see their children's intelligence and potential as their biological inheritance. It also located their children's disabilities as intrinsic, thus exonerating child and family from blame for academic failure. The ideology of individual difference allowed these parents to differentiate their children, who they believed learned differently because of a neurological glitch that left them otherwise intact, from children whose identities were tainted and potentials limited by more global disabilities, such as mental retardation (Sleeter, 1987).

Two other discursive practices embedded in LD discourse are helpful in distinguishing children with LD. They are discrepancy and overcoming. White (2002) explains that the LD narrative always depicts academic failure as unexpected and a prelude to eventual success. Unexpected failure speaks to a discrepancy between potential and performance. An expectation of eventual success implies the likelihood of overcoming LD. One of the appeals of LD to its original parent-advocates was that, because of the limited nature of its effects and its presumed organic cause, it was believed to be curable/treatable (Carrier, 1986).

LDC amongst the Great

LDC finds symbolic expression in the practice of attributing the extraordinary gifts of Einstein and other past geniuses to posthumously diagnosed LD. Associating LD with legendary genius lends validity to LDC and represents the embodiment of the hopes associated with it. Anecdotally, having worked as an LD specialist, I have observed belief in the LD of Einstein and others (which I shared at one point) to be common among parents and educators of children with LD.

Historically, the emergence of an LD-Einstein (among others) correlation coincided with a period of intense codification of LD discourse. The first published claim of posthumous LD diagnosis of certain extraordinary historical figures was a watershed moment for White middle and upper-middle class parents of children facing academic struggles. It offered solace and hope and increased the attractiveness of an LD explanation for their children's failures (Carrier, 1986).

White (2002) explains how discursive elements of LD discourse made associating LD with the gifts of past geniuses very attractive and why this practice was quickly embraced within the LD community.

[T]he metaphors of discrepancy and reversal [overcoming] are crystallized in another element of LD culture, the idea that LD is the 'affliction of geniuses.' Lists of famous people who have been diagnosed or retrospectively diagnosed (Einstein, Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, William Butler Yeats, among others) grow ever longer (p. 726).

Thompson (1971) was the first to publish a claim that LD explained the extraordinary abilities of certain "eminent" historical figures (e.g., Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, Albert Einstein). His paper was seminal, in that it was to become the point of departure for an enduring scholarly exchange and a methodological model for research concerning posthumous LD diagnosis over the next 30 years. Thompson's methodology amounted to looking for suggestions of LD in biographical and historical documents. He based each posthumous LD diagnosis on evidence drawn from one or two sources (i.e., the accounts of family members and/or writing samples). While aware that this approach "may appear to be rather unscientific," he felt that his study provided data that "may be very suggestive if not finally conclusive" (1971, p. 40).

Over the ensuing years, others have attempted to support the diagnosis of some of the individuals identified by Thompson (1971) and/or have proposed new diagnoses (Aaron, Phillips, & Larson, 1988; Anderson, 1999; George & George, 1983; Minor & Siegel, 1992; West, 1992). Other researchers have attempted to contest the diagnoses of certain individuals (Kihl, Gregersen, & Sterum, 2000; Thomas, 2000; Wolff & Goodman, n.d.). In general, they have employed (with varying levels of rigor) methods similar to Thompson's. One methodological exception has been the work of Chakravarty (2009), who claims that, through posthumous examinations of Einstein's brain, he is able to confirm Einstein's legendary creativity and visual thinking abilities as well as his LD diagnosis.

The practice of posthumous diagnosis has received critical scrutiny from some LD scholars. Adelman and Adelman (1987) express concern that the practice demeans the field of LD, finding Thompson's (1971) study deeply flawed and observing that his impoverished scholarship has inspired an enthusiastic cottage industry around posthumous diagnosis. They comment that the supposed LD of Einstein and others is promoted in texts, journals, and media as symbolic of the idea that people with LD can be geniuses. They also observe that:

Once a posthumous diagnosis has been suggested, it often takes on a life of its own. Many people accept it as gospel, never checking the sources or the facts. A cursory review shows that many texts do not cite any sources when presenting such statements. (p. 271)

Kavale and Forness (1998) are also critical of this practice for many of the same reasons. They argue that, "the entire debate about posthumous diagnosis of LD appears a bit absurd when the fact of the matter is that we have no idea what we are talking about when it comes to LD" (p. 267). Accordingly, Winner, French, Seliger, Ross, and Weber (2001) caution that

[r]etrospective studies [claiming that historical figures with spatial talents had LD] are not strong evidence for such an association. First of all, they rely on guesswork rather than clinical diagnosis. In addition, retrospective studies on this topic are subject to hypothesis confirmation bias… (p. 82).

Yet, despite the insufficiency of evidence and the apparent lack of intellectual rigor in attempts to establish the truth of posthumous LD diagnosis, there is evidence that many within the LD research community unquestioningly assume the factual basis of Einstein and others' LD. Such assumptions have been uncritically referenced in many reports on research using clinical, brain morphometric, and other methodologies that seeks evidence of LD associated enhancements in creativity and/or visuospatial abilities (Brunswick, Martin, & Marzano, 2010; Burrows, & Wolf, 1983; Chakravarty, 2009; Corlu, Özcan, & Korkmazlar, 2007; Corlu, Özcan, & Korkmazlar, 2008; Craggs, Sanchez, Kibby, Gilger, & Hynd, 2006; O'Keefe, 2008; Tafti, Hameedy, & Baghal, 2009; Tarver, Buss, & Maggiore, 1979; Tarver, Ellsworth, & Rounds, 1980).

Beyond Normalization

As ideological threads running through LD discourse, the ideologies of biological determinism and individual difference in combination with the metaphors of discrepancy and overcoming also support the practice of LDC. As we shall see, the enhanced abilities associated with LDC are considered by many within the LD community to be intrinsic (biologically determined) qualities of people with LD differentiating them from others (the ideology of individual difference). The contrast between the tremendous potential symbolized by these qualities and the academic failure associated with LD signifies an extreme discrepancy. This potential represents a promise of not just overcoming the challenges of LD but excelling, despite associated impairments.

Representations of LDC in the LD Community

Here, I explore versions of LDC expressed by groups and individuals at various points in the LD community. These are: LDC expressions collected from a sampling of LD-centric websites, a professional/scholarly version of LDC articulated in the writings of Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a nationally recognized dyslexia researcher, public expert and LD advocate, and a parental perspective on LDC expressed by Elizabeth, a mother of a child with LD and participant in an ethnographic study (Hale, 2011). Following this exploration, I investigate the ways in which social class is implicated in these LDC representations.

Sampling LDC Representations on the Web

In order to access representations of LDC among a diverse sample of LD community stakeholders, I turn to the Internet, the town square of contemporary American society, through a sampling of LD-centric websites. Seeking examples of LDC associated terms, I conducted a Google search using the search terms dyslexia and creativity. (Dyslexia is more commonly associated with creativity and other LDC related qualities.) From the results, I chose the first 20 websites whose IP addresses included the words dyslexia, learning disabilities, or LD for analysis. This is not meant to represent a comprehensive sampling of LDC representations on the Web with the intent of "proving" its prevalence or monolithic character. It is an attempt to identify broad commonalities in representation among a sampling of websites that have explicitly declared (through their choice of IP address) their membership in the LD discursive community.

My search revealed websites maintained by individuals and groups that represent multiple categories of LD community participants, including individuals with LD (e.g., www.dyslexia.tv); parents of individuals with LD (e.g., www.creativedyslexics.org); medical, psychological, or educational professionals (e.g., www.succeedingwithdyslexia.com); purveyors of LD related products (e.g., www.dyslexia.com); and established advocacy and/or professional organizations (e.g., The British Dyslexia Association). Some site owners fit into multiple categories.

Among the 20 websites explicitly associating themselves with LD through their IP address, only three of the sites did not express LDC (www.dyslexia-international.org; www.dyslexiaonline.com; www.dyslexia-research.com). The remaining 17 sites made LDC-based assertions attributing a variety of enhanced qualities to LD. LDC attributions among these websites included heightened creativity, alternative/enhanced cognitive characteristics, and/or superior moral/spiritual qualities. Some made unqualified LDC attributions and others tempered their assertions, using qualifying terms such as possible, many (as opposed to all), often, etc.

All 17 sites expressing LDC-based attributions identified enhanced creativity as a LD characteristic. Thirteen of these did this without the use of qualifiers. While all 17 used the words creative and/or creativity, some also signified creativity with versions of the words innovative or imaginative. All 17 LDC-affirming websites also associated LD with some form of alternative and/or enhanced cognitive style with the same level of certainty (again, 13 without qualifiers). The most common qualities cited, in order of occurrence, were variations on visual thinking, holistic thinking, enhanced problem solving skills, superior thinking skills, out-of-the-box thinking, spatial thinking, and multidimensional thinking. Also, 12 of the LDC-affirming sites attributed spiritual and/or moral qualities to LD (eight of those without qualifiers). These attributes varied widely. The most common were variations of enhanced intuitiveness, empathy, and curiosity. Other qualities included variations on persistence, independence, perceptiveness, openness to new ideas, etc. Finally, nine of the initial 20-website sampling recognized posthumous LD diagnosis through referencing, listing, and/or profiling extraordinary historical figures.

A Researcher/Public Expert's LDC

The writings of Sally Shaywitz and information and opinions found on her foundation's (The Yale Center For Dyslexia & Creativity) website represent a prominent and influential researcher/advocate's conception of LDC. Shaywitz is a nationally known and highly respected figure in the world of LD research and advocacy. She sits on several national committees addressing a range of medical issues, including neurological disease, stroke, birth defects, and reading disability. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Board of Education Sciences. More relevant to LD and reading disability, she sits on the National Advisory Board of the National Center for Learning Disabilities and she recently served on the National Reading Panel and on the Committee to Prevent Reading Difficulties in Young Children for the National Research Council. In the fall of 2014, Shaywitz was invited to testify before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the United States House of Representatives. In her testimony, she advocated for dyslexia recognition, accommodation, and remediation. Not only did she emphasize the neurobiological roots of dyslexia, she took the occasion to promote her "sea of strengths" model of dyslexia. This holds that weaknesses associated with dyslexia are surrounded by a "sea of strengths in higher-level thinking processes such as reasoning and problem-solving," a clear expression of LDC. As evidence of this phenomenon, she cited Charles Schwab and other "eminent dyslexics" (The Science of Dyslexia, 2014).

Dr. Shaywitz and her husband, Bennett, are researchers at Yale University, who, for several decades, have focused their efforts on researching brain activation patterns of dyslexic and non-dyslexic individuals using functional MRIs. However, their research does not address a link between dyslexia and creativity. Rather, their decades of research have focused on comparing brain activation patterns of dyslexics and non-dyslexics and on the ways in which these patterns change when dyslexics receive appropriate instructional interventions. Yet, as indicated in her congressional testimony, her role in the dyslexia community is more than that of a researcher. She is a public expert and an advocate for dyslexics. Her book, Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), and her lectures are valued and extremely popular among parents and professionals in the LD community.

Shaywitz is generally unequivocal in her LDC-based assertions. Creativity is a prominent theme in her book and on her Yale website. For her, the link between dyslexia and creativity is irrefutable, so much so, she has named her foundation "The Yale Center for Creativity and Dyslexia." Shaywitz refers directly to the intrinsic creativity of dyslexic people at three points in Overcoming Dyslexia and indirectly at other points (e.g., references to qualities such as imagination). At one point, she writes that dyslexic people "appear to be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of creativity" in our society (Shaywitz, 2003, pp. 57-58). On the Center's website, qualities associated with dyslexia are depicted as arrows pointing at the center of a bull's-eye. One arrow is creativity ("Assessing Strength," n.d.).

Shaywitz also claims there is an association between alternative/enhanced cognitive abilities and dyslexia. On her website, she indicates that dyslexic people possess heightened problem solving and critical thinking skills ("Assessing Strength," n.d.). In her book (2003), Shaywitz makes multiple references to dyslexic people possessing enhanced/alternative cognitive skills. She refers to the "richness and depth of their intellectual abilities;" she assigns them "complex reasoning and sophisticated thinking skills" (p. 53); and she depicts dyslexics as holistic thinkers—writing, "Students who are dyslexic learn best by first understanding the big picture" (p. 321).

Shaywitz also associates dyslexia with enhanced spiritual and/or moral qualities. The Yale website includes multiple and varied references to this association. Dyslexics are depicted as possessing heightened empathy ("Assessing Strength," n.d.; "Signs of Dyslexia," n.d.), curiosity and maturity ("I Have Dyslexia. What Does it Mean?," n.d.), etc. In Overcoming Dyslexia, Shaywitz identifies empathy, warmth, maturity, and curiosity as dyslexic qualities (2003).

A Mother's LDC

To provide perspective on a personal/familial understanding of LDC, I draw on data from an ethnographic study of economically privileged parents of a child diagnosed with dyslexia (Hale, 2011). The quote that begins this article is only the most explicit of many expressions of Elizabeth's deep belief in her son's (Simon) dyslexia-born creativity and brilliance. Over the course of the ethnography, Elizabeth's words and actions consistently attributed LDC attributions to Simon. She referenced Simon's brilliance and "his art" (figurine modeling) repeatedly and she and her husband (Lawrence) energetically supported his creative efforts through regular praise and making sure he always had a rich palette of colored modeling clays at his fingertips.

Elizabeth's reference to Simon's "river" of dyslexic creativity occurred in an interview. I had asked her to discuss her feelings about Simon's dyslexia. Initially, she said the experience had been "very disheartening" and explained why. Then, Elizabeth's narrative shifted to a more positive tone as she described her recognition of the silver lining of Simon's dyslexia. (Italics show emphasis and ellipses show significant pauses.)

Now I think [dyslexia is] … a gift because … the more I see in him, the more I see in other dyslexic kids, it's just they have such a river … of wonderful creative depth and thought processes. And then that the dyslexia is … part of who he is. And it doesn't stop him from being brilliant and he's brilliant in ways that maybe he wouldn't have been otherwise.

Elizabeth's insight reveals her conception of LDC. She sees Simon's and others' dyslexia as "a gift" that confers the moral qualities and sophisticated thinking that accompanies enhanced creativity. Simon's dyslexia is "part of who he is" (intrinsic) and not only does it not impede his brilliance, it is likely its wellspring.

What can be generalized about how LDC is represented by the groups and individuals referenced above? Based on the evidence presented here, I would say that the majority of those who participate in the greater LD discourse community (including parents, individuals with LD, professionals, and merchants) see variants of LDC as uncontested and fortuitous fact. Heightened creative capacities, various alternate/enhanced cognitive abilities, and spiritual/moral assets are seen as the birthright of all individuals with LD.

LDC and Social Class

While the intersection of LD, social class, and race has become much more complex over the decades, true to its original purpose, LD continues to confer advantage to some but not others. Subsequently, the distinguishing effects of LDC attach themselves differentially. While initially, LD diagnosis was associated with white middle to upper-middle class children, over the last 30 years, increasing and disproportionately high numbers of children of color have received the label (Blanchett, 2010). In the 80s and 90s, the pattern and purpose of LD diagnosis shifted from that of relatively privileged parents contending for it to institutions coopting it for their own uses. Once it had been institutionalized, LD labeling could be applied with relative efficiency to addressing the political and financial needs of institutions. Schools were under pressure to limit mental retardation diagnoses of minority children so LD became a safer, more "PC" diagnosis to make. Also, special education funding mechanisms became an incentive for wider distribution of the LD label (Ong-Dean, 2006).

Yet, even though the demographics of LD diagnosis have changed, LD continues to bestow differential advantage and reinforce historical social class and racial hierarchies (Blanchett, 2010; McDermott, Goldman, & Varenne, 2006; Ong-Dean, 2006). In schools, the experiences of children labeled with LD vary significantly along class and race divides. Within certain disability categories, LD included, there is less per capita money spent for minority students (Ong-Dean, 2006). Children of color with disabilities (LD being the most populous category) generally spend less time in general education classrooms and are more often segregated in self-contained special classrooms (Blanchett, 2010; Ong-Dean, 2006). The effects of this ghettoization can be quite negative since the less time students spend in general education placements, the less likely they are to graduate, the more likely they are to drop out, and the less apt they are to have successful postsecondary experiences (Blanchett, 2010).

Conversely, the LD experience of more privileged children is generally quite different. The democratization of the LD label has not changed the logic of the market value of class advantage. As the market privileges adults with access to forms of capital over those without so do schools differentially award grades, degrees, and diagnoses to their children. Thus, children of white upper-class families enjoy a higher echelon LD (Blanchett, 2010; McDermott, Goldman, & Varenne, 2006). Another source of the class divide among children labeled LD is the tendency of privileged parents to seek LD diagnosis as a way of securing certain advantages, such as SAT-testing accommodations (McDermott, Goldman, & Varenne, 2006; Ong-Dean, 2006). For higher SES children, the affective experience of LD can also be quite different. Studies indicate that self-esteem is higher among higher achieving students with LD and that higher achieving students with LD are more likely to have higher SES. LD diagnosis may offer protection from the impact of low achievement, which may be more important to white, middle-class students because their societal position places them under more pressure to achieve (Ong-Dean, 2006). The hopeful message of the promise of LDC is also likely to be experienced differentially. White, more privileged students labeled LD are more likely than minority children to see themselves reflected in the largely white historical great and contemporary famous and successful individuals (Picasso, da Vinci, Edison, Richard Branson, Jay Leno, among others) commonly associated with LD by many in the LD community (Blanchett, 2010).

The Classist Code of the "Classic Dyslexic"

In Overcoming Dyslexia (2003), Shaywitz outlines her interpretation of one set of research results in a way that implicates a race and class divide among dyslexic people. Based on the results of fMRI studies of subjects participating in a longitudinal study, she distinguishes two socioeconomically distinct groups of dyslexics. The proposal of this distinction echoes the class and race infused politics that surrounded the early history of LD. While similar in manifestation, the dyslexias of the different groups have very different causes and prognoses. These differences speak to the social context of race and class distinction. She calls one group "classic dyslexics" and they are the focus of her research and advocacy. Classic dyslexics are congenital dyslexics. They are born with a "glitch in [their] posterior reading systems" (2003, p. 85) that distinguishes their brain activation patterns from unimpaired readers. For the most part, they do learn to read, becoming fairly accurate at sounding out words, but remain slow readers. The second group of dyslexics also experiences reading impairment but the causal factors and brain activation patterns are different from those of congenital or classic dyslexics. She suggests that this form of dyslexia

may be the result of a combination of poor reading instruction in school and a disadvantaged language environment at home. In this group, the wiring for the posterior reading system [of the brain] may have been laid down early on but never activated appropriately; the system is there but it is not functioning properly (p. 85).

While, a classic dyslexic "has higher verbal abilities and is able to compensate" for his/her impairment, individuals in the second (unnamed) group "remain poor readers, reading both inaccurately and slowly" unless they receive "effective intervention" (p. 85). Though not explicitly stated, it seems apparent that, of the two groups, the classic dyslexics, because of the intrinsic causality of their alternative brain functioning, would be the beneficiaries of Shaywitz's LDC attributions.

A clear socioeconomic distinction can be drawn between the two groups. By its description, the unnamed dyslexic group is poorer. They suffer inferior schools, as do many of the poor in this country, and grow up in what middle class professionals call "disadvantaged language environments." By contrast, the classic dyslexics experience neither of these environmental deprivations and therefore, one would infer, grow up in the advantaged language environments of middle to upper class families, living in suburbs where the schools are better or in higher income areas of cities, attending private schools.

Shaywitz is not the first to distinguish intrinsic from extrinsic causes of learning dysfunction nor is she the first to do so in the context of social class-based distinctions. According to Carrier (1983), two explanations for the minimal brain damage believed to impede learning competed in the 1960s. One of these would become the model of LD that would eventually receive official recognition and become that universally accepted in America today. This version was a discrepancy-based explanation of LD that middle to upper middle class parent-advocates favored as an explanation for their children's academic struggles and that became the object of their advocacy. Carrier calls the other, non-discrepancy explanation for school failure "socio-genic brain damage." Attributing the brain damage assumed to cause academic dysfunction to cultural deprivation associated with poverty, this version "blamed lower class parents for their children's condition and stressed permanent neural damage" (p. 132). For parents with means, the discrepancy-based version of LD emphasizing their children's intellectual potential and abstaining them and/or their communities from blame was undoubtedly preferable. Shaywitz's classic dyslexic clearly fits the discrepancy version of LD while her environmental model of dyslexia is similar to the socio-genic brain damage explanation for LD. Cultural deprivation and disadvantaged language environments are interrelated terms and both are commonly associated with poverty.

LDC Entitlement?

Elizabeth's construction of LDC can also be placed in a social class context. As noted above, Elizabeth and Lawrence are economically privileged. Like many privileged families, they chose to place their children in an elite private school (Chesed). Unfortunately, Simon's dyslexia-associated academic struggles led to his eventual expulsion from Chesed. Elizabeth's disappointment at Simon's failure was compounded by a sense of personal failure. Her investment in Simon's success had been intensified by feelings of having herself underachieved academically. Evidence of this perspective emerged during the same conversation referenced above.

Her initial response (prior to her reference to Simon's river of creativity) to my question about her feelings about Simon's dyslexia was it had been "disheartening." She then gave context to these feelings.

You know… You want your kids to be perfect. I came from what I felt like in many ways was a- a failed family situation, in their lack of educational interest or encouragement and I was really bent on giving my kids the best education, best opportunity so they could be everything they could be. Worked really, really hard. Was going to put them in private school. [But then] to have a- to have a kid who couldn't- wouldn't be able to do that. So, it's … hard to get past that at first.

When she said that she comes from "a failed family situation," due to her parents' "lack of educational interest or encouragement," she was describing a profound offense to her identity as an intelligent and competent individual with great potential. Her father had refused to allow her to go away to an Ivy League school and she was forced to settle for what she considered a mediocre college, within commuting distance. Years later, when Simon was accepted at Chesed, she saw this as an opportunity to redress this injustice through Simon and an opportunity to "play in that game." That game was "the Ivy League…circuit that I always felt excluded from and this was going to be my entry point." Simon' acceptance at Chesed permitted her to finally compete on the field of battle (the Ivy League) that her upper-middle class habitus (class-based dispositions to act established in childhood) conditioned her to see as her rightful place (Bourdieu, 1990).

This expression of Elizabeth's personal investment in Simon's success at Chesed demonstrates at an individual level the macro forces described by Bourdieu's (1990) theories of the mechanisms of social stratification. Chesed is a field of struggle, on which individuals (children representing families) vie for dominance. In schools, academic success ensures maintenance or improvement of a family's position in the social order. Parents could be said to be participating in an educational stock market. When parents send their children to school, they are investing capital in a market, or a competitive field. Bourdieu (1998) explains that families deploy educational strategies to perpetuate their social positions. It is at the intersection of familial strategies and the structure of schooling where the means of production of cultural capital (knowledge about how to succeed in society) are reproduced. It is through cultural and social capital born of habitus that privileged families are able to invest wisely in their children's education. Their social milieu—friends, relatives, business associates—becomes fertile ground where they can apply their social skills and use their networks to inform themselves about the best schools to which to send their children. In this way they can anticipate "fluctuations on the stock exchange of scholarship value" (p. 25) and be sure of accessing educational resources that improve their potential to earn maximum returns on their capital investment.

As with the other families at Chesed, Simon's parents' investment in his success was of vital importance. Elizabeth's feelings of being stymied educationally by her father raised the stakes for her personally. Her desire for Simon to succeed was driven by strong personal needs. Her appropriation of LDC in her characterization of Simon can be seen as a way of saving face and dealing with the disappointment she felt at his failure to compete on the field of struggle represented by Chesed. Simon's academic failure had devalued her and Lawrence's investment. Associating Simon with LDC may have been a way for her to dispute that devaluation by boosting his value through associating him with the symbolic capital that accompanies enhanced creativity and cognitive skills and brilliance.


As an enthusiastically supported discursive practice among stakeholders in the LD community, LDC plays an important role in LD discourse. It is a practice embedded in LD discourse that serves to differentiate individuals with LD from those without. LD discourse has always had a discriminating function. Early parent-advocates for LD as a special education category saw LD theory as a way to distinguish their struggling children from other children in need of special educational services. LDC expands on that purpose. Not only does it function to distinguish individuals with LD from those assigned to less desirable disability categories, it differentiates those with LD from all others (including nondisabled, neurotypical individuals). LDC goes beyond LD theory's original normalizing function of certifying the unimpeded or normal potential of persons with LD and mitigating the stigma of disability and academic failure. It turns disability on its head and transforms it into a gift that elevates the status of individuals with LD beyond normal (as in opposite of subnormal) to hyper-normal.

Given the symbolic power that hyper-normalization lends to LDC, it is not surprising that parents and other participants within the LD discursive community embrace the practice. LDC is a powerful tool that can be used to counterbalance the stigma associated with academic failure. Superior creativity and other related qualities more than balance the scale in comparisons with the non-reading impaired but less creative other. LD pride balances and overcomes LD shame. Yet, there is evidence that LDC also serves another function, beyond compensation. It may also play a role in supporting structures that contribute to the maintenance of social class inequity in our society. While the embrace of LDC by parents and other groups is generally benign in intent and potentially beneficial in practice, its potential contribution to social stratification is problematic. While parents should not be denied an appreciation of their children's special qualities, should the children of one group in society have a monopoly on extraordinary gifts? Clearly, the implication that less advantaged children with LD are less gifted than children of the relatively privileged should not be ignored.

The issues raised here have important implications for educators, researchers, and other professionals. Knowledge producers and propagators must address the social justice concerns evoked by the class and race-based disparities in the LD experience including the exclusionary character of LDC affiliation. Also, professionals associated with the LD field must become aware of their own evocations of LDC and be willing to subject the entire belief system to critical scrutiny. The field is grounded in the science-based discourses of medicine and psychology (Reid & Valle, 2004) yet, as evidenced by apparent disjunction between Shaywitz's seeming preoccupation with a dyslexia-creativity link and the direction of her brain function research and the many examples cited above of researchers who unquestionably assume posthumous LD diagnosis, many of its stakeholders appear to suspend disbelief when it comes to LDC.

Works Cited

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