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Dr. Shinn: Let’s Shift Focus From Diagnosing Kids’ Disabilities To Helping Them Learn Prof keynotes at distinguished conference on educating children with disabilities

Mark Shinn

Mark Shinn, Ph.D.


When children struggle in school, the trend for about the past 35 years has been to test them and give them a diagnosis, such as a learning disorder, a behavior disorder or a special needs student.

That hasn’t been effective in helping these students, NLU’s Mark Shinn, Ph.D., told many of the nation’s premier researchers and policymakers in the special education field this week.

Dr. Melody Musgrove, Director of the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, invited Shinn to speak at the conference, “State of Science and Practice for Children in Disabilities,” June 16-17 in Washington, D.C.

“For 35 years, we’ve identified disabilities, and thought diagnosis led to effective treatment,” Shinn said. “That has not been proven true.”

It would be more effective for schools to pour all that effort into teaching kids what they need to know or do, he argued.

“The field is trying to shift from ‘what a kid has’ to ‘what a kid needs’ in terms of intervention,” Shinn said.

For example, if a child is having difficulty learning to read, Shinn advocates for responding powerfully in the effort to help the child read, rather than spending a lot of time and energy arriving at a diagnosis, such as “learning disabilities.”

Shinn delivered one of the conference’s keynotes, “Serving children with disabilities within multi-tiered systems of support frameworks.”

“My keynote focused on how although we have made many advancements in serving students with and without disabilities since the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, for every step forward, we remain too linked to ineffective or less effective practices,” Shinn said.

“I made my comments in the context of how MultiTier Systems of Support/Response to Intervention (MTSS/RTI) has reflected advances in research and practice, but also has perpetuated other problems, and too often left special education behind.”

Each of the 30 invited presenters were national experts in their areas of expertise ranging from research-based practices in reading, language arts, mathematics, assessment and identification of students with disabilities, and inclusive intervention practices for application for all disability categories.

The presenters represented premier institutions of higher education. They included remarks from the recently confirmed Assistant Secretary for Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Programs (OSERS) and remarks from Musgrove of OSEP and Joan McLaughlin, Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research
Programs (NCSER) of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as Brett Miller, Ph.D., Program Director Reading, Writing, & Related Learning Disabilities Research Program for the Child Development & Behavior Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

One comment on “Dr. Shinn: Let’s Shift Focus From Diagnosing Kids’ Disabilities To Helping Them Learn Prof keynotes at distinguished conference on educating children with disabilities

  1. Relative has a 3year old in a program Lovaas Intensive Behavioral Treatment that seems perhaps too much for a child that communicates but has other issues relating to pronunciation and agility.

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