Researchers and professionals from around the globe gathered for the 45th annual International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities (IARLD) conference in Gainesville, FL from October 25 through 27, 2023, to discuss research and practice that supports students with learning disabilities.
The conference opened with remarks from Ken Campbell, a local Alachua County special education teacher, issuing a call for researchers to spend more time in schools, joining teachers and students to better understand the context, needs and opportunities of the current state of literacy.
Over the course of the next two days, attendees would participate in symposium sessions, poster presentations and small group discussions.
Cruickshank Lecturer Dimitris Anastasiou, Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University addressed opportunities and challenges of three key pillars for serving students with learning disabilities in reading and writing: a) rigorous research field and academic discipline, b) specially designed instruction to meet atypical learning needs and c) service delivery models focused on promoting equality of opportunity, equity, and social justice.
“Serving as the Cruickshank Lecturer was a privilege, and the experience was a profound exploration of the intersections between theory, research, and practical applications in learning disabilities. I was excited to share insights that may empower researchers, educators, and learners,” said Dr. Anastasiou.
The International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities (IARLD) was founded in 1976 by Dr. William Cruickshank and Dr. Jacob Valk. Having become a group of nearly 300 distinguished scholars, representing 29 different countries and 30 disciplines from across the globe, IARLD has supported the advancement of knowledge regarding learning disabilities through research, collaboration, dialogue and advocacy.
Conference Speaker Kathrin Maki, Ph.D. from the UF College of Education, and Lastinger Center affiliate faculty member, discussed issues underlying the identification of specific learning disabilities in schools and presented research findings that highlight challenges with identification decision making. The presentation focused on the utility of focusing on treatment response within specific learning disability (SLD) identification and functional assessment practices to promote meaningful SLD identification, treatment planning, and ultimately appropriate supports to meet children’s needs.
“It was a really wonderful experience to speak at IARLD,” said Dr. Maki. “Presenting and conversing with other researchers exclusively focusing on understanding learning disabilities and supporting students with learning disabilities provided unique opportunities to expand our thinking and work. Further, having my perspective respectively challenged through conversations with colleagues with diverse perspectives on learning disabilities and its identification will significantly enhance my future work.”
Conference Chair Paige Pullen, Ph.D, Lastinger Center Chief Academic Officer and Literacy Principal, hosted a “fireside chat” with Daniel P. Hallahan, advisee to Cruickshank, to wrap up the conference events. Hallahan discussed the history of IARLD, the state of research and practice on learning disabilities and the future direction of the organization.
Each year, IARLD recognizes a participant with the Janette Klinger IARLD Conference Poster Award. This year’s recipient was Lena Wuntke, M. Ed., from the University of Greifswald, Germany. Her poster titled Promoting the Emotional and Social Development of Children by Expanding Specific Teacher Competencies – Evaluation of a Professional Development Measure with Elementary School Teachers and their Students described a professional development and school-based intervention program for elementary school teachers in the area of emotional-social development. The results showed significant positive impacts on students and teachers, and suggested an expansion of counseling and support elements would lead to an increased effectiveness of a process-accompanying teacher training.
From Taiwan to Tennessee, Finland to Florida, and Cologne to Connecticut, IARLD seeks to create a space where education strategies, themes and models can be addressed at a global level. Topics included orthography studies and recommendations, reading fluency dosage and case study projects, meta-analysis of the effectiveness of teacher professional development programs, student self-awareness and inclusive education, and more.
“The annual meeting of the International Academy for Research on Learning Disabilities was not just a conference, but a confluence of minds, where rich dialogues flowed, excellence in presentations was the norm, and the outstanding conference atmosphere turned every moment into an opportunity for growth and collaboration,” said Dr. Pullen.