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Learning Disabilities Research Program

What we do

The LDRP is a clinical and educational research unit that focuses on children with specific reading, spelling, writing, and language learning difficulties.

Our research addresses assessment issues in learning disabilities like:

  • What are the core learning impairments?
  • What causes transfer-of-learning problems?
  • How general/specific are core learning deficits?
  • Are current measurement instruments adequate or appropriate for use with struggling readers at different age-levels (e.g., adolescence, adulthood)?

We also investigate intervention issues in determining the most effective remediation for learning disabilities, such as:

  • What constitutes the most effective treatment for specific learning problems?
  • What diagnostic factors predict response to particular programming approaches?
  • What programming components facilitate generalization and result in optimal long-term outcomes?
  • What cognitive and motivational processes contribute to or impede reading skill development in struggling readers?

Background on the Learning Disabilities Research Program

Our program specializes in developing and evaluating educational treatment programs that can address the basic learning problems that interfere with the ability to become literate. The programs developed by the LDRP are not solely intervention programs for students with diagnosed learning disabilities, but also are relevant to those at risk for reading acquisition failure for a range of environmental and constitutional factors. The LDRP operates research classes and Empower™ Reading classes in over 25 school boards in Ontario, across Canada, and in the United States.

Research and service to children and adolescents are intertwined in the work of the LDRP. By conducting research into the core learning deficits affecting these students  and how best to remediate these deficits, and by sharing our results locally and internationally, we are attempting to help many more children and adolescents than we could ever see in our classrooms. Our most recent intervention programs have produced the best results we have seen.

From 2006 to 2011, research programs developed by the LDRP at The Hospital for Sick Children were operated in schools in Toronto, Waterloo, Hamilton, Brampton, and inner-city Atlanta. The LDRP programs were offered as part of a cross-national research partnership with Georgia State University funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Elementary students in grades 5 to 8 received one of two multi-component reading intervention programs or the standard special education program offered by their school, as part of a controlled randomized research design.

From 1996-2006, the LDRP at The Hospital for Sick Children, in partnership with Georgia State University and Tufts University, conducted a research study that evaluated the efficacy of evidence-based multidimensional intervention programs for primary-grade children at risk for reading acquisition failure. The research initiative was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. In Toronto, Boston, and Atlanta, half of all the children served in our research classrooms were from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.

From 1999 to 2006, the LDRP initiated an innovative and ambitious research partnership with the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB). For the first time, the evidence-based interventions developed in our LDRP laboratory classrooms were being offered in elementary community classrooms, with designated community-based teachers trained and monitored in their teaching of the LDRP programs through continuous mentoring. This systems-based model was designed using rigorous research standards so that the data collected permitted a carefully controlled evaluation of a set of integrated interventions developed to optimize outcomes for children with reading and language learning difficulties. Our Systems-based programs were offered in more than 25 TCDSB elementary classrooms.

From 2000 to 2009, the LDRP offered remediation to struggling readers in high school as part of a research project involving adolescents with RD. The PHAST PACES Program was offered to more than 500 students in 19 TCDSB high schools. The 70-hour program focused on developing decoding, word identification, and reading comprehension skills.

In September 2012 the LDRP and our partners at Georgia State University, the University of Memphis, and Brock University initiated the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL) which is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. The goals of CSAL are to better understand the underlying cognitive and motivational processes that contribute to reading difficulties in adults and to develop and evaluate a multiple-component reading intervention for struggling adult readers.  

Since Fall 2006, we have devoted time and effort to knowledge translation – helping schools and school boards learn about and use our evidence-based reading interventions. During the 2006-07 school year, five local school boards were part of a small controlled roll-out of our Empower™ Reading program which is based on our 30 years of research.  Subsequently, more school boards have chosen to use Empower™ Reading with struggling readers in their schools; currently over 25 school boards including Toronto Catholic District School Board, Peel District School Board,  Avon Maitland District School Board, and Upper Canada District School Board offer Empower™ Reading in some or all of their schools.. Since 2006, over 10,000 students have participated in the Empower™ Reading program with approximately 900 teachers having been trained to deliver the program.