Thirty years ago, Katharine G. Butler wrote in the inaugural issue of Topics in Language Disorders the following:
There is much to know. We hope to discuss the current and future direction of theory and therapy. There is much to hope for; we look forward to exploration of new horizons in language science and its application to intervention strategies. (Butler, 1980, p. viii)
In 2010, Topics in Language Disorders is celebrating its 30th anniversary and we still have much more to know. We still have more issues to discuss and we still have much to hope for. I am deeply honored to be the issue editor of this special issue in celebrating this important landmark. Over the last 30 years, Topics in Language Disorders has dealt with many important topics and I have gathered many former issue editors and authors to compile this special issue. There are two main purposes of this special issue: to pay tribute to Dr. Katharine G. Butler and to review the past and look into the future in language science and its application to intervention strategies.
This issue starts with Geraldine P. Wallach's article titled, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Pulling Language-Based Learning Disabilities out of the Drifting Snow.” Wallach uses the visual metaphor of drifting snow as a reminder of past and current practices in language-learning disabilities that sometimes keep professionals frozen in time. She wants us to carefully evaluate our intervention strategies and ask critical questions as to why we choose those strategies. Wallach also provides ideas for implementing literacy and curriculum-focused intervention that is effective and strategic. It is difficult for many of us to change familiar patterns of practice that are comfortable in, but the winds of change have come and we need to look forward.
The second article, by Joel Stark, is called “Thirty Years Before Topics in Language Disorders: A Personal History.” Stark offers a personal account of the changes he has seen in our profession and expresses delight that we are involved with reading, writing, and spelling. He cautions us to continue to examine the teaching approaches we use with children who have oral and written language challenges. He sees the true crisis in our schools' subject-specific knowledge deficiencies and calls attention to this major challenge. As a seasoned scholar in this field, his words bear close attention.
The third article, titled “Language Learning Disability and Individual Differences: Can We See Between the Lines?”, is authored by Elaine R. Silliman. She focuses on three interconnected dimensions of learning: (1) the stability versus the instability of learning profiles; (2) the unique pathways that learning may take; and (3) linear versus nonlinear perspectives of learning. She also provides future directions for rethinking individual variations in language learning disabilities. As one of Dr. Butler's close collaborators and a trailblazer, Silliman continues to challenge the status quo and urges us to examine the interconnectivity of these three domains.
The fourth article, by Diane J. Sawyer, is titled “Improving Reading Instruction: A Call for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.” Sawyer proposes that reading instruction should be a collaborative effort, an effort that benefits from the knowledge and cotraining of professionals in language and literacy. She argues for the need for better reading instruction and suggests that because language problems often underlie difficulties in reading comprehension, language specialists can play an important role in instruction. Furthermore, Sawyer offers a wide array of suggestions for improving language/reading instruction, including professional preparation and continuing education.
The fifth article, “Reading Expository Material: Are We Asking the Right Questions?” is contributed by Lynn S. Snyder. Snyder warns about the declining levels of American students' overall low reading performance. She asks many questions and concludes by saying that all of the factors addressed by these questions seem to be legitimate, based on the empirical evidence that prompted them. She also wants to raise the question that is related to the amount of time students spend in school. She challenges us to determine what the respective contributions are in the different school settings of American students.
Gloria Weddington authors the sixth article titled, “It's Not the Language: Alternative Explanations of the Education Gap for African American Children.” Weddington argues that the achievement gap that exists between Black and White students cannot be explained on the basis of linguistic and cultural differences of the children. In addition, the gap cannot be blamed on socioeconomic factors. She asserts that regardless of the language children speak at home, the ability to read, compute, and achieve academic success can be accomplished when caring, well-educated teachers have a belief that the children can learn and a willingness to show that their culture and language are valued.
The seventh article, titled “Lessons From the Renaissance: The Power of Multiple Knowledge Bases,” is provided by Kathleen A. Whitmire and Joanna Beck. Whitmire and Beck use the Renaissance paradigm of “Homo universalis” to provide a 30-year retrospective view of services with students with language disorders. They provide an excellent description of the added value to student learning with each reauthorization of the IDEA and also the concepts that support improved quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The authors are concerned with our inability to move practice forward and suggest that the RTI model is a potential framework that might support the desired change. For those colleagues who work in the schools, this article is a must read.
Carol Westby contributed the eighth article, titled “Multiliteracies: The Changing World of Communication.” Westby reviews the “technological and social/cultural demands of the 21st century” and their impact on communication. She gives a clear introduction to multiliteracies and describes the role of speech–language pathologists in addressing communication disorders in these new environments. Furthermore, she presents redundant a vision of what the future is likely to hold as new technologies become increasingly integrated into our everyday life-day life. We need to broaden our perspectives on communication in our global village.
The ninth article is provided by two European colleagues, Marie de Montfort Supple and Ewa Söderpalm. They give us a worldview on child language disability in their article titled “Child Language Disability: A Historical Perspective.” The authors attempt to trace the identification of language disorder in childhood and subsequent attempts at its management. The development of the profession of speech–language pathology, initially in Western Europe and later in North America, is outlined. The roles played by researchers in the area are highlighted with specific reference to significant recent periods of development that have been labeled, scientific, processing, linguistic, and pragmatic.
The 10th article deals with the topic of “Immigration, Cultural–Linguistic Diversity, and Topics in Language Disorders.” In it, I provide a review of the use of terminologies that have been used to describe the cultural and linguistic diversities of our ever-changing immigrant populations: NEP (no English proficiency), LEP (limited English proficiency), ESL (English as a second language), ELL (English language learners), and ENL (English as new language). This article also serves as a tribute to Kay Butler's foresight in focusing on issues related to learning English as a new language, along with the need to balance respect for an old culture with learning a new one.
The final article, by Nasser M. Kotby, Safaa El-Sady, and Mona Hegazi, provides an overview of “Thirty-Five Years of Care of Child Language in Egypt.” This piece offers another worldview on how language disorders, particularly in children, have changed over the past 30 years. It also provides an example of how determination, effort, and collaboration can lead to development of a new discipline of study and higher education, as well as a program of healthcare services, to a part of the world where they were previously unavailable.
As Friedman (2005) said, the world is flat. People move, families move, and we are in a constant change. Johnson and Blanchard (1998), in their book, Who Moved My Cheese?, made a compelling call for people to learn to cope with changes. We are impacted by the speed of technological development, the multiple languages that are being used to communicate, the various forms of languages used electronically—text messaging and twitter, and many forms of social networking. We have seen many changes in the past 30 years. The future 30 years will surely bring more challenges. I certainly hope that you will enjoy reading these articles and also please join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of Topics in Language Disorders and in saluting Dr. Katharine G. Butler—a true renaissance woman.
Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, PhD
Issue Editor, Professor, School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California