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From the Editor: Focus on Their Ideas

Section Editor(s): Nelson, Nickola Wolf PhD; Editor

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0b013e318273f08a
TLD Special Issue: Access to Writing for Students with Diverse Disabilities

The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.*

Edwin Schlossberg (1945–), American designer and author

Everyone has ideas. Everyone has likes and dislikes. Schlossberg's quotation about writing as creating a context in which other people can think seemed a perfect way to introduce this topical issue on “Access to Writing for Students With Diverse Disabilities.” In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders, issue editor, Janet Sturm, and her authors present fresh ideas about how to help students become authors who previously might never have had the opportunity to learn to communicate through writing. This is an issue about learning to write to express ideas, share ideas, and persuade others about one's ideas.

Communication as a context in which ideas can be shared, illuminated, and expanded by two or more partners is a notion that is compatible with social interactionist views about language learning (e.g., Bruner, 1986; Vygotsky, 1978), including learning to write (Nystrand, 1989). Corresp-ondingly, becoming an appreciative audience for the ideas of children with diverse developmental disabilities (DD) is one of the most important things parents, teachers, and clinicians can do to help children begin to conceptualize themselves as authors. One of the maxims I try to teach my students who are preparing to become speech–language pathologists is to focus on their clients' ideas. Trying to understand what is meaningful to a child on multiple levels— cognitive, social, and emotional—is a first step to helping that child acquire more sophisticated abilities for communicating those ideas through conventional language.

The question space shared by the authors in this issue is how to get children with diverse disabilities to begin to think and perform like authors. The children who have participated in piloting the new techniques described by these authors range widely in age and disability types. Staples and Edmister (2012) describe young children with a range of disabilities (including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disability) in early childhood special education settings. Sturm (2012) uses case examples from students with autism spectrum disorders and other forms of DD of a wide age range to explain the potential of an Enriched Writers Workshop to bring them into the world of sharing ideas through writing. Asaro-Saddler and Bak (2012) describe application of self-regulated strategy development (Graham & Harris, 1989) for teaching persuasive expression of ideas for students with autism spectrum disorders. In addition, Sturm, Cali, Nelson, and Staskowski (2012) describe a new Developmental Writing Scale for capturing change in the extended early writing stages these children may require.

Collectively, these articles should move thinking forward about the possibilities for achieving meaningful progress in written language expression for children with a wide range of needs. They provide a context for stimulating thinking both of a theoretical and practical nature. This amalgamated purpose has been part of the mission of Topics in Language Disorders since Katherine G. Butler, its founding editor, editor for 25 years, and now, editor-emerita, conceptualized the journal's mission 32 years ago. This issue is a fitting tribute to Kay's vision.

—Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD


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Asaro-Saddler K., Bak N. (2012). Teaching children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders to write persuasive essays. Topics in Language Disorders, 32(4), 361–378.
Bruner J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Graham S., Harris K.R. (1989). Improving learning disabled students' skills at composing essays: Self-regulated strategy training. Exceptional Children, 56, 201–214.
Nystrand M. (1989). A social-interactive model of writing. Written Communication, 6, 66–85.
Staples A., Edmister E. (2012). Evidence of two theoretical models observed in young children with disabilities who are beginning to learn to write. Topics in Language Disorders, 32(4), 319–334.
Sturm J. M. (2012). An Enriched Writers' Workshop for beginning writers with developmental disabilities. Topics in Language Disorders, 32(4), 335–360.
Sturm J. M., Cali K., Nelson N. W., Staskowski M. (2012). The Developmental Writing Scale: A new progress monitoring tool for beginning writers. Topics in Language Disorders, 32(4), 297–318.
Vygotsky L. S. (trans. 1978). Mind and Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

* Retrieved September 10, 2012, from
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