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Theories of causation

  • 6 Key Points
  • ? Tests have failed to detect direct evidence of brain damage in children with specific learning difficulties.
  • ? The cause of specific learning difficulties is presently unknown.
  • ? There is strong evidence for a genetic factor playing a role in the causation of specific learning difficulties.

Introduction

Teach thy tongue to say, ‘I do not know’.

Maimonides, physician and philosopher (1135-1204)

In the definition of specific learning difficulties in the first chapter I emphasized that the delay in learning must be ‘unexplained’. It is, therefore, explicit in the definition that the cause of specific learning difficulties is presently unknown.

There are few things more frustrating for a doctor to say, or for a parent to hear, than that the cause of a child’s condition is unknown. There is a natural tendency in such situations to alleviate this discomfort by guessing the cause. This is not necessarily bad, as it is by developing theories and devising experiments to test them that our knowledge advances. But the danger is that in our desire to know the cause with certainty, we may come to believe in a theory so strongly that we think of it as a fact.

Theories about specific learning difficulties abound. Most are based on the assumption that there is some impairment of brain function. These theories are not mutually exclusive, since each may explain one step in the chain of events that gives rise to specific learning difficulties, as shown in Figure 3.1. Let us look at these theories one by one.

A chain ofevents that may lead to a specific learning difficulty

Figure 3.1 A chain ofevents that may lead to a specific learning difficulty.

 
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