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LDDI Activities & History

Current Activities

Teleconference Calls

Since 2005, LDDI member AAIDD's Environmental Health Initiative has hosted a series of teleconference calls that feature presentations on environmental contributors to learning and developmental disabilities. For a listing of both past and upcoming calls, visit the teleconference calls page on AAIDD's Environmental Health Initiative site »


According to studies, the incidence of learning and developmental disabilities appears to be rising, affecting about one in six children in the US under the age of 18.1 Many factors – heredity, gene expression, social environment, nutrition and chemical contaminants – contribute to brain development in complex ways. Chemical contaminants, however, have historically been the least researched and are the most preventable. Emerging science suggests that exposures to certain neurotoxicants such as lead, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants, solvents and other known and suspected neurotoxicants can contribute to neurological problems including learning and developmental disabilities (LDDs). Recent research also shows that the developing fetus and children are particularly vulnerable to environmental exposures. Given this, protecting children from exposures to neurotoxicants starting as early as fetal development is an essential public health measure if we are to help prevent further increases in LDDs.

1. Boyle CA, Boulet S, Schieve LA, Cohen RA, Blumberg SJ, Yeargin-Allsopp M, Visser S, Kogan MD. Trends in the prevalence of developmental disabilities in US children, 1997-2008. Pediatrics. 2011, May 23.

Initial Strategies and Goals

In order to help prevent further increases in LDDs, LDDI was established in May 2002 to work collaboratively to protect children from exposures to neurotoxicants. At the first meeting in Washington, DC, the participants determined that the national LDD sector, with its hundreds of thousands of members, in collaboration with scientists and key environmental health and justice organizations, could be an effective voice for protecting children from toxic hazards related to brain development.

In addition, the group acknowledged that most learning and LDD groups have traditionally focused on identifying kids with LDDs and getting them the services they need – something that is, of course, very important but does not address the rising rates of LDDs. For this reason, LDDI also coalesced to encourage the LDD sector to collectively look upstream, and in addition to their other efforts, help prevent toxic threats to child development.

LDDI was established as one of the main working groups of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), a national coalition of scientists, health-care providers, health-affected groups and community-based organizations committed to working collaboratively to eliminate environmental contributors to chronic health problems.

This group also defined four goals for LDDI:

  1. Educating state and national learning and developmental disabilities (LDD) groups about possible environmental links to LDDs.
  2. Translating emerging science into information and fact sheets to be used at workshops and on websites for lay audiences.
  3. Cultivating opportunities for interested groups to press for specific legislation that would eliminate neurotoxicants, such as mercury, pesticides and persistent bioaccumulative toxins.
  4. Increasing collaboration and expanding partnerships among groups and individuals who are interested in promoting good health and preventing toxic exposures that can lead to or exacerbate disabilities.

Some Accomplishments of LDDI Members to Date

Major National and Regional Meetings

National Meeting, July 2003. LDDI worked with the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation) to organize a national meeting of developmental disabilities (DD) groups and environmental health organizations at the Wingspread Conference Center to draft a national blueprint for working to eliminate environmental toxicants that may contribute to DDs. Since this time, AAIDD has partnered with LDDI members and others to develop a vibrant environmental health initiative with several committees and ongoing activities.

National Meeting at the National Institutes of Health, May 2004. LDDI organized this meeting highlighting the latest research, educational and policy efforts regarding the links between neurotoxicants and LDDs. Attended by researchers, health-care professionals, government agency representatives, health-affected groups and advocacy organizations from across the country, the meeting aimed to enhance understanding, encourage support, and highlight existing initiatives regarding the links between certain chemical exposures and learning and developmental disabilities. The meeting was followed by a day of congressional visits by several LDDI members. Notes, congressional materials and presentations from the meeting have been posted on our LDDI Events page.

Regional Meetings, 2004-2006. LDDI organized five well-attended regional meetings in Michigan (October 2004), Pennsylvania (April 2005), New York (June 2005), California (October 2005) and Minnesota (January 2006) with state-based LDD groups. These have led to new state-based educational and policy initiatives with LDDI members in these regions. See our LDDI Events page for more information.

Educational Forum, February 2009. AAIDD, LDA, and ASA partnered with local organizations in Connecticut to co-host an educational forum on toxic chemicals and public health in Hartford.

Educational Forum, October 2009. AAIDD, LDA, and ASA partnered with local organizations in Illinois to co-host an educational forum on toxic chemicals and public health in Chicago.

LDAA Forum, January 2011. LDA, with support from the John Merck Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Ceres Foundation, convened a forum to present the state-of-the-science on toxic chemicals and health as well as related policy updates and training.

Workshops, November 2011 and January 2012. Three workshops by LDDI and the ASA in North Carolina, Texas and California featured national experts from diverse sectors highlighting the latest research on associations between environmental exposures and early neurodevelopment as well as the implications for prevention-based public health policy. Visit the workshops page

LDDI Presentations. LDDI members have presented at these conferences and meetings:

  • Learning Disabilities Association Annual Conference, March 2004
  • Autism Society of America's Annual Meeting, July 2004
  • Washington State Public Health Association's Annual Conference, October 2004
  • American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting, November 2004
  • A statewide Idaho Early Start Conference sponsored by Head Start, December 2004
  • CHE-Oregon's meeting, February 2005
  • National Environmental Health Association Meeting, June 2005
  • International Neurotoxicology Conference, September 2005
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Town Meeting/Public Forum, September 2005
  • LDA-CA 45th Anniversary Celebration Conference, October 2005
  • American Speech and Hearing Association National Conference, November 2005
  • American Public Health Association National Conference, December 2005
  • Developmental Neurotoxicity Testing Meeting, March 2006
  • National Association for the Dually Diagnosed Conference, March 2006
  • National Chemical Policy Meeting, July 2006
  • Autism Society of America Conference, July 2006
  • International Neurotoxicology Conference, September 2006
  • Environmental Medicine and Health: Science, Medicine, Prevention And Policy, October 2006
  • National Association for the Dually Diagnosed Conference, October 2006
  • Environmental Toxicology Conference, November 2006
  • American Public Health Association Annual Conference, November 2006
  • Conference on Substance Use and Brain Development, March 2007
  • Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Alaska Conference, June 2007
  • Utah Bioneers Conference, October 2007
  • Neurotoxicology Annual Conference, November 2007
  • Autism Conference, February 2008
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America Annual Conference, February 2008
  • American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Conference, May 2008
  • National Association for the Dually Diagnosed Annual Conference, October 2008
  • Forum on environmental contributors to disabilities, November 2008
  • Learning Disabilities Associaton 46th Annual Conference, February 2009
  • AAIDD Annual Meeting, June 2009
  • AAIDD Texas Chapter's 34th Annual Convention, July 2009
  • Autism Society of America (ASA) Annual Conference, July 2009
  • National Association for the Dually Diagnosed Preconference Symposium, October 2009
  • EPA Exposure Science Community of Practice Conference Call, January 2010
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Schools 2010 Conference, July 2010
  • 2nd annual Science That Makes a Difference Annual Symposium at the Autism Society of America National Conference, July 2010 (cosponsored by LDDI)

Federal and State Efforts

Congressional Briefing, May 10, 2005. LDDI organized this briefing entitled "Chemical Exposure, Children's Health and Disability." This briefing was cosponsored by Senators Lautenberg, DeWine, Kerry, Snowe and Jeffords. This helped encourage Senators Lautenberg and Jeffords to introduce a new federal bill to Congress entitled the "Kid Safe Chemical Policy Act" in July 2005 to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act and create a better system for screening and testing chemicals and protecting vulnerable populations from exposures. See our LDDI Events page for more information.

Letters to administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, 2003-2009. LDDI drafted letters regarding children's risks and exposures:

Children's Environmental Health Champion Award logoLDDI Receives Recognition Award, April 2005. The Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI) received a Recognition Award in Children's Environmental Health from the US Environmental Protection Agency. The award was in gratitude for "raising awareness and stimulating activities in your community about children's environmental health."

State legislation. LDDI has pressed for strong legislation on a variety of neurotoxicants including mercury, brominated flame retardants and pesticides.

Autism Strategy Group. LDDI helped form this group stemming from the discussions at the Autism Recovery Consortium at Commonweal in October 2005. LDDI participates in the monthly calls.

CHE Partnership monthly calls, 2005 and 2006. LDDI facilitated national calls in December 2005 (on pesticides and neurological problems) and January 2006 (on thyroid dysfunction and environmental exposures).

Congressional Testimony, February 27, 2009. Maureen Swanson, director of the Learning Disabilities Association's Healthy Children Project, was invited to testify before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on February 27th. Her testimony, along with that of other invited witnesses, focused on the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Meeting, September 2009. LDDI organizations were represented at this leadership meeting in Washington, DC.

Meeting with the US Environmental Protection Agency, July 2009. LDDI partner organizations Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) met with EPA representatives to discuss the state of neurotoxicants in the environment and learning and developmental disabilities. 

LDDI Biomonitoring Report, February 2010.

logo from the Mind, Disrupted website

Leading members of the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI), along with other colleagues in the environmental health field, released a new biomonitoring report, Mind, Disrupted: How Toxic Chemicals May Affect How We Think and Who We Are. The official press release occurred just prior to a Senate Hearing on chemical policy reform conducted by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health. The Mind, Disrupted report and related fact sheets are available on the website: www.minddisrupted.org. The site includes recordings of the Senate Hearing on February 4th and the report release teleconference (on the Media tab).

Read the press release from the report.

LDDI Receives Autism Sociey Award, July 2010. LDDI was one of six recipients of this year's Autism Society of America "Autism Champion" award. The champions were honored on July 9th at the Autism Society's 41st National Conference in Dallas. The LDDI award was described at the ceremony:

"The Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI) has been instrumental in creating awareness of the critical role of environmental factors in neurodevelopment and in galvanizing advocates to demand change in the way toxins are regulated. Elise Miller, MEd, director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, served as founding coordinator of LDDI, which is comprised of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Association for the Dually Diagnosed and Autism Society. The efforts of LDDI members have helped achieve what a few years ago people thought impossible: the introduction of national chemical policy reform legislation in May 2010 in order to better protect public health and reduce environmental contributors to chronic diseases and disabilities, including autism. In our community, where for decades families have seen first-hand the impact of the environment on the health and well-being of their loved ones with autism, LDDI's inspiring efforts to educate a far wider range of constituencies about environmental health science and leverage chemical policy reform gives us hope that we can attain a healthier future for all our children, families and communities."

Senate Hearing on Environmental Contributors to Autism, August 2010. The Senate Subcommittee on Children's Health of the Environmental and Public Works Committee held a hearing on August 3rd: "State of Research on Potential Environmental Health Factors with Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders." The committee wanted to understand the state of neurodevelopmental research on the causes and treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions, specifically the relationship between environmental and genetic factors. See more, including an archived webcast »

Teleconference Series

LDDI Teleconference Series, September through November 2007. LDDI organized and presented a series of seven calls with the theme of "Priming for Prevention: An Ecological Approach to Research, Education and Policy." Featured speakers included many of the most prominent researchers in environmental health.   

Fall 2010 Teleconference Series on Aging and Environmental Health. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)’s Environmental Health Initiative (EHI) organized a distinguished panel of guest speakers to present a groundbreaking series of webinars. The series was sponsored by the John Merck Fund, organized in conjunction with the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) of Greater Boston, and supported by LDDI and the new Healthy Aging and the Environment Initiative of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE). The series mirrored the contents of a thematic issue on this topic of the Public Policy & Aging Report of the Gerontological Society of America’s Policy Institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society.

The series included five webinars that approached aging from an ecological health perspective and addressed the food, chemical, built, and psychosocial environments. An audio and visual archive of the seminars is now available as a rich resource to anyone interested in exploring this topic and hearing from leaders in environmental science, geriatrics, policy development and public health. We encourage you to access these free resources on the AAIDD web site, share this information with your colleagues, and disseminate through your networks. For more information, please visit the EHI Teleconference webpage. You can also visit the new CHE Healthy Aging and Environment Initiative to get involved in ongoing activities on this important topic.

New National Environmental Health Efforts

Initiatives on environmental health. LDDI catalyzed major national projects on environmental health led by LDD Organizations:

  1. Healthy Children Project spearheaded by the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA)
  2. Environmental Health Initiative of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation, AAMR).
  3. The Autism Society of America (ASA) has established an Environmental Health Initiative because of its engagement with LDDI. LDDI national coordinator Elise Miller serves on the ASA's Environmental Health Advisory Board and participates in their regular calls.

Media Efforts and Publications

Press conference, June 2004. LDDI members spoke at a press conference in Washington, DC, on how endocrine-disrupting chemicals may impact the thyroid and contribute to learning and developmental disabilities. The press conference was organized by Environmental Media Services.

Interviews for an educational video. LDDI members provided interviews on the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the thyroid for an educational video that is now available for distribution through the Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa.

cover of the Zero to Three magazineArticles by LDDI members. LDDI members published articles in Perspectives on School-based Issues (August 2012); The ASHA Leader (November 2011); Exceptional Parent Magazine (July 2010); Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (April 2010); NADD Newsletter (2007); Autism Advocate (2006); the newsletter of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England; Zero to Three Journal (November 2005); NeuroToxicology (January 2005); and San Francisco Medicine, a journal of the San Francisco Medical Society (April 2004). See our LDDI in the News page.

Guest coeditor. LDDI Coordinator Elise Miller served as guest coeditor of a special issue of the LDA's peer-reviewed journal Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal. The issue, published in the summer of 2006, was devoted to the links between environmental pollutants and learning disabilities.

Practice Prevention columns published. LDDI has published 16 columns and one fact sheet on specific neurotoxicants and environmental exposures for state and national LDD organizations' newsletters and other publications – many of which are now translated into Spanish as well. See our Practice Prevention Columns and Fact Sheets page.

Summaries of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's biennial biomonitoring reports. LDDI issued summary and analysis documents of the CDC's reports released in July 2005 and January 2003. With a focus specifically on neurotoxicants, LDDI's summaries were for distribution to lay audiences in the LDD sector. See our LDDI Reports page.

Mental Health Fact Sheet, March 2006. A group from LDDI originally developed a fact sheet on the connections between neurotoxicants and psychological disorders in 2006. The fact sheet was greatly expanded and revised in November 2008. See our Practice Prevention Columns and Fact Sheets page.

NADD Newsletter Article, 2007. Elise Miller, coordinator of LDDI, published an article in the newsletter of the National Association Dually Diagnosed: Practice Prevention: Children’s Environmental Health.

cover of the magazineMagazine article highlights LDDI, March/April 2007. LDDI was highlighted in an article in Social Work Today: Chemical Kids – Environmental Toxins and Child Development.

LDDI Scientific Consensus Statement, February 2008. The Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI), led by Steve Gilbert, developed its Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Policy Consensus Statement, September 2008. LDDI published a policy consensus statement: Policy Implications Based on the Scientific Consensus Statement on Environmental Agents Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders (84 KB PDF file). This policy statement is based on the Scientific Consensus Statement that LDDI published earlier this year and details specific policy initiatives to be taken to protect children from exposures that are associated with learning and developmental disabilities.

cover of the pamphletPamphlet for Expectant Moms, September 2009. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) has developed a color, tri-fold, cross-cultural pamphlet to be given to women at ob-gyn appointments: Environmental Health Risks and Your Pregnancy.

Radio Interview, November 2009.
Laura Abulafia of AAIDD's Environmental Health Initiative was interviewed on WTIC's Greener living with Dr. G.

cover of the brochureMental Health Guide for Healthcare Providers, March 2010. The Mental Health working group released an educational brochure on "Mental Health Effects Arising from Pesticide Exposure: A Guide for Healthcare Providers and Mental Health Practitioners."

Biomonitoring Study Resource, March 2010.
In response to the release of LDDI's body burden/biomonitoring report and several other recent reports, the Biomonitoring Reports webpage on the LDDI website was updated, compiling reports to give visitors easy access.

Journal Article, April 2010. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) Environmental Health Initiative published an article in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities dealing with the impact of environmental contaminants commonly found in elementary and secondary schools. The impact of those contaminants on the special education population is the specific focus of the article: "Children's environmenal health: The school environment." Order the article from the journal website.

cover of the jounalScientific and Policy Statement Article Published, June 2010.
An article based on LDDI's science consensus statement on exposures and disabilities and the policy recommendations based on that statement has been published in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. Written by LDDI members and leaders Steven G. Gilbert, Elise Miller, Joyce Martin and Laura Abulafia, the article provides a brief overview of the scientific and policy statements, with an updated conclusion and recommendations. Go to the article.

Article Published in Exceptional Parent Magazine, July 2010. LDDI members Maureen Swanson and Laura Abulafia, along with colleagues Kristie Trousdale and Allison Del Bene Davis, published an article about in-home exposures and effects on developmentally disabled individuals. An excerpt from the conclusion:

It is clear that the developmentally disabled population is vulnerable and deserves at the very least, the same level of protection from environmental hazards as the general population. Basic steps should be taken to minimize risk in their homes or residential facilities, including the safe reduction or removal of lead, or securing lead-safe housing as residences, the reduction of environmental mercury and methyl mercury intake through diet, the installation of CO detectors and proper ventilation for combustion appliances, the adoption of integrated pest management practices, the implementation of green cleaning practices, and the use of safer household product alternatives.

The full article, "In-Home Toxic Exposures and the Community of Individuals Who Are Developmentally Disabled", is available in the July issue with a subscription to Exceptional Parent magazine.

TSCA Reform Letter, August 2010. Maureen Swanson, director of the LDA's Healthy Children Project and a leading member of LDDI, wrote an op-ed that appears in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding chemical policy reform, in particular the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). See the letter: Get a grip on toxic chemicals.

Practice Prevention Updates and Translations, Spring 2011. With the assistance of intern Kelly Quinn, several columns were updated and translated into Spanish.

Internal LDDI Activities

LDDI Resolution, April 2003. LDDI created this resolution on toxic threats to child development, co-signed by member organizations, that describes what we currently know and don't know scientifically about neurotoxicants and what actions would be prudent to take now to increase our knowledge and protect people from toxic exposures. See our LDDI Resolution.

Strategic planning conference calls. LDDI has hosted calls for members regularly since its inception.

Bulletins. LDDI began publishing these bulletins in January 2006 for distribution through its listserv. With updates on events, news articles and resources, the bulletins are also archived and searchable on this website. See our Bulletins page.

Leadership Meeting, December 2008. This retreat was hosted by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an LDDI partner, and sponsored by the John Merck Fund. More than 30 leaders in the fields of environmental health, public health, developmental disabilities and vulnerable populations provided their unique perspectives on the future of the environmental health agenda as related to the developmental disabilities community and other vulnerable groups. More information is available on AAIDD's Environmental Health Initiative website.

LDDI Policy Training in Baltimore, January 2009. This training for LDDI members involved communications and messaging, meeting with members of Congress, and LDDI's upcoming biomonitoring study. Materials from this meeting are posted on the LDDI Events page.

LDDI Leadership Meeting in Seattle, December 2009. The LDDI leadership group consisting of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), Autism Society of America (ASA), the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed (NADD) met in Seattle for a one-day strategic planning meeting to develop goals for 2010.

LDAA Forum, January 2011. The Learning Disabilities Association of America, with support from the John Merck Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Ceres Foundation, convened a forum to present the state-of-the-science on toxic chemicals and health as well as related policy updates and training. Read more »


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