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Her father was an attorney. She repeated first grade 3 times; she was thought to be mentally retarded because she reversed letters in reading and writing. She eventually received her B.S. and M.A. in biology from the University of Chicago and an M.D. from Iowa State. She had a notorious affair with married psychoanalyst, Dr. Paul Schilder. She eventually married him and was a widow when her last child was born. She married again at age 70.Lauretta Bender, M.D. (1897–1987) was a child neuropsychiatrist, best known as the creator of the Bender-Gestalt Test.
Bender began to be interested in the development of language disorders and learning problems, and their causes, when she was in third grade, around the age of eight. Because her handwriting was so poor and her reading was so slow, she was considered by school authorities to be slightly retarded, and they attempted to force her to go back to second grade. Her father, however, prevented this move, as he was aware that Lauretta’s reading and writing skills needed support, not punishment.
Education and career
Electroshock therapy on children
"Bender, who shocked 100 children, the youngest of whom was 3, abandoned the use of ECT in the 1950s. She is best known as the co-developer of a widely used neuropsychological test that bears her name, not as a pioneer in the use of ECT on children. That work was discredited by researchers who found that the children she treated either showed no improvement or got worse." 
Work in reading disability
Bender became aware of the need for a specialized teaching philosophy applicable to children with language disabilities. She recognized that children with learning disorders were best understood as suffering from a biologically determined disorder. She believed that there was “a functional defect of the maturation of those areas...needed for the development of language, considered in its broadest sense” (24). She felt that, although there were many possible reasons for the maturational delays, such as those resulting from poor social experiments at critical times of language development, there was a genetic factor underlying some reading disabilities.
Bender viewed reading disabilities as evolving from a basic biological unevenness in maturation. She believed the reading disability itself to be but a manifestation of a more fundamental condition. Bender claimed that “children with various biological problems have a number of common problems", including: difficulties in patterned behavior in impulse, motor, perceptual and integrative areas; severe anxiety, also poorly patterned, with associated body image and identification problems; and a great need for human support in relation to these areas.
With the help of Paul Schilder, Bender developed the thesis that many of the language problems facing children with reading disabilities may have as their basis difficulty with the temporal ordering of sequences in a series of hierarchies of organization. Such ordering and hierarchical sequences include the organization of phonemes in words, words in a sentence, and sentences within paragraphs.
Work in language disability
Although Bender focused mainly on reading disability, she also spent a great deal of time working in the broad field of language disability. She viewed developmental language disabilities as occurring along a spectrum from least to most severe, with reading disability occupying the least severe end of the spectrum and the language problems of autism and schizophrenia occupying the other. Although her views in this matter have been criticized, they essentially posit that autism and schizophrenia are biologically determined lags in maturity, just as reading disability is a biologically developed deviation. Bender does not imply that the causes of the afflictions are the same, but instead that their connection lies in the common symptoms of specific language dysfunctions.
Bender attempted to understand the vulnerability of the language function to all the developmental disorders. She recognized the biological nature of a group of learning disorders for which there was no clinical evidence of structural damage to the central nervous system. She also understood that the learning problem was only one symptom of the biological defect which affects other areas of behavior, such as impulse control, motor coordination, perception and integration, and that underlying the spectrum of deficits is basic dysfunction in special orientation and temporal organization. Bender also incorporated social factors contributing to language delay.
Bender's research has been used to devise programs to prevent learning disorders. Her efforts contributed a wealth of knowledge in the field of learning disorders that is still called upon and serves as a foundation for many different pedagogies.
The Bender-Gestalt Test
- Main article: Bender-Gestalt Test
She is best known for her Visual Motor Gestalt Test described in an 1938 monograph. She worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City from 1930–1956. Lauretta Bender wrote in 1938 a Monograph entitled: A Visual Motor Gestalt Test and Its Clinical Use. The test consists of reproducing 9 figures that are printed on cards. The figures were derived from the work of the famous Gestalt psychologist Wertheimer. The Bender-Gestalt test as it is now often called, is typically among the top five test used by clinical psychologists. It measures perceptual motor skills, perceptual motor development and gives an indication of neuroloical intactness. It has been used a personality test and a test of emotional problems.
Scoring systems include:
- Elizabeth M. Koppitz's system for Children (1963)
- Pascal & Suttell system for Adults (1951);
- Hutt & Briskin Projective personality feature system (1960);
- Arthur Canter's Background Interference Procedure (BIP) test for organicty (1976)
Patrica Lacks uses it as a screening device for brain damage. Bender herself said it was "a method of evaluating maturation of gestalt functioning children 4-11's brain functioning by which it responds to a given constellation of stimuli as a whole, the response being a motor process of patterning the perceived gestalt." Bender was a contemporary of David Wechsler, Ph.D., creator of the famous intelligence tests. Wechsler was Chief Psychologist at Bellevue Hospital.
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