Ahead of His Time: Dr. Rosenthal, Learning Disability Expert Looks Back

(Courtesy of Dr. Joseph Rosenthal)
It has been 50 years since Orinda resident Joseph Rosenthal published his book Hazy …? Crazy …? and/or Lazy? The Maligning of Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities.

    In the quiet hills of Orinda lives a retired pediatrician who may not be a household name, but who was ahead of his time in terms of treating and writing about learning disabilities when research was in its emerging stage. Joseph H. Rosenthal, MD, PhD, now 95-years-old, published his book Hazy …? Crazy …? and/or Lazy? The Maligning of Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities in 1973.
    “The book is what the science – the craft – was in 1973, when I put together whatever I could garner from clinical and research data of the time,” he said.
    Rosenthal’s interest in learning disabilities began early in his career.
    The New York native completed his medical degree, served as an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and then worked as a pediatrician in Oakland. There he observed a pattern of worried parents, struggling children and what the youths had in common: nervous energy, being distracted, reading and memory issues and interrupting others. They also had motor perceptual problems, language delays and dyslexia.
    Rosenthal remembers a poignant meeting with a young mother who came in without her son, detailing his school troubles and her profound guilt. Sharing her experiences and Rosenthal’s knowledge, she began to cry.
    These were not tears of sadness. “She told me, ‘I finally found somebody who understands what I am talking about,’” said Rosenthal.
    Rosenthal spent years researching and compiling information about learning disabilities and gathering case studies of children he had worked with. The result was Hazy …? Crazy …? and/or Lazy?
    Part biography and part history handbook, it outlines various types of learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, offering advice and drawings of situations illustrating these differences.
    In 1977, Rosenthal wrote his second book, The Neuropsychopathology of Written Language. He worked with colleagues to establish possible localizations of subgroups of dyslexia in the central nervous system.
    Some dyslexic patients approach adolescent and adult years with difficulty. This is when nicheology, i.e., the art and science of finding the innate talent shown in the earlier years, comes into play. Symbols and graphics can be substituted for phonics as learning tools, or by supporting language and linear reasoning skills, for instance. An example is the young lady who illustrated his book.
    Rosenthal and his wife have lived in Orinda since 1956 and raised their three sons here.
    In retirement, he enjoys collecting antique maps and continues to be an advocate for children with learning disabilities.
    Now on the 50th anniversary since Hazy …? Crazy …? and/or Lazy? was first published, Rosenthal hopes to republish it, perhaps as a historical entity.
    “Is this then really the way to the stars?” he mused, looking back on his life and wondering if this is his way of reaching immortality.

Celeste Altus can be reached at celeste.altus@gmail.com.


  1. Dr. Rosenthal was a friend of my dad’s. I hadn’t heard of him until after my dad passed, and I found an autographed copy of Hazy on my dad’s shelf, with words, “Best to you.” My dad knew I was struggling in school, and in life, because of my disability, which the diagnostic workup described as “severe impairment”. My dad never told me to get tested, I did this on my own at age 42.

    I now realize I was tested where Dr. R practiced. A coincidence. I am now sitting in a car, near the ocean, writing my own book, about a State Health Scientist who has struggled in all areas of my life because of my ADD and CAPD. Part of my homework is to finally read Hazy Crazy Lazy. I do not want anyone else to suffer the way I have.

    My life is good now, but it took a lot of hard work, mistakes, trial and error, to get here. I am grateful to the supportive bosses, and teachers, and my daughter and wife. I am not grateful to those bosses and teachers who said I couldn’t screw in a light bulb, or that I must have been in the coast guard because I sure am out to sea.

    I am grateful to the professionals, like Dr. R, who have made an effort to help us lead a happy and productive life. God bless you all!

    With much gratitude, Giorgio “Gio” Cosentino, Distracted Scientist

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