Individuals with learning disabilities can be found in all walks of life. “Many adults with learning disabilities lead productive and successful lives” (LDAC, 2001). However, success does not come easy for many others. Success will depend on many factors such as the severity of the disability, early identification, remediation, career choice and support networks such as family, friends, teachers and employers. Adults with learning disabilities are often not aware that the persistent difficulties they have encountered in school, their relationships or their jobs are due to learning disabilities. The defeated efforts these adults often experience result in frustration, disappointment and poor self-esteem, persistent experiences of failure and may lead to a negative self-concept that they are stupid and lazy.
“In my adult years, dyslexia has meant facing adult responsibilities as an illiterate person. It has meant struggling with joblessness, underemployment and sometimes poverty” (Adult Learner in Nosek, 1997)
This is not to say that all individuals with learning disabilities will have negative life experiences and personal difficulties, nor will low literacy levels have a negative health impact for all. This is also not to say that all individuals with learning disabilities will have low literacy skills nor will all individuals with low literacy skills have learning disabilities. However, research suggests that low literacy is a risk factor for many of the intervening factors that have been found to lead to life difficulties such as level of education, income, employability, poverty and stress. Other research suggests that the impact of learning disabilities may compound with age (NALLD, 1995), which leaves adults with learning disabilities at risk for these negative life experiences and health consequences.
Since learning disabilities are the result of neurological dysfunction, formal diagnosis can only be made by a qualified psychologist or an appropriately qualified medical practitioner, such as a psychiatrist or neurologist (LDAC, 2001). There are however, several screening tools available for practitioner use, which can help identify persons at risk for a learning disability.
“Being diagnosed as dyslexic was enormously important to all of us. It freed us psychologically and emotionally from the shame and guilt we had felt for years” (Adult Learner in Nosek, 1997)
An important first step for developing a program plan that will promote learning success for these individuals that build on learning strengths is identifying individuals who are at risk.
There are several tests used for diagnosing learning disabilities. “It is important to determine why the individual wishes to be assessed” (LDAC, 2001). The current problems and challenges should be discussed along with individual expectations of what an assessment will accomplish. As outlined by LDAC (2001) the assessment should consist of: