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Increasing Awareness of Mental Health Learning Disabilities

By: Marco Notaro

Mental Health America estimates that as many as 15% of individuals are affected by some type of learning disability. This figure may seem high to some readers but because learning disabilities occur mentally, they are often not apparent to the outside world. But even though learning disabilities are not always visible, their effects can be. The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that as many as 20% of American students diagnosed with a learning disability will dropout before completing high school, compared to the 8% national dropout rate. As a result, these students are more likely to experience considerably higher rates of unemployment, poverty, crime and incarceration.

What makes this already troubling statistic even sadder is that this population of adults suffering from learning disabilities do not lack the intellectual capabilities to succeed. Contrary to some stereotypes, people with learning disabilities don’t struggle as a result of poor intelligence. Quite contrary in fact, people with learning disabilities often have average or above average intelligence.

Rather than a lack of cognitive ability, learning disabilities stem from a disconnect in the way the brain processes information. Dyslexia is probably the most well-known example of this. One symptom of dyslexia is that individuals who have the intellectual capability to read experience difficulties doing so because the brain interprets words, letters and symbols differently, such as reversing letters or sequencing of words.

If undiagnosed, individuals with learning disabilities will often struggle in school as the learning disability can make reading, writing, spelling or math more difficult and frustrating to the student, causing them to struggle academically. These struggles can also cause a loss of self-esteem and some people to wrongly label these individuals as slow or lazy. A lack of adequate support in school for an individual with a learning disability can make their educational experience considerably more difficult.

Schools have made considerable progress in understanding and diagnosing learning disabilities and with adequate supports and reasonable accommodations; students with learning disabilities are usually able to work around their learning disability(s). But as the disproportionate dropout rate for individuals with learning difficulties shows, there are still individuals whose struggles go undiagnosed. All too often, learning disabilities can go undetected and these individuals unfortunately can fall through the cracks. Though learning disabilities can take many shapes and forms, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development identifies eight common signs which may be indicative of a learning disability:

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing
  • Problems with math skills
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Problems paying attention
  • Trouble following directions
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with concepts related to time
  • Problems staying organized

Increased awareness about learning disabilities can help others recognize the signs earlier and can hopefully help to combat some of the negative stereotypes which still unfortunately persist about learning disabilities. It is important to remember that the 20% of adults with learning disabilities who drop out have the ability and the intelligence to succeed. There is so much human potential which the world risks losing by failing to understand and support individuals with learning disabilities.


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