Over 10 percent of Australians have a Language-Learning Disability (LLD). Such a barrier profoundly affects self-esteem, confidence, learning potential and sociability in children, as well as employment and lifestyle opportunities later in life.
One research study found that over 50 percent of all suicide victims under the age of 15 had been previously diagnosed as having learning disabilities. Another study analysed all the available suicide notes from 27 consecutive adolescent suicides for spelling and handwriting errors and found that 89 percent had significant deficits in spelling and handwriting, similar to those of adolescents with LLD.
The ramifications of being unable to read are enormous and go far beyond academia or employment. Choice, in all its facets, is diminished in the life of a non-reading person if they cannot make an informed decision.
Reading instructions on prescription medicine, looking up numbers in a telephone directory, reading a menu in a restaurant, reading traffic signs, street names and maps, doing a driving test, reading a bus timetable, reading a recipe, or a bill or a government letter or the notes and homework children bring home from school – ALL these things, and hundreds more big and small, have grave consequences, not least of which are for mental and physical wellbeing.
Being unable to deal with basic life administration, being unable to travel and commute freely, or understand communications, are intensely isolating. In an isolated world reading is often a coping mechanism – reading for pleasure, for escape.
This avenue too is closed to someone with an LLD who may sweat with the effort of reading words at a fraction of the speed of anyone else, and rarely for pleasure.
Research shows that many adults with unsupported learning differences in early life present with broad deficiencies of life skills. Challenges around under-education, underemployment, unemployment, housing, relationships, drug and alcohol dependency, mental health problems and even suicide are shown to have direct links to early learning – particularly the diagnosis and intervention of LLDs.
Persistent learning failure leads to anguish, embarrassment and frustration. Often dubbed slow, or lazy, or unmotivated, the punitive approach only magnifies the frustration, anxiety and depression that go hand in hand with learning challenges.
Behavioural problems resulting from their negative schooling experiences and feelings of failure are not uncommon. The strain can result in reluctance to go to school, temper tantrums or even refusal to attend. Cheating, stealing, violence and experimenting with drugs are sadly commonplace.
One study demonstrated that young people with LLD were 200 percent more likely to be arrested than non LLD peers for comparable offences.
Close to 60 per cent of prison inmates are illiterate and 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. To be undiagnosed or unsupported in learning challenges is a devastating start to life in innumerable ways. Yet, we have the technology. We can assess, diagnose and dramatically improve outcomes. There are decades of research and professional practice in this specialised field. That learning difficulties and illiteracy are still so prevalent is extraordinary.
The hurdles to progress in the field that remain are the stigma of silence and the bigotry of low expectation. Awareness, support, multidisciplinary professionals, dedication and a personalised approach have the potential to allow every child to learn and to shine. That is our vision, our mission and our commitment.