The estimated incidence of learning disabilities in the general population is between 10 and 15 percent. Past surveys from ABE report an estimated incidence between 10 and 80 percent! The likely reason for this wide range is a lack of understanding about learning disabilities. It is possible that persons with lower abilities were included in the teacher estimates and/or students over-reported LD. Whatever the actual incidence, because our students have not been successful in “mainstream” education, it is reasonable to estimate that between 30-50% of ABE students have diagnosed or undiagnosed LD.
ABE students with true LD often present significant challenges in the ABE classroom. They tend to have low academic skills, and require intense, frequent, and multi-sensory instruction and practice. They may have gaps in academic knowledge that are not typically determined by large-scale testing like CASAS or TABE. Further complicating their low skill/high need profile are secondary problems with self-esteem, self-management and motivation.
However, students with identified learning disabilities do have at least average intellectual functioning—often above average to superior. They do have the potential to improve skills and make progress with the right instruction and accommodations. Based on years of both failure and success in the classroom, in the workplace, and in life, they often know what works best for them and in contrast, what does not work for them.
Discussing a Learning Disability
Often, the best time to ask about the presence of a learning disability would be at intake or shortly thereafter. The sooner the teacher or tutor has understanding of the learning challenges a student faces, the better he or she can try to provide the type of instruction and accommodation the student needs. If this cannot take place privately at intake, then a separate interview would be appropriate. Many students with LD enroll in ABE programs, are not asked about their LD or do not choose to disclose their LD, try classes or independent study for awhile, but then quit because their needs are not being met. The chance to provide “equal opportunity to participate and equal opportunity to benefit” as required by ADA is lost.