Learning Disability Week  2021


Students who experienced difficulties with learning were among the 50,000 Australians who started their secondary studies with low literacy levels in 2020. Those students are half as likely to complete school as their peers and may have lifelong educational and social disadvantages. The special needs of an unknown number of these students may have been overlooked because they were simply presumed to be lazy. LearningDifficulties

Research tells us that working memory is a strong  predictor of learning success. This is our ability to store and manipulate information for a brief time. It is crucial and necessary to undertake many everyday tasks, learning activities and the acquisition of academic skills. Failure to identify poor working memory could explain some parents’ and teachers’ presumptions of laziness. Early identification, followed by intervention strategies, is a realistic aim for teachers and practitioners before the downward spiral of underachievement, low self-esteem and poor motivation sets in. 

Three-quarters of our general population are unable to give an accurate example of a ‘learning disability’. The capabilities of people with learning disabilities are commonly misconceived and often underestimated. However, in reality, 80% of people who meet the criteria for having a learning disability have a mild or moderate disability, and are able to act largely independently in their everyday lives. The greater integration of children with learning disabilities into mainstream schools is helping to reduce these misconceptions. 

Once at school, it is important that children and young people with learning disabilities are able to develop skills for life and for work. Preparing them for adulthood and raising their aspirations regarding work will improve opportunities for the majority of people with learning disabilities who are keen to work. Unsurprisingly, they want to work in the same types of jobs as the rest of society. A lack of available, appropriate employment is a problem which shows the need to reduce the gap between employment rates of able and disabled people. A very successful model is the “place, train and maintain” method where supported employees are taught on the job by a skilled trainer/coach, with follow-up strategies in place. Internship models also work in some situations as people transition from education to work placements. 

Children and adults with a learning disability usually have smaller social networks, and weaker and more distant social relationships than those without a learning disability. One third of children with a learning disability say they find it hard to make friends, in comparison with 9% of children without a learning disability. In the general population, and especially among people with a learning disability, loneliness has been associated with health risks such as depression and stress.  The magnitude of this effect is greater than other risk factors, such as obesity and inactivity. 

A shocking fact is that people with learning disabilities will die 15-20 years sooner, on average, than the general population. This is not an inevitable consequence of their disability; rather, it is a matter of social injustice where this vulnerable group experiences some of the worst of what society has to offer: low incomes, no work, poor housing, social isolation and loneliness, bullying and abuse. Our governments are finally addressing some of these issues with funding for mental health. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these social inequities. Our collective lens should now be focused on continuing to advocate for change, including positive action towards inclusion. We pray that those who may be impacted by recent or longstanding social injustice will find the strength to ask for help within our parishes. 

Mary Pianta.       Disability Contact Coordinator.        Diocese of Sandhurst.