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Because learning-differently students look just like any other students, you can sometimes hear their problem referred to as a "hidden disability."  And because it is hidden, it often goes undiagnosed.


Sometimes the symptoms of both dyslexia and ADD/HD are just a part of the maturation process and are something that children will naturally outgrow as they become older.  But if the symptoms persist, if you and/or your child are feeling uneasy for any length of time, you should consider getting an assessment done. Sometimes well-meaning teachers will attempt to reassure you that there really isn't a problem - it's just a case of growing up.  Other teachers might give you the feeling that you are over-reacting and are an overanxious parent.  But you know your children best.  You know when they are thriving or not.  Follow your instinct.


It could be possible that one or both parents might not recognize or deny that there is any problem.  There is clear evidence that both dyslexia and ADD/HD tend to run in families.  Therefore, it could be quite natural for the parents not to think that there is any problem because the child is acting and/or developing in more or less the same way that they did.  One FAWCO mother recounts:


He was the brightest kid in the class and kept discussions going but his daily work was incomplete and messy and we were told that he wasn't working up to potential.  This worried my husband, who'd always heard the same, but was sure that his very dysfunctional family was to blame . . .  Then my best friend came to visit.  She's a student counselor at our old high school, specializes in learning disabilities and has ADD - it runs in her family.  She spotted it right away; that kid's ADD.  We talked a lot about it, also with our husbands.  Hers knew about his ADD, for mine it was a revelation.


Sometimes problems arise in families when one parent thinks or recognizes that there is a problem, and the other parent can't see it.  It is not unknown for students themselves to recognize that they have a problem.  One of their hardest tasks can be to convince their parents.


Another factor that might prohibit early recognition can be the superior intelligence of the student.  Often many of our learning-differently students are able to cope in elementary school, only to find that the different teaching methods and different requirements of the previous  six grades do not permit them to succeed in the next six.  Because they were successful before, very often parents and teachers begin to label the student lazy or inattentive, epithets that are very counter-productive.  Learning differences are neurological problems over which students have no control, and yet they are blamed for them.


Problems are sometimes blamed on the fact that the student is living overseas or is a member of a dual-cultural family. Therefore, learning difficulties are sometimes seen as being caused by:


·       Adjustment to moving away from friends and extended family.

·       The shock of adjusting to a new culture.

·       The possible necessity of having to learn a new language.

·       The fact that the child is being brought up bilingually.


The following is from a first person account of a FAWCO mother:


When my son began to read in the host country language, I was concerned by his reluctance to read and his difficulties parsing words when he did read. New to the country and unable to speak much of the host country language myself, I wasn't exactly sure how to proceed within the school system.  My son was suffering from hearing difficulties, culture shock and reading difficulties in Kindergarten and also in the first and second grades.  My husband attributed his inability to read well to the foreign language and to our son's hearing loss.  As I had studied some linguistics and am a language teacher by training, I felt the problem was dyslexia.


Subsequent assessment found this to be the case, and eventually the child did receive the help he needed.


The very first conference I attended on dyslexia was held at the Brussels British School in Belgium shortly after our daughter was diagnosed as being severely dyslexic.  At the very beginning, the organizer asked the audience to raise their hands if they were parents. Then if they were teachers.  The split was about 50 / 50.  As he was about to introduce the speakers, a young man in the audience, about 16 or 17, raised his hand and said, “I’m not in either of the two groups you have mentioned.  I’m a student, and I think I have some of these problems.   But my parents don’t think so, so they’re come along here with me today to learn more about it.”





Lack of success in recognizing that there is a problem can lead to:


·       Frustration, which could lead to behavioral problems.

·       Lack of self-confidence.

·       Low self-esteem.

·       Depression.

·       Fear of isolation, of being different.

·       Bullying by peers.

·       Inappropriate demands by parents and school personal resulting in ridicule of the student.

·       Engaging in inappropriate or harmful activities to compensate for lack of success in school, at home and eventually in life.


As has been previously stated, it is now thought that between 15% and 25% of the world population learn differently to a significant degree.  But this percentage is not reflected in prison populations or in the populations of substance abusers.  Excerpts from the following article by Seth Linder reveal some troubling statistics:


For 12 years, Andrew, a heroin-user now in his thirties, was in and out of prison for drug-related offences.  Desperate to break the cycle, he tried to enroll for a literacy course.  He was lucky - a perceptive tutor suspected he was dyslexic.  Four years later, having received specialist tuition, Andrew is now a drugs counselor and a part-time college student. [1]


Recent research in the US found that 52 % of a sample of prisoners were dyslexic.  These findings have been mirrored in other countries, and indeed the percentage of learning-differently prisoners has been shown to be as high as 90% in other studies:


A related concern is that prisoners have a higher proportion of learning disabilities than the general population. Estimates of learning disability are as high as 75-90% for juvenile offenders. Low literacy levels and high rates of learning disabilities have contributed to high dropout rates. Nationwide, over 70% of all people entering state correctional facilities have not completed high school, with 46% having had some high school education and 16.4% having had no high school education at all. Since there is a strong link between low levels of education and high rates of criminal activity, it is logical to assume that high dropout rates will lead to higher crime rates.[2]


Wally Morgan, a probation officer and one of the originators of the Dyspel Project, a pilot scheme to identify and assist dyslexic offenders, tells that the most moving moment is when an offender discovers the reason for his learning difficulties:


I've seen tough, macho men in their forties, armed robbers, drug users, shoplifters, burst into tears of relief.  'All my life I've been told I'm thick, lazy, ignorant, and I've known I'm not,' is a typical response. This is the first step in recovery from this kind of life. [3]


Morgan has also screened residents at a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation center where he found an astonishing 91% to be dyslexic.  The resulting feeling of inadequacy and rejection is, he feels, the underlying cause of their addictions:


If we can give dyslexia a much higher profile, if judges and lawyers, prison officials and teachers can acquire a better understanding of it, if people would realize that dyslexia in not an excuse but a reason, we would quickly see a significant reduction in offending.


Think of the savings if we could cut the prison population in half.  Think of the additional savings if we could help prevent drug addiction and alcoholism.  And think how these savings would not only be financial.




Jeffrey H. Gallet, a judge in Family Court in the State of New York, is a learning-differently person.  He was asked to write about his experiences for a special supplement to Newsbriefs (1996) called "Learning Disabilities and Juvenile Justice."  Below is reprinted of part of this article, which gives Judge Gallet's thoughts about the juvenile justice system:


. . . Almost every week I see a learning disabled child who, undiagnosed or untreated, is venting his or her frustrations in anti-social ways. I could have stood in that same spot.  If not for loving, caring, involved parents, my frustrations at not being able to keep up in class, and to some extent in the play yard, could have burst forth in the same self-destructive way.


The schools and the courts have not met their responsibilities to LD children. When I was young, they simply did not recognize the problem.  Now, they can diagnose and deal with LD but have not allocated the resources to do what must be done.


. . . It is the schools that hold the key to avoiding the type of conflict we see in the family courts.  An early diagnosis of the problem and an integrated treatment plan, including not only help for the child, but, also, counseling for the parents, would save many children from going astray.  Unfortunately, too many schools have not focused their attention and resources on the problem and research proposals to find methods for early diagnoses of LD are going unfunded.


There is improvement.  As education programs such as the FCLD grants for handbooks for lawyers and judges make more and more people aware of the problem and the terrible waste it creates, more LD children are being identified and helped.  Unfortunately, the process is painfully slow. [4]


According to an article in the Times Educational Supplement:


 . . 90 per cent of young offenders who come out of prison re-offend within two years.  They believe the cost of child imprisonment - amounting to more than 25,000 pounds ($36,891) per head per year - should be invested in more effective community-based schemes to support children. [5]


The United States National Institutes of Health have reported the following:


·       Children with both dyslexia and ADD are at dramatically increased risk for
substance abuse and felony convictions if they do not receive appropriate interventions.

·       Dyslexia is the leading cause of reading failure and school dropouts in our nation.

·       Reading failure is the most commonly shared characteristic of juvenile justice offenders. [6]


Time reported in March 2001 the following facts in their feature called "Numbers:"


The World Health Organization Ministerial Conference on Young People and Alcohol in Stockholm last week revealed some disturbing facts:


o  55,000:  Young Europeans who died from alcohol-related causes in 1999.  One in four deaths of European men aged 15-29 is related to alcohol.

o  $195 million:  The estimated annual social costs of alcohol consumption in the E.U.  70% of the total represents earnings lost through heavy drinking. [7]


The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities has prepared a press kit, available in five languages, to be used to help educate people as to what exactly learning disabilities are.   The following points are given to show what happens when learning disabilities go untreated:


·       People with learning disabilities that have not been diagnosed or properly addressed, or who are deemed 'ineligible' for treatment can experience serious, life-long negative consequences.  The results can include loss of self-esteem, delinquency and illiteracy.  The individual, as well as our society, is harmed.

·       Thirty-five percent of students identified with learning disabilities drop out of high school, contributing greatly to the nation's school drop-out rates.  (This does not include the students who drop out without ever being identified as having learning disabilities.)

·       Fifty to eighty percent of adults with severe literacy problems have undetected or untreated learning disabilities.

·       Learning disabilities are one of the most common obstacles to the employment of welfare recipients.

·       Fifty percent of young criminal offenders tested were found to have previously undetected learning disabilities.  When offered educational services that addressed their learning disability, the recidivism rates of these young offenders dropped to below two percent. [8]





"I'm worried about him going into a depression." This concern comes from a message sent to the then chair of the FAWCO Educational Support Committee and shows the concern of a mother for her son who was struggling with the necessity of having to attend a non-English speaking school.


Childhood depression is a real condition and should be watched for.  Unfortunately, children with learning disabilities may tend to be prone to chronic depression.


Older adolescents and adults tend to become withdrawn.  They may be quiet or become agitated, irritable, and angry; they may also look sad and talk about their sadness.  Young children, on the other hand, tend to exhibit non-verbal clues and express their emotional struggles more by their behavior than by talking.


Signs that may indicate depression in children:


What parents can do:


Another thing parents can do is to work on their child's self-esteem.  Richard Lavoie's excellent video, When the Chips are Down, gives concrete suggestions for both parents and teachers for not only improving self-esteem, but also in improving behavior by using discipline in a positive manner.  It can be bought at .




In cases where sever mental health issues affect the students ability to function in a classroom setting, the following article from   gives some hope possibilities for those affected:


Redirection Through Education (RTE), Canada’s first and North America’s longest-running supported education program. Housed at Toronto’s George Brown College, the program has enrolled more than 150 students with persistent mental health and addiction issues annually since its launch in 1972.

Read more:


Once largely attended by older adults with depression, mood disorders and addiction issues, there has been a significant increase in younger students with serious mental health diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis over the last five years, Kaur says. The shift “presents a very challenging situation for us, because students are actually struggling with symptom presentation in the classroom environment.”


The jump in the number of young people with serious mental health issues is being noted in other centres. “It is clear that mental health issues are more common” across Canada, says Dr. Allan Young, a mood disorders specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. The reasons for the spike in numbers are unknown. “Is this because we’re picking it up better?” he says. “Or is mental ill health more common? Or [perhaps] we’re incorporating milder states into the rubric of illness.”


Alberta Health Services, to name just one agency, is seeking to help these youths and children with its Children’s Mental Health Action Plan, says Brian Malloy, executive director of Access and Early Intervention. Malloy says with the rise in mental ill-health diagnoses, social and cultural isolation in Alberta’s migrant worker population and the lack of services in remote communities, “children’s mental health is very much under-resourced. It was identified as a priority because ... the more you use promotion, prevention and early intervention, you minimize the risk factors.”


With a focus on children affected by mood disorders, attention disorders, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, the province has implemented a 23-point plan, including a single point of access system with standardized screening aimed at reducing wait times and speeding access to services. “We have a good crisis service where we can see kids within 24 hours through a telephone consultation, a mobile service or an emergency room consult.”

Read more:





Students Who Learn Differently Overseas


by Susan van Alsenoy, AWC Antwerp




Page created 10/29/99 EvE. Last updated 03/01/11 SvA.




Copyright ©  All rights reserved.



[1] Linder, Seth. "Teaching dyslexic prisoners to fight crime." The Independent. September 18, 1996. p.22


[3] 206732.stm


[5], November 24, 2000


[7] World Health Organization. "Numbers." Time. March 5, 2001. p. 16.


[9] "Childhood Depression." Fact Sheet. Early Childhood Committee-Education. LDA of America. May 1999.