By Guest Blogger Joe Timmons, M.A., Research Fellow, Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota.
In the course of a 20-year longitudinal study of individuals with learning disabilities (LD), Goldberg et al. (2003) measured the relative success achieved by subjects in the following areas: employment, education, independence, family relations, social relationships, crime/substance abuse, life satisfaction and physiological health. They found that individuals who were successful across these domains were able to identify specific factors that led to their success – including “self-awareness/self-acceptance of their learning disability, proactivity, perseverance, emotional stability, appropriate goal setting and the presence and use of effective social support systems.” Based on their findings, Goldberg et al. (2003) concluded that
…it would seem that much of the LD field’s view of the challenges faced by individuals with LD has been shortsighted, focusing primarily on educational contexts. Based on the current research, individuals with LD need to learn to develop “strategies for success” across the lifespan, and in multiple contexts…[and]at the least, the field needs to evaluate its current position and emphasize the development of success attributes to the same degree that we do academic skills.
By the time a young person with LD reaches adolescence, these “strategies for success” must be focused not only on academics, but also on vocational preparation and interpersonal development. Programs that serve youth must focus on helping them navigate the environments in which they function. Many young people need a lot of support to mitigate their disability as they enter adulthood. Youth service professionals working with young people with diagnosed (and undiagnosed) learning disabilities can help to identify and address areas where youth may need extra assistance.
The National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition (NASET) and the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD-Youth) have both published materials that highlight meeting the needs of all youth and include ways to identify the academic, social and vocational experiences and opportunities that will help them make the transition to adulthood. These materials identify specific functional skills and abilities that individuals need to develop in order to maximize vocational potential and to respond to employers’ needs; they also describe specific strategies (e.g., use of compensatory techniques) that youth with LD can employ to lessen the impact of their disability. Each organization prescribes support in five domains: Schooling, Career Development and Work Based Learning, Youth Leadership and Development, Connecting Activities (including healthcare, transportation, mentoring and independent living) and Family Involvement.
The NASET (2005) materials include a Transition Toolkit designed to help state and local educational entities “better understand current operations; identify areas of strength, weakness, and opportunity; begin action for improving and scaling up systems; and assess progress.” The Toolkit stresses the need for schools and other agencies that serve youth to work together and creatively develop programming that reflects the depth and breadth of supports that all youth need.
NCWD-Youth has published a guide (Timmons, Wills, Kemp, Basha and Mooney, 2010) to support young people with LD based on building skills in three areas:
1. Strategic Learning for the Workplace,
- Using assessments to diagnose or identify learning disabilities, to identify effective interventions and to increase a young person’s capacity to make informed choices about education and careers
- Integrating universal design for learning at school and work
- Providing strategy instruction centered on teaching the young person “how to learn” in postsecondary academic and work-based settings
- Teaching compensatory techniques which build upon a youth’s strengths
2. Building and Integrating Individual Development Strategies
- Supporting self-determination and the related capacities of self-awareness, goal setting and self-advocacy
- Promoting the development of the interpersonal skills necessary for success in the workplace
3. The Use of Disclosure and Accommodations
- Supporting appropriate and reasoned disability disclosure in various settings
- Supporting the integration of accommodations in educational, vocational and independent living
Efforts to strengthen transition programming continue to be a challenging task. Identifying the needs of individual youth, whether or not they have a disability, is an ongoing process and includes identifying the supports and the opportunities that will build skills not just in academics but also in work, life and relationships.
Goldberg, R. J., Higgins, E. L., Raskind, M. H., & Herman, K. L. (2003). Predictors of success in individuals with learning disabilities: A qualitative analysis of a 20-year longitudinal study. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18(4), 222–236.
National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition. (2005). National standards and quality indicators: Transition toolkit for systems improvement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from http://www.nasetalliance.org/docs/TransitionToolkit.pdf.
Timmons, J., Wills, J., Kemp, J., Basha, R. & Mooney, M. (2010). Charting the course: Supporting the career development of youth with learning disabilities. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership, National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/sites/default/files/ld-guide_2.pdf
Joe Timmons, a Research Fellow at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, has worked with adolescents and adults in rehabilitation and education settings for more than 25 years. Since 2002, he has been a coordinator with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, focusing on the transition needs of youth with disabilities, doing research and providing technical assistance to individuals and organizations, including federal grantees, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, and the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Joe particularly enjoys working on projects that lead to successful collaborations among organizations that serve youth. He also works on a project, Think College, that promotes access to postsecondary education for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.