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Learning Disabilities in Adulthood

Barriers to proper accomodations

Children with learning disabilities grow up to adults with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities are life-long disorders that have tremendous impact on one’s educational and occupational achievement. Persons with learning disabilities are bright and multi-talented and capable of great accomplishment with the proper supports and accommodations.

Access to accommodations often relies on a neuropsychological assessment that includes, but is not limited to, academic, intellectual, cognitive, and mental health testing.

Detection of learning disabilities has improved over the past couple of decades. More students with learning disabilities are assessed earlier and provided with the necessary accommodations; more students than ever are graduating from high school and attending higher education.

According to the American College Health Association, 4% to 11% of students on four-year college and university campuses are diagnosed with a learning disability, and rates may be as high as 23% at two-year institutions and community colleges. Learning disabilities are most common in Adult Education programs, affecting 10% to 50% of participants. Despite their increased participation in higher education and adult education programs, a majority of these students report that their learning disability has had a negative impact on their academic progress in the form of lower or incomplete grades or significant disruption of work.

Many adults with LDs seek academic accommodations to increase their chances of success in educational environments. Reading fluency and reading comprehension tests are critical pieces of a learning disability assessment. Reading Disorders (RDs) are the most common type of LD and literacy problems are prevalent in adults with LDs (Patterson, 2008).

Unfortunately, many tests of reading fluency and long-passage comprehension are appropriate to use only on children. Further, reading comprehension tests for children and adults are deeply flawed. Research demonstrates that respondents can answer reading comprehension test question at rates that far exceed chance, even when they have not read the associated passage!

This is a problem of “passage independence” (Coleman et al, 2012; Keenan & Betjemann, 2006). If one can answer reading comprehension test items correctly without having read the passage, these tests that are a cornerstone of learning disability assessments are virtually useless. New data from our research lab indicate that persons with better verbal and reading skills are better able to answer reading comprehension test items, without having reading the associated passage. Thus, reading comprehension tests are particularly biased against brighter students.

Reliable and valid tests for adults with learning disabilities are desperately needed to afford these individuals with the proper accommodations to achieve to their highest capabilities. The testing industry would do well to recognize that learning disabilities are life-long disorders, assessment instruments are needed for the lifespan, and more rigorous testing of measures is needed prior to publication.