Six Factors Students with Learning Disabilities Need to Succeed
When you’re the parent of a child recently diagnosed with a learning disability, confidence and good grades may seem out of reach — not to mention a college degree or successful career.
On the bright side, though, there is plenty of evidence that students with learning disabilities (LD) can and do succeed — all thanks to a few resilience-building techniques. In a study on the predictors of success in individuals with LD, Roberta Goldberg traced the lives of 41 individuals with LD, looking at the factors that set certain participants up for success, while leaving others behind.
The findings include a list of six important factors for success, along with first-hand accounts from participants who thrived despite their LD diagnosis. We’re proud to say that we use each of these six strategies to help students thrive here at Churchill.
Goldberg’s study found that successful participants showed awareness of their strengths and weaknesses in both academic and non-academic areas. They were also able to compartmentalize their learning disability, seeing their LD as only one aspect of their character.
As one successful participant said:
“…there are things that I am good at, and things that I am not so good at. Some of my limitations are reading and writing. But boy, when it comes to putting things together, and understanding how things go together, reading plans, I’m really good at reading plans.”
At Churchill, we hold an annual demystification conference where children prepare materials — whether visuals, a video, a song, or otherwise — explaining their own learning disability, strengths, and weaknesses to fellow students and parents.
In her study, Goldberg found that the most successful participants were “actively engaged, not only in the world around them, but also in controlling their own destinies.”
One of the successful participants in the study said:
“The way I got through college was I looked at the classes I was interested in and I was over at the professor’s office just telling them my story and this is what I need. I’m going to need extra time.”
Self-advocacy is a big part of our curriculum at Churchill. Students identify what they need to succeed and develop the confidence to ask for those tools.
The successful group in the study showed flexibility in their perseverance, knowing when it was time — not to give up — but to try another route to improve their chances for success.
As one participant noted:
“Once I have a failure I can’t just dwell on that failure and [let it] restrict me the rest of my life. I’ll do something else.”
Here at Churchill, we often recite the words of our namesake, Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.” We teach students to persevere through challenges, but also to learn from what works and what doesn’t.
4. Goal Setting
In her study, Goldberg found that while both successful and unsuccessful individuals talked about goal setting, the two groups approached their goals in very different ways. The successful participants had specific and flexible objectives, along with strategies for accomplishing them.
One successful participant shared the following:
“I’m very realistic in terms of what I know I can do, what I possibly can do, and what I cannot do.”
From working through books of the Wilson Reading System® to setting distance running goals in gym class, Churchill students are focused on specific, achievable objectives.
5. Presence and Use of Effective Social Support Systems
The Goldberg study also found that successful participants had plenty of “champions” in their lives — friends, teachers, therapists, and family members who served as mentors.
As one participant put it:
“Whenever I have to write something . . . it’s been this way since day one . . . I take it to someone like my girlfriend or my mother and they can always clean it up and make it look loads better.”
“Identifying allies” is a core part of our philosophy here at Churchill. We help students figure out who these core support figures are — whether teachers, parents, cousins, or friends — who help them overcome challenges inside and outside of the classroom.
6. Emotional Coping Strategies
Unsurprisingly, all study participants reported that growing up with a learning disability “created significant stress in their lives.” The most successful individuals learned to recognize the events that trigger stress, and then developed strategies to cope with those situations.
One successful study participant said of his support figures:
“…Well they’re companionship. They’re somebody I can share my frustrations with. Like if I’m ever insecure about something you can use them as a sounding board.”
At Churchill, allies are a key coping strategy not only for our students, but also for parents, who take comfort in knowing that fellow parents truly understand their struggles.
- 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. doi:10.1111/1540-5826.00077