Identifying and Providing Vocational Services for Adults with Specific Learning Disabilities

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Identifying and Providing Vocational Services for Adults with Specific Learning Disabilities

Clients with Specific Learning Disabilities present a significant challenge to professionals in the field of Rehabilitation. Identification of persons with learning disabilities is complicated by the wide array of performance characteristics that may be present. A theoretical framework is presented that will allow professionals to identify and evaluate individuals with learning disabilities. Case studies are used to illustrate the diagnostic process. Also presented are recommendations for vocational counseling and guidance, remediation of job-related skill deficits, and job placement.

Specific learning disabilities are a heterogeneous group of disorders which are both persistent and pervasive throughout an individual's life (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1987). As learning disabled children reach adulthood their problems increase in complexity. Thousands of children identified as learning disabled in years past have grown into adulthood. Other adults exhibit characteristics of learning disability, but have not been formally identified (Thomas, 1982). Because of a lack of knowledge concerning appropriate diagnostic procedures, older adolescents and adults with specific learning disabilities are often denied access to the academic instruction, prevocational preparation and vocational counseling that they need in order to develop adult skills and abilities (Crimando & Nichols, 1982). Few professionals are prepared to work with the adult learning disabled population and few employers are aware of, or sensitive to, the needs of adults with specific learning disabilities (Shofner, 1981; Thomas, 1981). The learning disabled adult presents a significant challenge to practitioners in the field.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-112) mandated that persons with disabilities could not be excluded from jobs or any activity or training program receiving federal funds solely on the basis of a handicapping condition. Section 7 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 (Public Law 99-506) lists Specific Learning Disabilities among the handicapping conditions included under the 1973 Act. Among the issues that must be addressed if vocational rehabilitation facilities are to successfully meet the needs of adults with learning disabilities are (a) how to identify and evaluate the learning disabled adult for rehabilitation eligibility and (b) how to provide appropriate rehabilitation services for adults with specific learning disabilities. The purpose of this article is to address these two issues.

Identifying Adults With Specific Learning Disabilities

Federal law defines specific learning disability as follows: "Specific learning disability" means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (U.S. Department of Education, 1981, p. 5557). The definition was originally designed to be used in the identification of learning disabilities in school aged children, and has been criticized because of vagueness and for reliance on exclusion clauses to define the population (Lynch & Lewis, 1988). For example, the federal definition excludes learning problems that are due primarily to sensory impairments, mental retardation, motor handicaps, or to environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage. …