OVER THE YEARS, experts have described Terry as hyperactive,
attention deficit disordered and dyslexic.
But ask Terry to describe himself, and this is what he says:
"I'm a square peg who has spent a lifetime trying to fit into a
When Terry graduated from a St. Louis area high school in the
1960s, the term "learning disabilities" had barely been coined.
His difficulties - now considered a handicap by federal mandate -
went unremediated. As a result, he says, he graduated "basically
illiterate." "I still don't know my multiplication tables," he
Terry (not his real name) met with success in life by becoming
self-employed. He worked as a pipefitter, then as a welding
engineer at a nuclear power plant. After that, he opened and
operated a gourmet restaurant and coffee house. "I became a master
at hiding my weaknesses," he says. "Instead of writing up a report,
I would dictate it."
Still, he says, there was "lots of pain, tears, loneliness,
feelings of isolation" to contend with. And it wasn't until his
daughters were diagnosed as learning disabled that Terry realized
there might be help available for himself as well.
Help is available today for adults like Terry thanks to the
vision of James Koller, director of the SLD (Specific Learning
Disability) Assessment and Consultation Clinic at the University of
Missouri's Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology.
"Our philosophy is to say that maybe a square peg can fit into
a round hole," says Koller. "Many learning disabled people have
phenomenal strengths. It's our job to find those strengths, instead
of focusing on weaknesses. Then we try to devise strategies to
help people circumvent their problems."
Koller's clinic, a national model, was begun three years ago
with $678,000 in grants from the Rehabilitative Services
Administration Office of Education and the Missouri Department of
Because of its track record in helping people make a successful
transition from school to work, Koller and his colleagues are being
honored by the President's Committee on Employment of People With
Disabilities Friday in Portland, Ore.
According to Koller, the learning disabled (LD) population is
the fastest growing disability group in the nation, and carries the
highest risk for school and job dropout. Its members are also the
most underemployed of any disabled group.
"Clinic research on a group of gifted LD clients with an
average I.Q. of 130 showed that their average salary was 15 cents
above minimum wage. These people are pumping gas, working at fast
food restaurants . . . obviously, that's a tremendous loss of
talent," says Koller.
"Learning disabilities are more than a failure to read, spell
and do math in school. LD kids grow up to be LD adults. Ten to 20
percent of the workforce are thought to have specific learning
disabilities. And estimates are that the nation is losing $1
billion a year in terms of business revenues due to these
problems," he says.
So how does the clinic go about assessing these hidden
handicaps and helping people learn to compensate for them?
First, it provides extensive psychometric testing to diagnose
strengths and weaknesses. …