by Gloria Welton
“If someone has the courage to recognize there is something they would like to address when it comes to learning, we are here to help you,” says Martin Dutton, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI (LDAPEI).
Martin says statistics have found that 10 to 20 percent of the population lives with a learning disability. Many go through life never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their education, their employment, or relationships with family and friends.
“About 35,000 people on PEI live with a learning disability, so we know there is much work to do.”
Children and adults with learning disabilities see, hear, and understand things differently. The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, math, reasoning, listening, and speaking.” – The Learning Disabilities Association of America
LDAPEI mainly works with school age children to address and improve reading, writing and math skills, and is looking for ways to increase their work with adults.
LDAPEI came into being when a group of parents met to share their common concerns about learning disabilities in the early 70s. “We have come a long way, but there is much work to do,” says Martin. “One milestone is now having the Honorable Antoinette Perry, Lieutenant Governor of PEI, as our Honorary Patron for the duration of her term in office.” The National Institute for Learning Development lists several notable people who lived with a learning disability, including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and many others who have changed the course of our world.
Their tremendous strengths are offset by noticeable weaknesses – an inability to read or write, memory problems, and difficulty understanding what is heard or seen. These difficulties stem, not from a physical problem with the eyes or ears, but rather from the basic neurological functioning of the brain. Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence.”
How can learning disabilities be identified?
Formal and informal testing is used to determine patterns of strength and weakness in learning. This battery of tests is administered by a registered psychologist.
“However, learning disabilities are invisible and not normally picked up early,” says Martin. Generally, children are not mature enough to respond to psychological educational assessment tests until they are at least seven years old. Until an assessment is undertaken, educators use their skills and experience administering interventions which in many cases, but not all, are successful.
“Research has found some alarming statistics. One study from the University of Toronto in 2017 done with 23,000 people found that the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts was much higher for women and men who had been diagnosed with learning disabilities.”
Martin’s work history included managing not for profit organizations supporting mental health and addictions, seniors, and intellectual disability. “We don’t put nearly enough effort into teaching young children how to be healthy and to prevent mental illness. This gap needs more attention and more preventative resources such as identifying learning disabilities earlier in life and making sure the resources are in place.”
Programs available for children and adults at LDAPEI
The organization works with, on average, 65 students weekly throughout the year. “The main focus is on the child and on helping their parents understand what is taking place. It takes tremendous courage to ask for help, especially in an area that is not often talked about and not well known.
“Our programs and one-on-one instruction are designed to meet students at the level they are at and are implemented at a pace they are comfortable with. We have seen the children progress, which is very encouraging for them and their families.
“Many adults can improve their own personal future when their literacy improves. In the near future, we will be offering a prototype program for adults called Never Too Late.”
The 20-week program will take 10 adults for one hour a week. “We will establish a base line of where they are at and then monitor the students’ improvement. This program can help tremendously in transferring what they have learned to their daily living.
“We are actively looking for adults who wish to join the program, and they can start when they are ready.”
From left, Cindy Lapena says Tutoring at the LDAPEI is highly enriching and rewarding, because you get to know your students very well and see them grow, learn, and understand what they are doing so that they can apply their skills and knowledge to classroom work as well as real-life situations.
Holly Pierlot, Tutor says she love to see their confidence build as they realize they CAN learn, in their own way! Their success breeds further success, and they experience real joy.
Chevon McPhee, Tutor says it is so rewarding to see and hear how much their students hard work pays off. “Whether they tackle a tough word or parents show school results, it warms my heart to see them succeed.”
Hiring tutors for the program is on-going. “Presently, we have six tutors, and I am always open to meeting educators who want to be tutors,” says Martin Dutton. “There is a need for tutors across the Island.” All LDPEI tutors are certified teachers registered to work with the Public Schools Branch.