Full Discussion: Emotional, Occupational, and Self-Esteem Issues in Adults with Learning Disabilities. April 6 - 8, 2009

Emotional, Occupational, & Self-Esteem Issues
in Adults with Learning Disabilities.
Dr. Mary Kelly, Guest Speaker
April 6 - 8, 2009
Learning Disabilities Discussion List

Rochelle Kenyon, Moderator

Discussion Announcment | Guest's Bio | Discussion Outline

Messages Posted During the Discussion

[LearningDisabilities 2842] Reminder - Guest Discussion Scheduled for April 6-7-8, 2009

Hi all,

I am posting a reminder below about next week's guest discussion. I encourage subscribers to participate.

I invite you now to begin submitting specific comments and questions to the List for Dr. Mary Kelly to address during her time with us. Thank you to Sue McGilloway for starting us out with these interesting questions below:

  1. Do you incorporate counseling into your program to deal with the emotional issues associated with living with a learning disability?
  2. Do your students come with documentation to obtain accommodations? If not, do you refer them for testing or do you have staff licensed to test students? For most of our literacy students, the cost of testing is prohibitive. Is that your experience?
  3. Do you include students with ADHD in your program? Their needs are somewhat different. They may present with comorbid learning disabilities and other psychiatric diagnoses?
  4. What do you see as the most common learning disabilities that students have? What are the most common challenges that students bring?
  5. What occupational challenges do you find most in the student population you serve? What is the average age breakdown of your student population?

Guest Speaker Topic:

Emotional, Occupational, and Self-Esteem Issues in Adults with Learning Disabilities

Discussion Dates: April 6, 7, and 8, 2009

Guest Speaker: Dr. Mary S. Kelly

Dr. Mary S. Kelly is the Director of the Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of Learning Disabilities and its Adult Literacy Program. She is an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After graduating from Boston College, she worked as a special education teacher. She then went on to earn her M.A. in Remedial Reading and her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught courses in reading, learning disabilities, and psychology at the graduate and undergraduate levels. She has worked with adults with learning disabilities at the Fisher Landau Center since 1994 and has directed the program since 2002.

Tentative Agenda:

  1. Resources to Preview Before Discussion:
          ncld.org has a wealth of information directed to adults with LD &nsbp;
          ncld.org/content/view/382/339/ - At college and work
          ncld.org/content/view/1037/389/ - Adults with LD
          ncld.org/content/view/353/411/ - LD on the Job
          ncld.org/content/view/419/407 - LD & Relationships
  2. Reading:
    Barton, R.S., & Fuhrmann, B.S. (1994). Counseling and psychotherapy for adults with learning disabilities. In P.J. Gerber & H.B. Reiff (eds).
    Learning disabilities in adulthood. (pp. 82-92). Boston: Andover Medical Publishers.
  3. Questions from Subscribers
    To be added~
  4. Welcome, Self-Introduction, and Invitation to Ask Questions and Comment
  5. Goals for the Discussion:
    1. To foster an understanding of the learning and psychological needs of low-literacy LD adults and how they affect vocational attainment
    2. To examine external and internal obstacles to employment for low-literacy LD adults
    3. To examine potential interventions for improving self-esteem
  6. Hank and Max: Two low-literacy men with learning disabilities (LD)
    1. What impact has their LD had on their self-esteem and ability to work?
    2. What can we learn from their experiences?
    3. What would you do to help them?
  7. Self-esteem and Learning: A reciprocal relationship
    The experiences of the Adult Literacy Program at Fisher Landau
  8. Obstacles to Employment (they’re not just from the outside)
    What do we know about the employment needs of low-literacy LD adults?
    Where is the research?
  9. Outcomes: What happened to Hank and Max?
    Is learning to read a panacea?
  10. Additional Resources/Websites

Please forward this announcement to colleagues that might be interested in this important topic. In order to benefit from the discussion, people must be subscribed to this List. To subscribe, one must go to: http://lincs.ed.gov/mailman/listinfo/learningdisabilities

I am very excited about having Dr. Mary Kelly share her valuable and extensive experience with us.

Thanks very much,

Rochelle Kenyon, Ed.D.

National Institute for Literacy/LINCS Online Facilitator

Learning Disabilities Discussion List

Center for Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee



[LearningDisabilities 2929] Discussion Begins on Emotional, Occupational, & Self-Esteem Issues

Good Morning Everyone,

I am pleased to introduce Dr. Mary Kelly who will begin this week's discussion. After each of her messages, please join in to the discussion by asking questions or sharing your thoughts. Let's begin.....

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, Ed.D.


[LearningDisabilities 2930] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thank you so much, Rochelle, for inviting me to be part of this discussion. For my first post, I am going to give you quite a bit to read, so forgive me – and get those screen readers going!

When Rochelle asked me to facilitate this discussion, I was drawn to the topic – not because I feel I have a particular expertise in all these areas, but I do have a particular interest. And I am very interested in other people’s thoughts and resources.

Thanks to Sue who started me off with some really great questions. I am going to address some of
them in this post. And I will try to address others in later posts. Please everyone join in – this will be the most fun if we go back and forth.

Bear with me as I tell you about my program. I am the director of a center for people with learning disabilities called the Fisher Landau Center (FLC) and of its Adult Literacy Program (ALP). The FLC is are part of a larger clinic – the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine - dedicated to serving individuals with developmental problems. We provide services from infancy through adulthood. Our adult program is actually one of our newer programs – CERC has been here for over 40 years. The ALP was started in 1992 by Dr. Ruth Gottesman who worked in the field of LD for many years and who started a program for children with LD in 1968. This program was supported with seed money from a benefactor named Barbara Goldsmith. It became quite apparent over the years that these children grew up and continued to need support – very little of which was available. Dr. Gottesman established the ALP, but not without some very severe criticism from special educators. At that time, it was still not fully accepted that learning disabilities did not go away once a person reached puberty (this is exactly what I was taught by physicians in the hospital-based school where I had my first teaching job in the late 1970’s).

Fortunately, we have some a long way in the past 15 or 16 years. We understand that learning disabilities are lifelong problems and that many adults with learning disabilities need support and services to help reach their educational, vocational, and personal goals.

The ALP provides two types of services. We do psychoeducational evaluations of individuals who are concerned about their reading and learning. And we provide treatment services for adults with LD.

Our evaluations are provided by licensed psychologists and by an advanced graduate student in psychology. The primary purpose is to help determine that a disability exists, and if it does to help determine the proper course of treatment or make appropriate referrals for necessary services. (You may detect a bit of a medical bent in how I talk about things, this being a result of the fact that we are part of a medical school and we provide services under the supervision of a physician.) I will talk some more about evaluations and accommodations in a later post.

The ALP treatment program focuses on very low literacy adults who have learning disabilities. I have a database of information regarding the people we have seen over the years. To date, we have done evaluations of over 1900 individuals. Of those, 720 have come into our treatment program. We offer one year of one to one treatment. Treatment combines psychoeducational services (teaching reading and writing) and supportive counseling on life issues. We use the work of learning to read and write as a therapeutic technique to improve self-esteem and confidence and to address other issues related to psychological functioning. Our treatment is provided by graduate students in psychology and by consultants who have Masters degrees in special education. Everyone is supervised by a licensed psychologist. To give you an idea of the thinking behind our treatment program, I want to refer you to our web site and to a manual we wrote on technology and adults with LD. The technology stuff is quickly getting dated, but we included information about the principles of instruction that guide our treatment. Please go to: http://www.aecom.yu.edu/cerc/pdf/LD_ACCESS.pdf

After a year of individual work, we hope that our participants will have gained the skills and confidence they need to participate in one of the many adult literacy and adult education program available in New York City. As far s I know, we are the only program in the City that offers individual treatment to adults with learning disabilities. I am certain that all the adult literacy and adult education programs serve people with learning disabilities, but they are not designed specifically for that population.

There are people that we are not comfortable sending to other programs after a year of individual work for various reasons, including health and mental health problems. We have a small group program for those folks. (And any of you who would be interested are invited to observe this program.)

Well, with that lengthy introduction, let’s start to think about the self-esteem and occupational needs of low literacy adults with LD. I want to focus on low literacy adults. As I look through the literature on adults with LD, I am struck by how little is available about low literacy adults. There are lots of articles about adults with LD who are successful vocationally and academically and there is lots of information about college students with LD. I feel that we need to pay more attention to the educational, occupational, and psychological needs of people functioning at the lowest levels of reading. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (http://www.nces.ed.gov/NAAL ), 7 million people could not answer simple test questions and another 4 million could not be tested because of language barriers. Fourteen percent of adult in the US are functioning at the lowest levels of literacy. This is a national crisis for all of us and a personal tragedy for many. Let’s start by thinking about two of the gentlemen who came to the ALP. These are real stories but I have changed names and small identifying details to help protect their confidentiality.

Although in the past Hank had worked as a bouncer and a bodyguard, he was “scared as a child” when he came to the Adult Literacy Program for an evaluation. Hank had never learned to read, even though he had tried hard to do so when he was in school. Eventually he married his high school sweetheart (who became a nurse) and had three children. His wife did all the necessary reading and writing. Hank always held a job. At the time he was evaluated he was a porter on the night shift in a Park Ave. apartment building. He hated being on the night shift, and had come to truly regret not being able to read or write. He felt he could do a better job than many of his supervisors, but he could not deal with all the paperwork responsibilities of a supervisory position. He wanted to get a license to run a boiler (in NYC, this is a ticket to a well-paid job), but could not do the reading necessary to learn the information and take the test, Hank was very embarrassed about his reading problems. His wife was the only person in the world who knew. He worked extremely hard to keep his secret from his children, co-workers, and supervisors. Although he was over 50 and was beginning to have some vision problems, Hank refused to have a vision exam because he feared being asked to identify letters.

Until he was hurt at work and found himself unemployed, Max hadn’t cared much whether or not he could read. Growing up in NYC, one of a family of ten children, Max hated school. He said school was “traumatizing” and was truant by the time he was in fifth grade. What Max had been unable to admit to himself was that school was traumatizing because he was unable to learn to read and spell. Max struggled for a while, but found the lack of support at home and at school made it impossible for him to succeed. He dropped out, relieved to no longer be under the pressure to learn.

Eventually Max found a good job in the maintenance department of a large Manhattan office building. He moved in with his girlfriend and they had a daughter together. Max felt satisfied with his life; he had a nice family, a new car, and a pleasant place to live. He was proud that he had succeeded without being able to read.

After about 10 years on the job, Max had an accident at work and hurt his back and legs. He could no longer do the heavy physical work that made up the majority of his job. He had to resign and go on disability. These payments were not enough to support his family. He eventually separated from his family. He became extremely depressed. He tried to find work, but being unable to read and unable to do physical work left him with virtually no options. Over an eight-year period he tried to learn to read, attending several different literacy programs. None of them were able to help him learn.

  • What do you feel is the impact not being able to read has had on Hank’s and Max’s self esteem and their ability to work?
  • What would you do to start helping these individuals?


I look forward to your comments and questions.

Mary S. Kelly, Ph.D.
Director, Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of LD Albert Einstein College of Medicine
1165 Morris Park Ave.
Bronx, NY 10463


[LearningDisabilities 2931] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

I work in elementary schools and do not work with adults with LD, but I attend IEP meetings and explain evaluation results to parents who commonly confess that they had similar problems in school. So, I see both ends of the LD spectrum - when the school system begins to not be able to remediate adequately, and the parents who are dealing with adult life without being able to read adequately. I think the parents have internalized a message that they are not smart enough to read, and that if anyone finds out they can't read they will think it is because they are not smart enough. In 13 years I have only encountered 1 family where the different generations (mom, grandma, daughter) openly spoke about the family history of dyslexia. Here's what I think would help:

1.   All interventions are not created equal, and one size does not fit all. It is my perception that after having gone through lots of programs run by people "certified" as reading specialists, and still not being able to read, the individual begins to be convinced that they are personally really stupid or messed up. I have observed and participated in many programs (Reading Recovery, Orton-Gillingham, etc.) and often I see where the program does not match the individual's problem closely enough to be successful. No one tells the individual or their family this, and when the program is over and they have made little progress (in spite of trying very hard while working with a highly trained tutor), it has the very negative effect of "proving" to the individual that they really are stupid or messed up. This creates an even higher level of emotional and affective interference for future interventions. The tutors often don't know enough about reading acquisition and instruction to fine tune each individual's program so that it matches their needs closely enough to have a more successful outcome. Usually I see tutors who are experts on a single program, and if that program is a good match for the problems presented it will be successful, but if the match is not that close, they are unable to adjust as necessary.

2.   No one has ever clearly explained the neurobiological/genetic basis of LD to these individuals, and how in most cases the LD is not related to intelligence. It helps to overcome a disability if you have an IQ of 130, but in most cases the cause of the LD is not related to a low IQ. If the individuals knew this it would help reduce the self-esteem damage. When they believe lack of intelligence is the cause of their problem, the cycle of low self-esteem and shame begins, and then it is even harder to remediate.

  1. These people need to be presented with clear examples of individuals with similar problems who have become functional, if not proficient. Give them hope so they will keep trying.


  1. Speak clearly to them about how we know that it will be much harder for them because of their neurobiological disability, but that with the right instruction and LOTS of practice, they will improve.

Brant Hayenga, Educational Diagnostician


[LearningDisabilities 2932] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Seemingly lost in New York, there is hope, I can attest. On Feb. 2009 I posted my educational history with the "gift" of Dyslexia. (see: Dyslexia growing up with the gift, Posted: Mon, 23 Feb 2009 20:49:50 -0500)

With today's technology the printed word should not be a deterrent to obtaining goals of education if the student has dyslexia. Please feel free to share my travels with the gift of dyslexia with others; you can also call me any time at the number below. My travels with the "gift of dyslexia: http://www.manateediagnostic.com/davisgraham.aspx

Thank you for being such an advocate for the students with a print disability.

Davis W. Graham, Executive Director\CFO
Manatee Diagnostic Center


[LearningDisabilities 2933] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Mary!

How much of the self-esteem deficits that some people with LD have are related to poor social/soft skills? Does ALS teach subjects like interacting with others, emotional management, goal-setting, time management, prioritization, etc.?

I appreciated learning all the etiquette, comportment, social graces help I received growing up Does ALS teaching that? It seems insignificant, but knowing to take a gift to a party, how to make small talk, etc. was a really big help. The joke I used to tell on myself was "If I hadn't been kept in every recess to do my work, I would have learned all the social stuff on the playground."

Michael Tate


[LearningDisabilities 2934] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hello, my name is Sharrie and the majority of my experience with learning disabilities has been in the mental health field. I have worked with individuals with mental illness, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, mental-health issues due to drug and alcohol abuse and any combination therein.

In response to Ms. Kelly's questions: What do you feel is the impact not being able to read has had on Hank’s and Max’s self esteem and their ability to work? What would you do to start helping these individuals?

I feel that both Hank and Max would have very low self esteem that could (in many cases) lead to depression. When people feel this way they tend to show it through their lack of confidence and body language. These things would make finding work and respect very hard.

In beginning literacy with both of these gentlemen I would start with resources. Help them to be able to concentrate on learning when they are in the classroom. For Hank, I would try and make an agreement as to at what point he would be willing to get an eye exam and make that a goal. For Max, make sure that he has living resources since he is no longer employed.

After that I would start having them link signs and words together. Most people know what a stop sign and stop light are and what they are called. Now put the words with the images. Other recognizable signs are men’s (restroom), exit, walk, don't walk, do not enter, yield, also job specific signs.

I would use "functional" literacy to tailor a program to meet their needs and goals. Possibly work on the alphabet so that Hank would feel more comfortable getting an eye exam, or use specific forms that he (or supervisors) use/read on a regular basis. For Max, possibly reading applications, or help wanted ads (especially understanding abbreviations), or job specific words for the jobs he would like to get.

Sharrie Berowski-Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2935] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


I could not agree more with each of the four points you made. We are very lucky that we are able to work with adults individually. We can really tailor our techniques to their needs, styles, and interests. I am also fortunate to have been trained at Teachers College, Columbia University when some of the greatest names in reading were still teaching there. It was instilled in me that reading specialists cannot be specialists in one method. We need a good sized bag of tricks so that we are able to help people with a variety of needs. And that is the attitude that I bring to my program. If one way does not work, we will try another, and another. To be honest, not every person we see makes the gains we would like to see, but by the time they finish with us they are feeling better about themselves and are generally willing to keep trying.

I find the same thing you do, Brant, that often people have not been given the information they need to understand themselves as learners and to understand their learning disabilities. In fact, this morning I met with a 27-year-old man who can only read a few basic sight words. When I told him I thought he had dyslexia, he said that he had been told that when he was in school, but no one had ever explained to him what it meant. This is typical. And he was fascinated by the explanation and relieved to understand that this was not mental illness or retardation. I think it is important for people to understand that learning disabilities are neurodevelopmental disorders and to understand that it is not their fault that they have the learning problems. But this does not get them off the hook for working hard to resolve their issues!

I agree that role models are important. We try to weave in stories about successful people with LD, but sometimes their experiences are so unlike the lives of our participants, that the stories are more like fables. Within our groups we are able to foster relationships and people functioning at various levels can support each other.

Success breeds success. We work hard to build success into every session. And as Brant says, the key to success in learning to read is practice.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2936] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thanks for your nice comment David, And I will check out your post.

In general I agree that technology can be useful in reaching educational goals. We use speaking spellers with a great deal of success. We have had less luck in interesting people in screen readers. I think this is because there still is a digital divide and the people we work with do not have access to the technological tools that are proliferating. Even though every library in NYC now has computers and Internet access, they do not hall have screen readers or some of the other tools that are so helpful for people who can't read. So, many folks are still out in the cold on that one. And technology is still clumsy when it comes to things like doing your grocery shopping (its embarrassing to have to use a tool to get around the grocery store), so functional skills may at this point still be best taught the 20th century (19th century?) way.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2937] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hello Michael:

Thanks for the interesting posts you've been submitting lately. I thought you did a great job with the fMRI studies, great summary. I don't think I can answer your question in terms of quantity - how much? But clearly there is a relationship between the kinds of processing problems people with LD have, the learning problems they have, social skills, and self-esteem. Just as individuals with LD need direct teaching of reading skills in order to improve their reading, direct teaching of social skills is sometimes needed too. Some people with LD are not good incidental learners who pick things up along the way. They need support and teaching.

We try to provide our participants with all the help they need, but there are certainly limits to what we can do in two hours a week. We try to weave together goals like better time-management, goal setting, social skills etc, into our sessions. But at all times we are keeping our eyes on the prize of learning to read. If the social problems are very severe, we might refer elsewhere or have our social worker work with the individual. Otherwise, the luxury of individual treatment is that you can develop very individual goals and address a range of problems.

And let's hear it for recess - one of our physicians here at Einstein just published a study that showed kids who get out for recess are in a better position to learn than kids who are kept in all day. So to teach social skills and reading, let kids run around!

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2938] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thanks for these great ideas Sharrie. My next longer post will get a little more into Hank and Max. Your ideas are great ways to start and in many ways mirror what we did. You mentioned that their low self-esteem may lead to depression. This is a very important idea, and I think its great that someone in the mental health field is on an LD discussion list. I will give some numbers about the incidence of depression in the people we see in my next post. Many people we see, including both Hank and Max, are depressed. Frank Wood, professor emeritus from Wake Forest University, who has done some incredible work in the genetic and neuropsychology of LD, once said at a seminar I attended that he thought depression was ubiquitous in the adult LD population. He made the point that some of the brain mechanisms involved with LD are related to mood as well. Mostly, we will just work with people who feel depressed, and find they begin to feel better as they learn and grow in confidence. Others, however, may be so depressed that they are not really in a position to learn. Depression can really affect attention and memory. Sometimes we need to refer people for medical interventions before we are really able to help them start tacking their learning problems. It’s important to be realistic with people about the effects of their mood on learning so they do not set themselves up for continued failure.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2939] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Please forgive my typo Davis, I did not mean to call you by the wrong name!!

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2940] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

A fabled life it is not, it is real, it is real failure, it is petitions, it is standing in front of a class asking for help, and it is crying, pain and strength. It is a vision which you hold on to, a vision where laughter and whispers are overcome by perseverance faith and courage. Courage to approach a professor who has shunned me as a student because they think, to have my test given to me in an auditory format is unfair, laws and helping hands help in ways which cannot be appreciated enough.

Once I was asked to write and article of encouragement to students of an "LD" school, it is below.

Postcards from an L.D. Veteran
Lingering flashbacks from my elementary years, visit me often. Flashes of visions streak across my mind of just making it under the limbo bar (i.e. a C average) of high school years, then the hobbling along with everyone else in my L.D. class in college, then finally during my last three semesters in college did I ever begin to feel confident. Only then to feel the vast emptiness when I began to look for a job in the business world. My metals of honor were always at home, in the form of my parents who gave me the foundation to step out in Faith, and come home to recharge my confidence. It has and is a tough battle of overcoming the written hurdles of our society, and the limits it creates. As a dyslexic with the gift of multi dimensional thinking or thinking in pictures, we are ahead of our time, and it is discouraging to have to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. In the process we are the minority. Sure we have ADA support, but this and every other label comes at a price of whispers in the back of the class and slighted eye contact when it comes to questioning our option, but at the end of the scholastic mission there is victory.

Each of the above has a defining ring:

Elementary school was tough, although I found my place as a class clown, whenever I got close to the edge of disciplinary correction, my fellow students would ask if I had missed taking my Davis pill. Most of which was overshadowed by my likable silliness. Only one school asked me not to come back.

High-school, I thank the Lord for not being labeled as an SLD or I might have qualified for ESD, but they did not exist, as a matter of fact most teachers were not informed that I was dyslectic until my senior year.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test was my baptism into college, only under an LD program was I going to venture into college. The LD program weighted my enthusiasm, in spite of my better judgment by the administration. The L.D. program would discourage the type of courses I wanted to take, so I transferred.

The University of the South was a spring board which I desired and learned more about myself and studying than ever before. I was responsible, and I accepted the responsibility by studying very hard. I was not efficient, but I was diligent. What a great gift to be in such an academic environment.

What was to follow were three semesters of a balanced diet of hard work with other students who were there for the academic challenge, and the application of reward by having fun, i.e., kayaking, spelunking, rock climbing, watching football games in a coat and tie, (which is also the uniform to class). There were teachers who would step out of scholastic traditional bounds on my behalf. They took time to read my test to me. They also invited me into their offices and homes for private tutoring, or to get a clearer picture of the "gift of dyslexia" and how to help the knowledge I expressed in class into grades. All under the "honor code" of education.

Feeling the grades and quality points failing, I transferred to the University of South Florida. My acceptance was granted after an oral petition. Into the Special Services for the Handicap program, I was allowed in. What I did not know was that I had been academically suspended from the University of the South. Subsequently, I was academically suspended in a year and a half from the University of South Florida, mainly due to my denial of disability and help from the program of the Special Services.

Into the work force for two years after being offered a good salaried position as a manager of a night club, I decided the life style would not be good for me or a possible future family, I returned to school.

By this time my emotional arms had been strengthened by picking myself up from past failures. The deans of Social Behavioral Science questioned my ability to remain a candidate for a B.A. in Psychology, saying that in order to graduate I would have to maintain a 3.0 average; I went on. There was however, one administrator who was interested in helping me, not my "disability." I was back at my degree. Three straight semesters later, ending in Dec. 1985, I sat front row and center, averaging a 3.0. I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of South Florida.

Again please call or email me with any questions.

Davis W. Graham


[LearningDisabilities 2941] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Three programs which have enabled me are http://www.readplease.com , http://www.rfbd.org , and http://www.bookshare.org . Bookshare for the student and adult population is an excellent resource. Newspapers from all over the country are available and Bookshare provide two text to speech software programs, Victor Soft reader and a Beta for Bookshare made by Read:Outloud.

Being able to read the newspaper is a character builder, I know what is going on in the world because I read it in a newspaper, I had never been able to say this before, I can read my trade journals now, where in the past they ended up in the garbage because I could not face the daunting task of reading them. Now it is a simple clip and paste or have Read:Outloud read it to me via the web. When I read I have to follow along for 90%+ comprehension, but on the other hand I'm working a lot on spreadsheets with numbers and listening does not detour from my number crunching.

Although I can't read and type at the same time if I was able to, I would can it and sell this ability. I'm pretty sure my processing numbers and hearing the paper read to me do not use the same part of the brain.

ReadPlease enables me to read my letters and emails before they go out and is generally the one I use the most, ReadPlease should be made available to all populations in schools and libraries. If made available to all then it would not cause the much dreaded stigmatism. ReadPlease is a Microsoft only program, but in today's environment there are parallel operating systems software, so you can have Mac or Windows running at the same time.

As for public access, again it is us (advocates) pushing with concerted effort in the same direction.

Davis W. Graham


[LearningDisabilities 2942] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

This is a great story, Davis. Thanks for sharing it. I'm sure it helped the kids you wrote it for. I'm going to share it with some of our participants.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2943] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Once again, thanks Davis. These are helpful resources.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2944] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Mary,

In your response to Brant, you mentioned a "bag of tricks" for helping people with a variety of needs. Could you share with us some of your best strategies/tricks for teaching reading--ideas we can use with our students right away? Thank you!

Lauri M. Schoneck, M.Ed., Professor, Adult Basic Education/GED
Seminole Community College
Sanford, FL


[LearningDisabilities 2945] Re: Discussion Begins on Emotional, Occupational, & Self-Esteem Issues

This may sound odd, but Dr. Kelly's original message has disappeared from my emails. Is there a way that someone can forward the original message that describes Dr. Kelly's program? I would really appreciate it.

Sue McGilloway


[LearningDisabilities 2946] First Message from Dr. Kelly on LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


Dr. Kelly's first message on LD, Self-Esteem, and Work is in the archives (# Learning Disabilities 2930 ) at: http://lincs.ed.gov/pipermail/learningdisabilities/2009/002960.html  

Rochelle Kenyon


[LearningDisabilities 2947] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Lauri:

All our intervention is guided by principles of instruction that are presented in our LD/ACCESS AECOM manual. I just looked for the web address, because I'm home without it, and I found that our link is not operational right now. I'll get that fixed tomorrow so you can get at the manual. And I'll post the information again. These principles are the foundation of our work.

In terms of techniques. First we try Wilson. Multisensory phonics instruction is helpful with a good number of people. As I mentioned earlier, we probably don't follow the program with complete fidelity, but I think we're effective anyway. We do use the suggested tapping techniques, which we feel help reinforce the individual sounds.

With our groups we use another multisensory phonics program called SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words, see http://www.devstu.org/sipps. We use the Challenge level which focuses on strategies for decoding multisyllable words, for building knowledge of sight words and sight syllables, and for developing vocabulary knowledge. We use the direct teaching of sight words, based on methods developed at Teachers College. This process is a little long for me to write up here.

I'm going to look for something I can post or a reference on the Internet, and I will get back to you on that. The point is to teach words directly, first in isolation and then in increasing contexts (phrases, sentences, paragraphs). The series I mentioned earlier, New Beginnings in Reading, lent itself really well to these techniques, so I am again sorry its no longer on the market. I have not found another beginner level series that works as well.

We also use word family approaches, repeated readings (very helpful for improving fluency), and sometimes old methods like the Fernald method (which is a multisensory method of teaching sight words). Practice and repetition are the key ingredients to improving basic reading skills, so any program that allows for practice and repetition is helpful. We really like the Lexia program for this. It allows for an incredible amount of practice and our participants generally love it (although sometimes individual activities are too fast and they get a little frustrated).

For comprehension instruction, we really like to use Reciprocal Teaching techniques. This is us in a nutshell, and I hope it’s helpful.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2948] Self-Esteem

One of the first things I would do when working with a "Hank" or "Max" is to let them know that there are many types of intelligence that is not measured by a written test. Most adults like them were labeled stupid when in fact, they are very bright - they just are not able to express their knowledge base in the same manner as someone with no disability. For example; Max worked in maintenance. In getting to know him I might ask how he fixes a leaking faucet. As I listen to him explain (and I do mean listen) I can let him know by my questions that I have no idea how to do any plumbing and what a special talent that is. Later as we are working I can remind him that if he can learn to do all the plumbing things I have no clue about, he can learn some basics about reading. I will let him know that there are tricks to aide people with learning disabilities and explore some of them with him. Often once someone realizes that they are not stupid as they were led to believe in their formative years they are more willing to try new ways of learning.

Mary Taylor


[LearningDisabilities 2949] Re: First Message from Dr. Kelly on LD, Self-Esteem, & Work

Hi Dr. Kelly,

Thank you very much for paying do much attention to the importance of self-esteem in the discussed reading skills deficit.

As far as we already had so many valuable responses concerning self-esteem, instructions, resources, I would like to refer to one aspect of the issue. For us to assist our adult clients, they should self identify. The problem is - are they ready? What can we do to help them to open up and be able to not only self identify in an academic/vocational environment, but to do the same at work?

Ten years ago, I had a student who had experienced an extreme emotional downfall connected with his learning disability. After two months in a program which was delivering multisensorial instruction in a very intense, daily manner, he experienced so much awaited success. He worked in a warehouse and had earlier found his coping mechanisms in dealing with paperwork (numbers were not a problem, words were). He was relying heavily on memorization of a lot of words. He succeeded in his "cover-up" operation. Even his employer was unaware of HOW "Pete" functioned. Unfortunately, computerization of the process brought into light not only his deficiencies, but created new ones - he was developing tunnel vision as soon as the e-mails or memos were arriving. We recommended him to request all the mail to be sent to him only in capital case letters. It worked. He was happy. Shortly after this, however, the story took an unexpected turn. His co-workers decided to "celebrate" his success in quite a, I would say, crude manner. He was presented with a cake with the words, "I KNOW MY ABCs!" I am glad he trusted us with his pain. He quit that job, but he DID NOT QUIT. Following our recommendation, he self identified and discussed his strength and the accommodations which would compensate for his deficiencies with his potential employers. First interviews were not successful. "Pete" was still not exactly comfortable while talking about DISABILITY. Yet, there came a day when his was able to concentrate on his ABILITIES and mention his own coping mechanisms as good tools. He was hired. He still works there.

Without learned ability to accept limitations and trust into existing self potentials, the story could have had a different ending for our character.

Tanya Exum
Correctional Facility, Florida


[LearningDisabilities 2950] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

I am very late to this discussion (10:30pm CST) but read this with interest when I returned home from teaching four GED classes to adults. Three of these classes are in the county jail. An overwhelming majority of my students indicate that they are learning disabled, yet few of them can explain what that means. To most of them, the words mean they are different and treated differently in the classroom. Some add that they were given extra time for tests when teachers remembered. Others say simply "I can't read."

I am not a researcher, but feel confident that there is research about the prison population and learning disabled students. As for self-esteem, my jail students have none. The women are so used to being treated poorly because they have no education (most have left school before 9th grade) that they sometimes cry when they learn how intelligent they are. The men are so frightened of admitting what they do not know that they are forced to be "tough" even as we work side by side to find answers to math problems.

Nothing has given me more pleasure in my work life than walking my "learning disabled" students through their GEDs. In so many cases, their poor self esteem has kept them from any successes, and that poor self esteem was fostered in their schools.

I hope this is relevant to the discussion, as this is my first time participating in this kind of thing.

Melanie Redler, GED Instructor
Parkway School District
St Louis, Missouri


[LearningDisabilities 2951] Re: Self-Esteem

Often once someone realizes that they are not stupid as they were led to believe in their formative years they are more willing to try new ways of learning. This should be written in red bold, if not neon, IMO.

This is, in my experience, easily the biggest influence on ABE (adult basic ed. - I'm from the UK). Students in ABE class frequently reveal they have 'learned' in the aforementioned formative years that they are 'stupid'. They are often quite deeply traumatized. They may be good at hiding it, but they have had searingly negative experiences and have been hurt. What they immediately need is democratic, adult openness and success. The key to the whole thing is confidence. If they can have some of that my observation has been that they are almost all much, much 'better' than they thought they were. They learn a) to do it better (literacy, for example) and b) to be able to function out in the world (to accept, for example, that perfect spelling may not matter, that there may be more than one way to skin a cat, to do it anyway).

Hugo Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2952] Re: Self-Esteem

Thanks Mary. I so agree that it is important to help people understand that they are not stupid, crazy or lazy. Your suggestions are excellent ways to help make that happen.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2953] Re: First Message from Dr. Kelly on LD, Self-Esteem, & Work

What a great story Tanya. Thanks for sharing it. I am always a little amazed about how insensitive people can be to the plight of someone who has difficulty reading. But I think it is very hard for readers to walk in another's shoes.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2954] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hank and Max both had evaluations at the ALP. Before I get back to them, I am going to spend a bit of time talking about evaluations and our program demographics. We provide psychoeducational evaluations. We look at cognitive processing issues, achievement in reading, spelling, and math, and associated psychological issues. Among the instruments we use are the WAIS (we are using the WAIS-III right now, but will soon have to change to the WAIS-IV) and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-III. As I mentioned, these evaluations are conducted by licensed psychologists, or under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. We are all ultimately supervised by a physician specializing in rehabilitation. Our evaluations are used, at times, to help obtain testing accommodations. Interestingly, many people we see feel that using accommodations is unfair. Many who have tried community college without the same accommodations they had in high school, come to us reluctantly because they see needing accommodations as a failure. But we try to help them understand that accommodations help them get an even playing field, not an unfair advantage. Because we are a medical setting, we are a little different from many other programs serving adults with learning problems and we are able to provide some services that are out of reach for many people, such as psychoeducational evaluations. I will add here that the New York State agency called VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities), which is the State’s vocational rehabilitation department, does pay (very little) for our evaluations. This may be a route that people in other states might want to explore.

Of the over 1900 people who have been evaluated at ALP, 40% are male and 60% are female. We do not believe that this represents the distribution of LD in the population. We believe that it represents those who are ready, willing and able to address their learning problems. Our population reflects our location in the Bronx (which, by the way, is actually a beautiful borough and a very interesting place to live and work). By self-identification, they are 39% Hispanic, 43% black, 13% white, and 4% other (mostly Asian). 35% are bilingual in Spanish and 5% speak other foreign languages. Most of the adults who come to us (86%) are concerned about their reading. Others are having problems in math, communication, or problems at work. If someone is referred to us with strictly ADHD or serious, untreated mental health problems, we do not accept them. This is because we do not have adequate follow-up services for them. We refer elsewhere. As you might imagine, however, many of the people we see do have co-morbid attention problems, and we will work with them. About 20% of people we see come with serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder. We will work with them if they are in treatment. Many of the individuals we see are depressed. About 25% come with a diagnosis of depression. Another 46% have feelings of depression that are bad enough that they want help. Only about 28% say they do not feel depressed. The literature on adults with LD indicates the stress and anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of incompetence, and fear of novel situations are ubiquitous, and we find this to be so.

In terms of occupations and economics, 32% of the adults we evaluate are currently working. This number has held steady over all our years of operation, but I am afraid it is beginning to change in our interesting economic climate. 62% of our folks have held jobs at some point, 24% have had a few odd jobs over the years, and 14% have never had a job. The vast majority work (or worked) at low skill or minimal skill jobs such as stock clerk, fast food worker, or unskilled construction worker. About 17% have held higher skill jobs or are professionals. About 5% are full-time undergraduates, mostly at the community college level. A total of 66% of the people we see are eligible for Medicaid, indicating that they are living at the lowest levels of the economic scale.

Of those we evaluate, we diagnose about 75% with some sort of learning disability (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia). We find that about 6% of those who come to us for evaluations do not have learning disabilities. I’m sure that these numbers do not reflect any population trends, just describe the type of people who come to program like the ALP.

I’m going to take a tiny side trip. Michael mentioned in a post that social/emotional LDs. This is not an area of expertise for me. But, we see people who we feel have non-verbal LDs. These processing problems make it difficult for people to understand spatial relations, interpret facial expressions, read maps diagrams and pictures, and determine left and right (this is not an all-inclusive list of difficulties). These problems often cause difficulties in social situations, and sometimes people need social skills training. There is no diagnostic category for non-verbal learning disabilities in either the medical or psychological diagnostic manuals. Nor is there a diagnostic category for social LDs. Terms like Learning Disorder, nos (not otherwise specified) may be used. I think that some people with severe social skills problems may be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, but I have to admit, we are not seeing this in our adult service.

I will also add that the language problems that so many individuals have with LD can also affect their social functioning. They may not understand tone of voice, sarcasm or teasing. They may process language a little slowly, which inhibits their ability to follow a quick conversation or remember what someone tells them. This can cause social stress as well. So is there a social/emotional LD? I don’t know. But plenty of people with LD have social and emotional problems.

Now, back to the ALP and the people we serve: We refer approximately 40% of those we evaluate into our treatment program. Of those who come for treatment, the average IQ score is 80 + 11. The average Word Identification score on the Woodcock-Johnson is 77 + 16 and the average Passage Comprehension score is 70 + 16. All of these tests have a mean of 100 + 15, so you can see that the folks we serve are functioning at the lowest levels of literacy.

And now, back for a bit to Hank and Max. His evaluation revealed that Hank had a LD, specifically, dyslexia. This LD had hindered his ability to learn to read. This was an incredible relief to Hank. It had been very hard for him to understand why, even though he was motivated, he hadn’t learned to read. Once his learning problem was diagnosed, he was able to begin to learn without the guilt and shame of feeling he had done something wrong.

Hank’s problems were typical of those found in dyslexia. He had particular problems understanding and using the sounds of language (problems in phonemic processing). Without the ability to deal with language at the level of sounds, learning to read is extremely difficult.

Max came to the Fisher Landau Center at the suggestion of VESID. His VESID counselor hoped that Max could learn to read with specialized help. The evaluation revealed that Max had the intelligence to learn to read, but that he was dyslexic. Like Hank, he had tremendous trouble working with the sounds of language. He also had memory problems that were severe enough to affect his everyday functioning (e.g., he frequently forgot appointments, etc.). Max was also quite relieved to get this feedback. He knew that he was not lazy, crazy, or stupid as others had told him, but he did not know why he couldn’t read. Now that he did, he was in a better position to change things.

Like all our adults, after they had their evaluations, Hank and Max came back and met with the psychologist. They reviewed their test results, and got an explanation of their diagnosis. And the ideas for treatment were discussed with them. They could, of course, ask as many questions as they needed to make sure they understood. And their opinions were solicited about the treatment ideas. This was the start of making them team members in their treatment.

Both Hank and Max had individual intervention that utilized the Wilson Reading System, a multi-sensory phonics program based on the Orton-Gillingham model. Although I don’t think we use this system with 100% fidelity, we find it very effective in improving the decoding abilities of our participants. (The findings of the National Reading Panel indicated that multisensory phonics instruction is effective with children with dyslexia, and our findings suggest it is effective with adults as well). Hank and Max also had direct teaching of sight words using a program called New Beginnings in Reading. This program was published by New Readers Press, but they have taken it off the market. For my money, this was the best program for low literacy adults around and I think it is a pity that they don’t publish it because, as I was told, there is no market for it. This series teaches a small set of sight words at a time and practices them in a variety of contexts that are familiar and relevant to the lives of adults. We use Xerox copies of it at this point. We find it a great supplement to Wilson because it helps us more effectively work on comprehension and vocabulary development.

The Wilson System was highly effective in helping Hank learn to read and spell. With hard work, including many hours of practice at home, Hank became a reader and writer. He slowly became more confident and began to see himself as a learner, not as an illiterate. In an incredible act of bravery, he told his children about his reading problems. They were great. They were highly supportive and for Father’s Day gave him a Franklin Speaking Speller. This was a great gift because it freed Hank to read outside of his home or his sessions because he could get feedback on words he had difficulty recognizing.

After about a year of hard work, Hank read his first short story from a book for new adult readers. He was ecstatic as he reported that reading the story was just like watching a movie. He said that as he was reading he was able to visualize the story. He asked, “Is that the thrill of reading?” (I still get goose bumps when I think about this moment.)

Max first learned sight words. His therapist used methods that helped compensate for his memory problems (see our LD ACCESS/AECOM Manual). Soon, Max was able to read paragraphs and brief stories. Once he knew what it felt like to be a reader, he was ready to start to learn how to decode words with Wilson. With this careful and systematic intervention, and with a great deal of hard work on his part, Max reached about a fifth grade level of reading. He felt so much better about himself that he agreed to write and read a toast at his brother’s wedding. This was a big break-through for him and really represented great gains in terms of his confidence.

Hank and Max are fairly typical of our participants. We find that the most effective way to improve someone’s self-esteem is to help them accomplish the goals they have for their reading and learning. Sometimes we need to help people develop attainable goals. When someone comes to use reading at a Kindergarten level and having a limited vocabulary and limited fund of information, we have to help them understand that the GED is along-term goal and get them to focus on shorter term goals such as reading notes from the teacher or filling out forms. If the goals are too long-term or too difficult to attain, self-esteem will not be reinforced, it will be shattered once again.

Every day we see the reciprocal relationship between self-esteem and learning. Often adults start with us being rather withdrawn and self-critical. As their skills grow, they begin to feel better about themselves. This makes it easier for them to focus on their learning and to read outside their sessions. This in turn improves their reading and helps to increase their rate of progress. We work very hard in our sessions to make the learning successful.

What other resources do you know about for helping people access the evaluations they need? Do you send individuals for psychological help if they are depressed or have very poor self-esteem?

Poor reading skills, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence are major obstacles to learning and to employment for low literacy LD adults. Do you see other obstacles?

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2955] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

What are obstacles to employment for low literacy-LD adults? What do we know about the employment needs to low literacy LD individuals? I think that the number one obstacle to employment for low literacy LD adults is actually the lack of low-skilled jobs available. Lower skill jobs in manufacturing have, for the most part, left our area. Although until recently there was a construction boom in NYC, low skilled construction jobs seem to be few and far between. When the people who come to see us are employed, we find that they are in jobs such as fast food restaurant worker, stock clerk in a grocery store, cleaning, and maintenance. They are often frustrated in these jobs. Some people feel, correctly so, that they could be doing more if they had better print access. Others are completely overwhelmed by the demands of even these low skill jobs that they leave them out of fear and exhaustion.

Another serious obstacle to employment is the lack of appropriate vocational training for people whose literacy skills are not well developed. I don’t think that technology is used to its fullest capacity when training people with LDs. For example, Max was sent by his VESID counselor for a two-week vocational assessment. During this assessment, Max showed a knack for locksmithing. Without too much instruction, he was able to take a lock apart and put it back together in working condition. He was very excited about this and thought that, perhaps, he had finally come across a career that would work for him. But no, he was told that his reading scores were too low for him to become a locksmith. No matter that he could do the locksmithing itself, if he could not read a manual, he could not get trained to be a locksmith. It did not occur to the vocational counselor, that perhaps there is another way to teach locksmithing, such as videos or demonstrations. Certainly, better training in LD for vocational counselors would be helpful.

Cleary, not being able to read or only being able to read very little presents enormous obstacles to employment, especially in the very competitive environment we find ourselves in. And perhaps I’ve just demonstrated that training for vocational counselors and trainers in terms of the vocational imprecations of LD is another obstacle.

The issue of self-esteem is also important in thinking about obstacles to employment. The vicious cycle of not being able to read, not being able to work, and not having adequate educational opportunities can really crush people and make them feel like incredible losers. They do not want to take the chances involved in looking for work.

I think also that some obstacles to employment come from the individuals themselves. Perhaps as a defense mechanism, quite a few people we see have developed occupational goals that are not attainable. For example, I work with a young woman, who after 2 years as an adult at a Huntington Learning Center and a year of individual work with me, cannot read more than a few basic sight words. Her verbal skills are not well developed. But she has great non-verbal skills and a fantastic social sense. We have spoken many times about going to VESID for training. I have encouraged her to think about doing nails, make-up and possibly hair. (In NY, an individual can request that the cosmetology exam be read aloud, so this has given access to a number of our participants.) Although she admits to having an interest in cosmetology, she refuses to go to VESID. “They only teach you to work with your hands there,” she says. She wants to be a secretary in a Manhattan office and wear cute clothes to work. If they won’t teach her to be a secretary, she does not want to go.

In a similar vein, quite a few people tell us they want to work on their education first, and go to work at some future point in time. We try to talk about realistic time lines and whether it is good to stay out of the job market for a long time. We point out that lots of people go to work and go to school, and that going to work does not mean you can’t still learn to read.

Again, we realize that these are often defenses, but they are not always productive. You will see that I’ve often written the words “I think” as I’ve talked about obstacle to employment. This is because I’m giving you opinions, based on my clinical experiences. There is such a limited literature on low literacy LD adults, that I don’t think we actually know the extent of the obstacles or have the information we need to determine the most appropriate solutions. What do you think?

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2956] Re: Self-Esteem

I agree Hugo that confidence is critical. And this grows, as you say, from having success. It sometimes takes quite a while for this confidence to grow. When there is a long history of failure, there needs to a history of success. A gentleman who joined the ALP was slapped by his mother whenever he made a mistake reading his homework. When he was in the ALP and working on his reading (a brave act given his history) he flinched every time he came across a word he did not know immediately. It took about 6 months to get him comfortable and confident enough that this did not happen. Hank, who I've been talking about in my posts, was kicked by his father, who wore steel-tipped construction boots, when he had trouble with his homework. These are examples of the incredible obstacles adults with LD have had to overcome.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2957] Re: Self-Esteem

We can build self-esteem by talking about learning disabilities and our students' intelligence, but if we can't figure out how to help students with disabilities, it seems like self-esteem will plunge again - students' and teachers' too.

The reality for many adult education agencies is that part-time teachers with no LD expertise teach students who don't have helpful IEPs or the resources to get testing. I wish we could afford to have an LD expert on staff who could consult with our students and teachers, but I don't think we can.

Does anyone have a protocol for teachers in this situation -- what to try first, what to do if that doesn't work, or what to do if x happens vs what to do if y happens -- especially for students with very low literacy?

Debbie Smith
Parkway Adult Education & Literacy, Missouri


[LearningDisabilities 2958] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


You can delete all the "I thinks". What you observe in your work, I too have seen, and would venture to say that all who work with adults with LD see on a daily basis. A 37 year old man who read less than 10 words, total, on 2 different assessments, just enrolled in our program. He learned his previous job, custodial at WalMart, with a Goodwill job coach. He expressed complete disgust with the lack of help he has received during his last year with vocational rehabilitation.

You made the point which supports a previous conversation on this listserv about the need to incorporate technology in the education and training of adults with low literacy skills. Reading should not be a barrier to employment for the potential locksmith. Adults with LD can do the work. They need jobs now. Learning to read takes a long time. Let's use the technology and other supports available.

Hugo, I agree that confidence is a key. The emotional impact of reading struggles is huge. However, without skills, confidence isn't enough.

Anne Murr, M.S., Coordinator
Drake University Adult Literacy Center
School of Education
3206 University Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50311


[LearningDisabilities 2959] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


This is a wonderful contribution to the discussion. There is research that indicates that a large percentage of the prison population has learning disabilities. Your work is an important part of reducing recidivism rates. About 20% of the people we see have a prison history. Their experiences are quite similar to those you relate. Thanks for sharing this.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2960] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Part of the problem that I am seeing is that with the economy and lack of work many of these low literacy LD students have trouble finding jobs due to the increase in screening because of the large labor pool. With the continued failure in the job market the need for success in the classroom is even that much more important. Picking out and praising the small stuff is important (i.e. stating the sounds even if they do not correctly state the words is praiseworthy).

Sharrie Berowski-Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2961] Re: Self-Esteem


I'm going to venture a couple of ideas. I think that you have the most difficult problem. And you are so right that self-esteem won't grow from just talking about it. Helping improve skills and functioning is the only way, I think, to really make a difference in someone's self-perception.

Programs like Wilson or SIPPS, which I mentioned previously, can be used easily in a group setting. The Wilson material comes with training tapes, so teachers can get the necessary training that way. SIPPS is easy to use, it has a script that can be followed. These multi-sensory phonics ways of teaching prove to be useful with quite a few people. Instructional software may also be helpful. Lexia Learning Systems has great software for supporting the learning of decoding skills. There is a system called Reading Horizons that I have not used, but is used by the Public Library in the Bronx reportedly with good success. With these programs everyone can go along at their own pace and they get the feedback they need immediately. Further use of assistive technology is also important. Although some of our older adults shy away from the technology, the younger folks are dying to use all the cool new tools. I know that funding is an issue, especially where technology is concerned. But the reading programs are fairly inexpensive (especially SIPPS) and are geared to low literacy adults.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2962] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Anne:

James is actually me, Mary Kelly. I sent things from home this morning and totally confused things! Not surprising... I think that you and Debbie, who I just replied to, are on the same wave length. You are making my point better than I. We see a reciprocal relationship between learning and self-esteem. One won't grow without the other. And we have to use all the tools available to try to make a difference in people's ability to attain their goals.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2963] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


I agree. One thing we need to be aware of for the people we work with are the many scams that are proliferating in our difficult economy. One of our participants just paid almost $300 to a company that said they would train him and place him in a security job, but they just took his money. This can happen to anyone, not just an adult with low literacy.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2964] Re: Self-Esteem

Just to start off I'm a student in a literacy program. Just like there many types of intelligence there are many types of adult learners. There are some students that are mentally ill and some that are lazy. Just like some of the people in our family. Yes, there are many people with different talents that lose confidents because of the lack of reading and writing skills. Someone convince them if you don't have this your not successful, it is true reading and writing can add so much to a life if you have something already to work with. I know I'm going to get some disagreement but at this point it's alright. It's just way too much patting people on the backs like they are stupid, it's as if people in adult literacy has to reinsure themselves that we're intelligent (the student.) I think tough love is needed at times- ask my tutors.

Resonja Willoughby, Student Advocate
Second Start Adult Literacy Program
1801 Adeline Street Oakland, CA 94607


[LearningDisabilities 2965] Intro and Questions

Good evening all,

I've recently joined the list and am wonderfully overwhelmed by all the great messages that have been posted over the past day. These messages are highly useful currently and will be so in the future through the archives as folks look for insight into various issues they're exploring. As someone who has worked in direct programming for 20 years in various LVA contexts I'm only too familiar with the many problems raised on the lists.

In my current capacity I am developing online resources through the Connecticut Region Education Council where we have set up a new website that has links for instructional sites, resources for teachers, and lots more http://www.crec.org/cetes/adult_literacy/index.php.

We have also set up two listservs, one called adultliteracy with descriptive and subscription information here http://lists.creclsrv.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/adultliteracy and adultsupports, here http://lists.creclsrv.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/adultsupports .

During April we will be exploring LD (learning differences, learning difficulties, learning disabilities) issues on the adultliteracy list and are closely following the discussion here. In a post on adultliteracy I raised the following issues/questions, which perhaps are just as germane for the discussion here.

Definition and recognition
Extent of its pervasiveness among ABE students
Classroom and program wide accommodations
Effective instructional strategies
Particular challenges related to ESL students. On this, Robin Schwarz's power point http://www.floridatechnet.org/bridges/esol.html which can be accessed from the first site that Rochelle provided may be of interest.

As we begin to collaboratively reflect on this topic:
What are some of the most pressing questions about LD (broadly or narrowly defined) that you have? What kinds of information, insight, or resources might you need to better address the needs of students who are affected in one way or another with LD issues and limitations? What are some of the most effective compensating strategies that you have discovered? In short, what has really worked for you? Where are you stuck?

Allow me to thank your Moderator, Rochelle Kenyon for her participation on our list and her excellent mentoring in my new role as listserv moderator.

George Demetrion, Adjunct Staff and Discussion Listserv Moderator
Capitol Region Education Council
111 Charter Oak
Hartford, CT 06106


[LearningDisabilities 2966] Re: Self-Esteem

You won't get any flames from me. It's a challenge to raise expectations of students who expect little from themselves, though - often "tough love" just sends the "failed again" message. I've been reading about "growth mindsets" - the radical notion that your "abilities" aren't set in stone (you're either dumb or smart), but that you can change them.

When we have students correctly placed, and then taught how to do stuff they're ready to learn to do, then they at least *can* experience success... when I taught swimming I learned that if I spent the first three days convincing (by my actions) my often terrified kiddos that I wasn't going to ask them to do something they couldn't do, then I *could* ask them to do things they *thought* they couldn't do, and they would try. We didn't try back floats the first day.

That's tricky with literacy, but I think the rule holds true. But then you do have to challenge the student to "do" on their own and face their fears... one teeny bit at a time.

Susan Jones
Academic Development Specialist, Center for Academic Success
Parkland College
Champaign, IL 61821


[LearningDisabilities 2967] Re: Self-Esteem

Resonja, thank you for giving us a student's perspective! I think teachers don't always know what students need so they (teachers) just try to be positive to help build self esteem. This doesn't work for all students, as you point out. Some really do need the proverbial kick in the butt. [?]

I am curious how you came to the conclusion that some students are lazy. What have you heard or experienced that gives you that impression?

Katherine Gotthard


[LearningDisabilities 2968] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Based on much of current criteria I feel like ALL of us have SOME kind of learning disability! The trick is not so much to identify the DISability but to strengthen and formulate the ABILITY to rise above labels and stereotypes and refuse to allow the system to expect anything less than our highest possible achievement. As instructors I really feel like we spend so much time trying to pigeon-hole a student into some sort of category, when, in my opinion, so oftentimes that label is what holds them DOWN. I know when someone tells me I look nice during the day I FEEL nice, despite what I may actually look like; and I believe the same goes for a student with learning disabilities. If I focus on what's WRONG with you will just feel more WRONG and more out of touch and more unable to rise above it. Helping students set attainable goals and move toward them a little bit at a time is much more effective than concentrating on what they cannot do and allowing them to make excuses based on diagnosis or opinion.

Laura McCoy
St. Charles Community College AEL Instructor
St. Peters, MO


[LearningDisabilities 2970] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

LD students (and most AEL students in general) need to learn to trust you first and foremost. If you can make a personal connection with them first instead of acting like every other teacher they've ever disappointed you can go a long way.

Laura McCoy


[LearningDisabilities 2971] Where I'm Stuck

I still get stuck in the shock of appearance of some of my students. I can't help it. So many of them are so clearly wearing their pain for all to see in the form of very disturbing piercings and tattoos and clothing... sometimes it is really hard to see and value the PERSON underneath this strong message they're trying to send.

Laura McCoy


[LearningDisabilities 2972] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

In a message dated 08/04/2009 01:53:00 GMT Standard Time, mccoyx4 at charter.netwrites: If I focus on what’s WRONG with you will just feel more WRONG and more out of touch and more unable to rise above it.

We have been debating the syndrome 'dyslexia' recently and I have said that a diagnosis tends to induce learned helplessness - the above comment is, in better words than mine, exactly such learned helplessness. Not only will the student with the diagnosis experience this downer, which will be deep and broad, so will his 'significant others'. A diagnosis can be harmful as well as helpful (opening doors, perhaps, and countering the feeling of stupidity with a diagnosis, but still...)

One other comment - in an ABE setting, and especially in a prison setting, there will be a plethora of much more likely reasons for strange difficulties, and strange relationships, with 'literacy'. We should not rush to 'diagnoses' without care.

Hugo Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2973] Re: Self-Esteem

Hi Resonja:

Thanks for this dose of reality. Its funny you should use the term tough love. We use it often at the ALP. Some people who want to be in our program have a great deal of trouble making themselves get here physically. They are very motivated in their minds, but not always in their bodies. I generally don't think people are lazy, but I do think they are often depressed and have trouble getting out of the house every day. We sometimes try to give people a wake-up call. Don't waste your time here. Come to your sessions, its the only way we can help you.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2974] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


Thanks for these important words. When we discuss learning disabilities with our participants, we never give the message that LD is an excuse for lack of achievement. We make it clear that what having a LD means is having to work hard. We make contracts with our participants when we begin treatment. We agree to provide the best intervention we can and they have to agree to attend their sessions, be punctual, and do their homework. These are the three critical ingredients for success. Having a learning disability does not mean you can't work hard.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2975] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Outcomes – What happened to Hank and Max?

As Hank’s confidence grew, his willingness to try different kinds of reading material grew. He started to work in the Challenger series (New Readers Press). One of the passages he encountered was about the human heart. He was fascinated by this for two reasons. One was that his wife had a heart condition and he was interested in learning more about it. The other was that he noticed the similarities between the heart and steam boilers. He realized that if he could understand a reading about the heart, he would probably be able to read about boilers. He went about getting study materials and truly taught himself about the workings of a boiler. He made a great self-study guide that included incredible diagrams.

With his new-found confidence he went to talk with his boss about taking the boiler exam and getting another job. He was no longer afraid to approach his boss because he was now a reader and had nothing to hide.

What Hank learned about in that meeting was vesting pensions. He had not been at his job long enough to have vested his pension. He and his wife talked about it and decided that, for the time being, it would be better if he stayed in his job and secured his pension. This was a happy decision for Hank. He no longer felt that he was stuck. He made a decision for his family based on economics, not on the fact that he could not read.

Max’s reading continued to improve over time. But his vocational prospects did not. His experience with VESID did nothing to help his self-esteem and confidence, not to mention his economic situation. But he continued to try to improve his reading, and he did. He also met a new girlfriend and was comfortable enough about himself to tell her about his reading problems right from the start. They had a new baby along the way. He was very proud to be able to read to his second child, since he had not been able to read to his first. This was a source of great satisfaction to him.

Most of the adults who participate in our ALP make progress over their time in individual treatment. Scores on the Woodcock Johnson Word Identification, Word Attack, and Passage Comprehension subtests all increase at a statistically significant level. Scores on a measure of self-esteem also show statistically significant improvement.

We do not have good mechanisms for following our participants once they leave our program. We know that some people get jobs and some go on to get GEDs. Some are happy to be able to help their children with their homework. On the other hand, some people stop working on their reading when they finish with us and don't go on to the programs we recommend. Some come back to us after a number of years, wanting to try again. So many different factors go into these decisions that it is difficult to pinpoint a trend.

But is learning to read a panacea? One of the interesting things about someone learning to read is how it affects other people. In Hank’s case, he felt so much better about himself and he was so proud. But his success affected his wife differently. After a 30-year-long relationship, she had trouble handling the fact that he was able to function more independently. One day, when they were driving and he read a complicated road sign she said, “You don't need me anymore.” A few weeks later he stopped coming to his sessions. I don’t doubt that he is still a reader, but he also had to figure how to be a husband again too.

Max moved away from NYC to live with his new family. He took care of his baby daughter while his partner went to work. He felt productive & happy, although he missed the excitement of living in NYC.

A woman who attended a literacy program run in a nearby library suddenly stopped attending. Her tutor saw her on the street one day and asked why. The woman said, “I was learning to read, but I was losing myself.”

Psychological and psychosocial adjustments need to be made when such a big change like learning to read and becoming more independent occurs. We have to be ready to support people as they find their new selves and learn to deal with their families, friends and (hopefully) co-workers in new ways.

This is the last of the longer posts I will make. This has been a very enjoyable and enlightening experience for me and I thank everyone who joined in (and will join in) the conversation. The world of adult literacy and learning disabilities is lucky to have people like you who are so dedicated to improving the lives of others.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2976] Re: Where I'm Stuck

Good evening,

It was a very wise comment about appearance. My environment - corrections - taught me a valuable lesson that piercing and tattooing are quite often the way of self identifying of some sort.

Our customers (19-25 year old males) are mostly school drop-outs, whose learning styles and needs were not met due to various reasons. A lot of them were called slow, stupid, you name it. They were unwanted not only in school, but quite often in the families.

Various groups and gangs act like a substitute family, accepting them with all their downfalls. Tattoos and piercing, received through the affiliation with these groups, are intended to send a message "Don't mess up with me; I DO belong to a family." We, the outsiders, see the pain through their covering.

Tatyana Exum


[LearningDisabilities 2977] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

However, it can be effective to give a problem a name, which can serve to make it less of a judgment of a person and his value. Understanding something can make me far less helpless fighting it.

Susan Jones


[LearningDisabilities 2978] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

In a message dated 08/04/2009 14:10:27 GMT Standard Time, mskelly at aecom.yu.edu writes: But is learning to read a panacea?  Graff did interesting work demonstrating that literacy is, or perhaps was, not quite so fundamental for material success that we usually think it is. He researched historical records and found that many relatively unsuccessful people were literate and many illiterates were successful. It is nothing like so cut & dried as we tend to assume. Literacy seems to have been helpful, but only one among many factors in a rather complex picture we have yet to understand.

It is somewhat different today, it must be admitted. Sometimes written tests are set for employment in purely non-reading jobs (like dustmen in one British council area). This prompts me to wonder if they are using literacy as a test of compliance, or persistence, or some characteristic quite other than literacy per se?

Graff, Harvey (1991) The literacy myth: Cultural integration and social structure in the 19th century. London. Transaction Publishers.

Hugo Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2979] Re: Intro and Questions

Hi George:

Congratulations on your new website. It sounds like it will be a really helpful resource. You've posed some very important questions and I hope that the list members will respond after this discussion is completed. And since you're in Connecticut, maybe you're close enough to come visit our program. You're invited, as is anyone else who would be interested. Just get in touch with me via my email address.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2980] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

But if we are diagnosed with the WRONG label, that can be even more devastating! Now, not only are we being pigeonholed, we aren't being assisted appropriately.

I don't believe in labeling anyone, LD or otherwise. Nevertheless, this is how society functions in every social aspect. We get treated the way we are labeled, and after awhile, we just believe those labels. Or at least, some of us do. Some of us just call the labels stupid and get on with life. [?]

Katherine Mercurio


[LearningDisabilities 2981] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi everyone:

Yesterday I said I would give you the URL to use to see the LD ACCESS/ AECOM Manual (not the snazziest title) which includes a section on principles of instruction for teaching individuals with
LD. Here it is: http://www.aecom.yu.edu/cerc/pdf/LD_ACCESS.pdf 

This manual is focused on the use of technology. I think some of what we have in there vis-a-vis technology might be useful, but some of it is getting dated already. But the teaching information is good, and I hope you find it helpful.

This is my last full day doing this discussion. Its been fun and I hope you have found it helpful. Please keep sending in questions and comments so we can make the best use of the time Rochelle has so generously allocated for this discussion.

All best wishes, Mary Kelly


[LearningDisabilities 2982] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

The problem of having to take tests for employment is a difficult one. One of our participants would like to be a sanitation worker. But in NYC, you need a high school diploma or a GED to apply for these jobs. His question is: why do I need a diploma to pick up garbage? It is very frustrating. We have found that we can get testing accommodations for most people. It is not always easy to get accommodations on formal tests like the GED. But for those who administer tests for employment or licensure like the cosmetology exam, a post office exam, etc. are often readily open to accommodations. It usually takes a little planning on the part of the test takers. They have to ask at the agency where they are applying what to do to get accommodations. Sometimes this takes some coaching, but we won't make the calls for them, they have to do it themselves. We will role play and practice until they feel ready. (this is one way we reach our goals in terms of improving self-advocacy). Usually all that is required is a letter stating that there is a disability and requesting the specific accommodations. Often our adults don't know that they can request accommodations. Most of the problem here is a problem of public education. Adults with LD need to know their rights. And the general public needs to better understand LD and its implications.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2983] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

I usually tutor children, but have had some adult students. I also supervise tutors tutoring adults and children. I have copied your "Outcomes" for tutors and maybe even their adult students to read (when they can). I think one of my adults who quit after 20 hours has such a strong Beingness as a "dyslexic" that it was getting in the way of her getting better. Her vision of herself was hindering progress. Thanks for the opportunity to learn from experts.

Sharon Hillestad
Clearwater, FL


[LearningDisabilities 2984] Re: Self-Esteem

I agree that there are many types of people who come into the classroom. Some are much more motivated than others. Most students come to class because the genuinely want to learn to read, etc. My experience has been that some are more motivated and willing to work than others. There are always those students that come to class and want to be taught to read but they do not want to do any work. Some of the students that I have worked with that have this attitude is because they have used their disability as a crutch and have gotten others to do things for them. When some of these students take home work to complete, it often comes back completed in someone else's handwriting. The different handwriting, correct answers, along with the student completely not understanding the work they wanted to take home makes me wonder who it was that completed the work, them with assistance or someone else that got tired of the questions and asking for assistance. These are the students generally deemed as lazy and need the "tough love" to complete their own work rather than enlisting others to "get them through it". Don't get me wrong the skill of getting others to do your work can be a great art, but some things you need to do yourself.

As to the point of patting people on the back like they are stupid, I agree that empty praise is just that demeaning and empty. I believe positive feedback even for the little things helps encourage people to continue (kind of like losing weight, even a 1lb loss is more encouraging than 0 lbs.)

Sharrie Berowski-Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 2985] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thanks to you Sharon. We feel strongly here at the ALP that dyslexia is an explanation for reading problems, not an excuse for not working hard to improve things. Sometimes when we review evaluation findings, our participants are familiar with the lingo and have some understanding of what they are dealing with. Others are finding out for the first time that there is an actual reason for their problems, and it is not because they were not motivated or they were stupid. We often discuss the idea that years ago, many teachers and parents were not aware of LD and did not understand why some children have trouble learning to read. We talk about the idea that we cannot change the past, but we can change the future. And the way to change the future is through hard work. There is no way around that. It's too bad your student left after 20 hours, clearly not enough time. Learning to read as an adult with LD is a long-term project.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2986] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

A poignant point.... it IS important to get a good diagnosis! I would like to throw into the fray the work of Dr. Mel Levine and "demystification". With middle school students and above, I use his publication "The Language Parts Catalog" to help students understand their cognitive strengths and weaknesses. It serves as a basis from which they can name for themselves how they are GOOD at this or that.... and NOT SO GOOD at other things. They "see themselves" and learn to understand the complexity of language tasks! It truly "picks apart the brain" and leads one to the realization that if just ONE of these parts is not functioning properly, then the whole process can come to a halt.... much like a single malfunction of an engine part can cause it to stop running! This book covers everything from the "Language Sound Processing System" to the "Language Socializer System"! This opens the door to the realization that EVERYONE has strengths and weaknesses! It is OUR job to learn about our own! The "labels" give a name to something for the purposes of discussing it.... and lead to correct intervention and accommodation in school and workplace. I cannot pinpoint the originator of this definition, but I like it and use it often: "Dyslexia is a weakness in a sea of strengths"!

Maureen Carro


[LearningDisabilities 2987] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Good afternoon all,

Do we have any control studies comparing beginning level adult readers with and without learning disabilities? I raise this because I've worked with adult literacy students for 20 years and have seen very little development in reading ability from say, sub-first grade to 4th grade level even within multiple years even as I have seen an enormous amount of growth among such learners in many ways that do not register on standardized testing. This is not to say that there has not been progress on such testing 3-5 point increases on CASAS pre and post tests in a given year. Though what I have noted is that over a several year period the score range only moves up a little, especially among students testing at 3rd grade levels or less.

Would this mean that the vast majority of these students have largely "undiagnosed" learning disabilities, which if so raises a host of definitional and diagnostic issues themselves or does it mean perhaps that adults learning to read coming at it at the most basic levels exhibit a wide range of symptoms similar to learning disabilities in which instructional strategies utilized to support students are simply good strategies period?

A monograph on this work in Hartford, CT can be accessed here: http://library.nald.ca/item/765.

George Demetrion


[LearningDisabilities 2988] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thanks for mentioning Mel Levine, Maureen. I sometimes use his books too. They are written for a younger crowd, as Maureen mentioned, but they are chock full of great explanations and ideas. The one I use most often is Keeping Ahead in School (Educators Publishing Service). It has great suggestions for exploiting memory skills and organizing information. It’s not really for low literacy adults, but I find it helpful with community college and GED level students.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2989] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

I've just recently joined the LD Discussion group and after reading about a dozen comments, my first reaction is that this is a very positive vehicle for communication. A place where well-meaning people can go to discuss their perceptions of the problem, vent their frustrations, and offer solutions is certainty, at the very least, therapeutic. My mind has been stimulated and although I had a reaction to each comment, I want to add my general thoughts.

"Is learning to read a panacea?" Rational people have decided that education is a good thing, thus in America we have compulsory education. The dominant language of the education system is the written word. We go to school for the first three years of our education to learn to read and for the rest of our lives we read to learn. We cannot succeed in the classroom without literacy skills. In addition, there is no equal opportunity in the classroom or the workplace for children or adults who cannot read.

We can teach 97% of children in school to read. The key to teaching little boys and little girls like me, who are labeled "learning disabled," is proper instruction. Proper instruction, as you know, can only come from properly trained teachers. It's not easy for some of us to learn to read and it's not always easy to teach us to read. It's hard work on both ends but it can and must be done.

Literacy is a precious gift that often goes underestimated by literate people. Until they have had personal experience with someone with learning difficulties, they do not realize the impact that reading and writing has on their lives.

Food for thought: "It is important to give a problem a name." Is the best name for the problem 'learning disabilities' or 'teaching disabilities?' The best accommodation for anyone with LD is to teach them how to read. Acquisition of basic skills is a prerequisite to self-esteem. I will stay tuned and I appreciate your input. Thank you for not giving up on us.

John Corcoran
Author of The Teacher Who Couldn't Read and The Bridge to Literacy


[LearningDisabilities 2990] Re: Self-Esteem

Thank you so much, Resonja, for your comments. I do not know if many people will disagree with what you said--I think it is more that I am such an eternal optimist, want to see the best and most possible for my students, need to believe that anything is possible, that often it is WAY too difficult to give that "tough love" you speak of in your response. I do at times wonder if everyone is able to do things I consider such basics for quality of life, and wonder then what it means if I do NOT believe in the right of every human to be able to communicate by written word.

But I do feel inadequate to the task: I am not trained in LD, nor do I even have the time in class to work one-on-one with a literacy level student.

Melanie Redler


[LearningDisabilities 2991] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Mary, Maureen, Katherine, others:

How does ALP get assistive tech into the plan? What impact on self-esteem have you seen from Assistive tech? Would you agree that when there wasn't the assistive technology that is now available, getting the right label was much more critical. And, it was important to sort out strengths and weaknesses, because often that was what was all there was.

Now, assistive technology can support (like reading glasses do for old eyes), or improve (like prescription eye glasses) or replace (like screen-readers do for low vision). I think we need to factor assistive technology into the "response/training/treatment plan". Now it's strength, weakness, and the role of assistive technology.

Michael Tate


[LearningDisabilities 2992] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi George:

As far as I know such research does not exist. This is one of the frustrations of working with low literacy adults. There is very little information out there. You might want to contact the Literacy Assistance Center (http://www.lacnyc.org ). They have a database of program evaluations that might start to address your question.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2993] Re: Self-Esteem

From my own experience, at one time I considered myself lazy. While I wanted to increase my learning in reading and writing, I didn't feel like putting in too much work. You can call it lack of motivation if you like but I would prefer to do something else, like watching TV or hanging out with my girls. That is for myself. Now for some students - in my spelling class I really couldn't take it anymore, people whining about doing class or homework. They prefer to listen and engage in the conversation rather than have to do the work. Although conversation is needed for developing critical thinking you have to have knowledge in many different skills. Although we acknowledge that people come into programs with low self esteem, we assume it comes from a lack of education. Self-esteem comes from many life experiences. For example, alcohol abuse, drug addition, child abuse and their environment. I'm not down playing the lack of self-esteem because I know that can stop you from achieving goals. I know that learning to read and write is not just the answer to raising a persons' self-esteem. But, it sure can add to it. I have been tested for Dyslexia. In my case it was mild. With the help of my educational providers they have convinced me that it is all right not to know some things, because you have a learning disability. This makes me less motivated to experience a higher level of education. Writing this is going to make me go to see my therapist so I can live my best. I really do appreciate everyone that is working in the adult learning and disabilities fields. I want you to me mindful of the words you send out and give us because you too can also stunt growth. (So why hasn't anyone touched on the mental aspect - is it because learning disabilities are a direct link to mental illness? I don't know I'm just asking.

Resonja Willoughby


[LearningDisabilities 2994] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


We are lucky because we are able to work one to one. This allows us to decide, in concert with the participant, what type of assistive technology and when it is appropriate to introduce. It has been very interesting to me to see the reactions of our participants when we talk about assistive technology. Some of them are enthused and want to try it. Many have the lingering feeling that it is the "lazy man's way out". I have been told that numerous times by many different people. The one device that almost everyone gets enthusiastic about is the speaking speller. We "sell" it as a homework tool, not necessarily as an assistive device. We give them to people to support themselves as they do independent work. This way if they need feedback they don't have to ask someone or don't have to wait until their next session. After they start to use it, many use it as an assistive device and are happy to have the support.

As an aside, the computer voices are sometimes hard to understand, especially for people who have phonemic processing problems or language processing problems. But if they stick with it, the voices become more comprehensible.

We have had a fair amount of resistance to screen readers. We have the problem I noted above, that this is the lazy man's way out. This problem we can readily work with by demonstrating the range of people who would use such as tool. The other is more serious. Many of the people we work with have limits on their listening comprehension and on their memories. They don't always understand or remember what they are hearing. They are not retarded, but they are poorly educated and have not been privy to a great deal of general information. A member of another listserv mentioned this a while ago - there is not just a digital divide, but there is an information divide. Some of the people we work with don't have enough background knowledge and or well enough developed vocabularies to understand and weed through all the information that is out there. They get overwhelmed.

When someone uses assistive technology comfortably, my observation is that confidence increases and stress decreases.

It may be that I am now hopelessly old-fashioned, but I think, technology or not, that it is very useful to people, educationally and psychologically, to understand why they are having the problems they have. I still think it’s important to sort out strengths and weaknesses, because they are relevant to the use of technology.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2995] Re: Self-Esteem

Thanks Resonja,

Your message brings to mind the realization that motivation is not an either/or. There are various degrees and various reasons why adults participate in adult literacy programs. As practitioners part of our work is not only that of identifying and bringing into our classrooms best instructional practices, though that is extremely important. What is also important (perhaps more so?) is working with students within the contexts of their own motivational drives and helping them come to strengthen their motivation to participate in their formal education as long as it continues to make sense for them to do so. This does not negate the importance of "tough love," but it does help to contextualize it. Depending on where people are at sometimes soft love is a better approach even as we should always strive to be truthful. Perhaps we'll hear more on this.

George Demetrion


[LearningDisabilities 2996] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thanks for this wonderful contribution John. I couldn't agree with you more.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 2997] Re: Self-Esteem


I am curious about your statement that "learning disabilities are a direct link to mental illness." I'm not sure what you mean by that. I am a new GED teacher in the prison system but I have more experience with mental health issues as a parole officer in the community. A good portion of my offenders that had a diagnosis were not necessarily learning disabled. Certainly, the more seriously impaired individuals had larger issues to deal with than learning disabilities, i.e., safety to themselves and the community, but I supervised several individuals that did not have learning disabilities, could read and write well and had college degrees. Their mental illness did not affect their learning abilities although often made it difficult for them to keep employment do to serious psychological issues. Is there research out there that shows there is a link between mental illness and LD? I can understand depression being linked to LD but I think help with actual mental illness is much more than an issue of self confidence and literacy. Perhaps it goes back to the age old question, what came first the chicken or the egg?

Kris Davis


[LearningDisabilities 2998] Response to John Corcoran

Hello John,

I am so pleased that you have subscribed to our List, and especially that you find the conversation useful and stimulating. I attended a conference where you were the keynote speaker. It was one of the most memorable presentations I have ever heard. Your story is one that everyone in our field should read. I have given copies of your book, The Teacher who Couldn't Read, to people attending some of my training sessions.

Thank you for contributing to this discussion.

Rochelle Kenyon


[LearningDisabilities 2999] Re: Self-Esteem

Dear Resonja:

I think you have made very important and valid points here. Many people I see tell me how frustrating it is to be in some adult education classes, where socializing is more important than learning. And many people come from the kind of chaotic backgrounds that you describe, difficult homes, unresponsive schools, and a terrible amount of abuse.

I wonder, though, if the people in your class - and classes like it - act like they don't care because they are afraid to fail.

I want to address your point about mental illness. There is no evidence whatsoever that LD and mental illness are linked. There are many psychological stressors that go on in the daily lives of people with LD. We know that many people with LD have depression and anxiety. The research literature suggests that adolescents with LD are more likely to have ADHD and conduct disorders than their non-disabled peers. As far as I know, however, there is no evidence that links mental health problems such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to LD.

I will just add, I don't agree with your teachers that because someone has a learning disability its OK not to know some things. I know I'm repeating myself, but LD is an explanation, not an excuse. If you are willing to do the hard work, why not pursue all your educational goals?

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 3000] Self-Esteem and Habits of Pride

This article talks about "keeping up appearances" - and how that can be more important and positive than it would seem.

Susan Jones


[LearningDisabilities 3001] Re: "Teaching Disability"

Thank you John for bringing the issue of "teaching disability." Through years of teaching from elementary school level to post graduates, I observed how much of our teaching is based on assumption. We assume that what we teach automatically becomes the life long skill. It is especially faulty with our adult population. Adults do not use mechanical memory that much. Associative memory becomes prevailing. In this case, it could be more effective to include our students in the process of learning, explaining to them why would we do certain things certain way. If I give an instruction to write a personal name backwards, forming letters from bottom up, I am sure I will see some names written in a reversed order with different letter directionality, the other ones will be written vertically. Why? Because my instruction was based on assumption that my students know what exactly I meant by "backwards" and that "forming letters from bottom up" was very explicit to everyone. Some students do it on their own, others are waiting to follow somebody's example. In the end, we may have multiple unsuccesses. Whose fault? Mine, as an instructor. Sometimes, it is very uncomfortable and time consuming for us to stop and re-evaluate and redirect our own teaching strategies.

If we teach even our low level students not just the fluency, but the reading strategies, we need to check along the road if this specific strategy works for this individual (he/she should confirm if it does). Only when it becomes his/her strategy, we might have taught him/her a life long reading skill.

Tatyana Exum


[LearningDisabilities 3002] Re: Self-Esteem and Habits of Pride

Thank you very much Susan,

In my daily routine, the most frequent phrase is "Pull your pants up, tuck your shirt in". I deal with 19-25 year old inmates who are totally confused about "pride". Due to the experiences, their self esteem is almost absent and appearances exist mostly to express anger, protest, anything but pride. We do our best to make them understand WHY pants hanging below the knees are not the reflection of their strength, but of the weakness. To make them have better appearance is the matter of breaking through their shields and developing that pride we are talking about. And if some good ideas come from somebody else, not only the instructor, our students are more apt to accept the opinion, and we may have some progress in this direction. Friday, I am planning to include the discussion of the article into my lesson plan concerning employability skill. Thank you again,

Tatyana Exum


[LearningDisabilities 3003] Re: "Teaching Disability"

In keeping with the teaching disabilities and assumptions, many teachers will assume that if a student has a question they will ask. Many times I hear "Let me know if you have any question." and "does anyone have any questions?" These statements leave it up to the student to initiate and admit that they do not know something. The phrase that I try to use after an explanation or when I see a student looking at a page for an extended period of time is "What are your questions?" If I go with the attitude that everyone is going to have some question about what was said/discusses/explained then students are more willing to ask questions. When I have the attitude that my explanation should be enough for them to understand the subject and then they can ask question if they still do not understand or ask when they have something else they do not understand, there are much fewer questions and less understanding.

Sharrie Berowski-Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 3004] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

In a message dated 08/04/2009 20:27:27 GMT Standard Time, mskelly at aecom.yu.edu writes: Many of the people we work with have limits on their listening comprehension and on their memories. They don't always understand or remember what they are hearing. They are not retarded, but they are poorly educated and have not been privy to a great deal of general information.

This is very fundamental to the 'dyslexia' debate. There is much research indicating that relatively early experience makes huge differences later in life - that early learning fundamentally organises our minds. For instance, that learning languages is easier and more successful when achieved early. People who have had thin intellectual experiences (see Hart & Risley for example) have less well developed intellectual systems to manage cognitive material. Whether it is reasonable to call this LD is more debatable.

Learning at any age changes our brains (e.g., London taxi drivers, who must do "the knowledge" over 2 years and then pass an examination on London) have a larger spatial Hippocampus than, say, I do, and musicians are also neurologically different as a result of experience of learning.

Some references:

Hart, Betty & Risley, Todd R. (1995) Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore. Paul Brookes.

Castro-Caldas, A., Peterson, K.M., Reis, A., Stone-Elander, S. & Ingvar, M. (1998) The illiterate brain: Learning to read and write during childhood influences the functional organisation of the adult brain. Brain 121. 1053-1063.

Gaser, C. & Schlaug, G (2003) Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Neuroscience. 23 9240-9245.

Maguire, Eleanor A., Gadian, David G., Johnsrude, Ingrid S., Good, Catriona D., Ashburner, John, Frackowiak, Richard S. J. & Frith, Christopher D. (2000) Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 97:8 4398-4403.
And a new 'pop science' text which is instructive and fun: Norman Doidge's "The brain that changes itself" - mine is a Penguin paperback.
Hugo Kerr


[LearningDisabilities 3005] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


I agree that "technology" can be a God-send to certain sub-groups of the LD population. I happen to be married to a "well-compensated, undiagnosed dyslexic" who 40 years ago used a dictaphone on the way to work to dictate information to be typed by a secretary. There was not a whole lot of technology back then, but this individual had a strong sense of his strengths and weaknesses, and devised his own use of what was available! Our diagnosed dyslexic son, at age 10 began using the Apple II computer to write school assignments (back in the early 80's). He happens to be self-employed in multi-media these days and uses technology to assist his weaknesses. So... YES, I have personal experience that encourages me to use available technology, and rejoice in the new things available!

On the other hand, I see technology as just what the name dictates: "assistive". It is not the panacea! A strong sense of strengths and weaknesses help decide which devices are useful to an individual and which may not be. My husband has gone through an evolution of technology over those 40 years, picking and choosing what is helpful. He uses dictation software, but it took hours of voice training on his part to make it useful! Learning to use technology is not an "effortless" process. It takes willingness to learn and practice, and the individual needs to be comfortable with it.

I think we should be encouraging technology, and using it in our programs. It is difficult to "sort out" and choose quality programs. I now work one-on-one with individuals, so I can lead the client to appropriate technologies that suit their needs. Even audible books (of various types) can be frustrating for individuals with Central Auditory Processing Disorders, when auditory processing cannot keep pace with the "reader." There is certainly a lot out there to provide access to information to those with reading difficulties.... I still maintain that self-knowledge of strengths and weaknesses are what help to CHOOSE the appropriate technology in the first place.

Maureen Carro


[LearningDisabilities 3006] LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hello once again everyone:

Having this discussion has been a great experience for me and I hope you feel the same way. I think many interesting ideas and good strategies have come forward.

I want to recommend once again that you take a look at the LD ACCESS/AECOM Manual. Even if the technology part is not of interest, we have sections on characteristics of adults with LD and on principles of instruction for people with LD. In a nutshell these principles are:

  • Use direct instruction
  • Prevent overloading
  • Provide systematic, sequential instruction
  • Teach to mastery
  • Prevent forgetting through practice
  • Provide immediate, informative feedback


I think these principles can guide instruction at any level. I am going to try to get my sight word teaching method into a digital form , and I will send it out to the list once I have it. And I'll recommend one more article: McNulty, M.A. (2003). Dyslexia and the life course. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 36 (4), 363-381.

Thanks again

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 3007] Guest Discussion on LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Dr. Kelly,

Please accept my most sincere thanks for leading this wonderful guest discussion for the past three days. The topic was of the utmost importance and sparked much lively conversation. You were very generous in sharing your vast experience on adults with learning disabilities. I know how much work is involved in planning and facilitating a discussion such as ours, but your messages were timely, full of great content, and each response and question from subscribers received thoughtful responses from you.

In the next week, I will be developing a summary of all the messages from this targeted guest discussion. When that document is completed, I will post the URL.

Let me close by saying that it has been both a professional and personal joy going through this experience with you. Hopefully our paths will cross one day.


Rochelle Kenyon


[LearningDisabilities 3008] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thank you, Mary! I think your principles of instruction are excellent, and the caution about overloading, the importance of getting to mastery and immediate feedback will probably have the biggest impact on a learner's self-esteem. What I like about direct instruction is that it is clear what is being taught. I also think your Manual is much better than you let on!

When I first started learning about approaches that research has shown are effective for people with learning disabilities, I was struck by their "ordinary" sounding names. I was wondering if people recognize that terms like "direct instruction", "explicit instruction" and "strategy instruction" represent systematic ways to teach that are effective with adults who have LD? Are people aware that remediation is not supported by research as an effective way to teach adults with LD?

Would it be helpful to find a presenter who could compare 4-5 effective approaches that research supports as benefiting adults with LD? We can find out about these approaches by Googling them, but I think having someone guide would be preferable. What do others think?

Michael Tate


[LearningDisabilities 3017] Re: George Demetrion and Limited Growth


I work with elementary students and typically see a plateau at the 2nd grade level, which I believe is the same plateau represented by adults at a 3rd grade level. I have come to believe that this plateau is the level of reading that can be obtained through regular experience and instruction if you have a neurological processing deficit (phonological, working memory, attentional, combinations, etc.). This plateau is where you top out if you have a disability that prevents a switch to automatic processing. Fluent reading requires a switch to automatic processing and precisely integrated timing of processes, and that is exactly what is interfered with by the neurological processing deficits. Non-automatic, effortful decoding will support a reading level up to high second grade, beyond that, if you have a processing deficit, you either need specialized instruction and lots of practice, or you will make very slow progress.

I also often hear from parents of dyslexic children that at some point (in their 20's to 30's) it became easier for them and they achieved a critical mass that allowed them to read a little easier. It seems to me that lots of dyslexics are very slowly building a body of words in their heads that they automatically recognize. When you have enough automatically recognized words, reading gets easier. Non-disabled readers cross that threshold that allows easier reading in third grade. It took many of these dyslexic parents until they were in their 20-30's to acquire as many automatically recognized words as non-disabled readers have by the end of third grade.

I think the dyslexic acquires these automatic words by a very different process than non-dyslexic readers, and that is where specialized interventions such as those Mary mentioned come in. The specialized interventions attempt to activate the automatic processing missing in dyslexics, and hopefully moving beyond the third grade level.

Brant Hayenga


[LearningDisabilities 3018] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Your post makes me want to cry. I see the same thing all the time at the college level with "under prepared" students. Some have experience with legal trouble and some do not but the self-esteem and tough issues are the same. I also get much joy in watching them grow but I wonder what would have happened if they had not been so stunted in the school environment.

Evelyn Brown, Academic Development Specialist
Parkland College
2400 West Bradley
Champaign, IL 61821


[LearningDisabilities 3021] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


(I attempted to send this message yesterday, sorry if it is a duplicate.) I work with elementary students and typically see a plateau at the 2nd grade level, which I believe is the same plateau represented by adults at a 3rd grade level. I have come to believe that this plateau is the level of reading that can be obtained through regular experience and instruction when you have a neurological processing deficit (phonological, working memory, attentional, combinations, etc.). This plateau is where you top out if you have a disability that prevents the switch to automatic processing. Fluent reading requires a switch to automatic processing and precisely integrated timing of processes, and that is exactly what is interfered with by the neurological processing deficits. Non-automatic, effortful decoding will support a reading level up to high second grade, beyond that, if you have a processing deficit, you either need specialized instruction and lots of practice; or you will make very slow progress.

I also often hear from parents of dyslexic children that at some point (in their 20's to 30's) it became easier for them and they achieved a critical mass that allowed them to read a little easier. It seems to me that lots of dyslexics are very slowly building a body of words in their heads that they automatically recognize. When you have enough automatically recognized words, reading gets easier. Non-disabled readers reach the critical mass of automatically recognized words that allows easier reading in third grade (and they begin to do more automatic processing). It took many of these dyslexic parents until they were in their 20-30's to acquire as many automatically recognized words as non-disabled readers have by the end of third grade.

I think the dyslexic acquires these automatic words by a very different process than non-dyslexic readers, and that is where specialized interventions such as those Mary mentioned come in. The specialized interventions attempt to activate the automatic processing missing in dyslexics, and hopefully move them beyond the third grade level.

Brant Hayenga


[LearningDisabilities 3022] [Adultliteracy] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

I do think it's extremely valuable to help students identify strengths for two reasons: to provide them with encouragement and to provide instructors with the information so they can enhance their repertoire of effective of instructional strategies as related to the specific students in their classrooms.

One of the strategies that I had taken from time to time during the intake/assessment interview, especially with students reading at lower levels is an assisted reading approach, which is a better indicator than standardized testing in getting a handle on what students can accomplish in assisted or "scaffolding" contexts where the teacher serves as a critical bridge between what a student can do on his/her own and what she/he can do with a modicum of support. (Recall the link placed here a couple days ago on scaffolding http://www.vtaide.com/png/ERIC/Scaffolding.htm . This is an extremely important, often underappreciated instructional strategy that effective teachers incorporate implicitly, which, I think would gain value in its impact if we became more deliberate and explicit about it.

Both in teaching and at intake, the assisted reading method is a great way to see what students can accomplish when given partial clues in facilitating the reading process. Basically, for beginning level readers, the instructor:

  • Reads a couple of sentences or a short text while the student sub-vocalizes
  • Goes over the passage a second time, continuing to initiate the reading, but allowing opportunity (not too much time at this point) for the student to participate in the reading
  • In the third go around the instructor might encourage the student to initiate the reading of the passage, or perhaps provide a partial clue to help the student make the recognition, but encourage the student to read as much of the passage with some fluency as possible and only providing whatever minimal help is needed.
  • If time allows and it continues to be productive a fourth reading may take place in which there will be increasing fluency.
  • The fourth stage is valuable in instruction and is often by-passed, though in intake I would generally stay with three readings to make the point to the student on identifying strengths and to get an informal assessment which adds value in making an accurate placement.
  • For other students who are more advanced, at intake I have sometimes shifted from an assessment to an instructional role in helping them to informally break down words into their component parts and demonstrating something in the process of their capacity to do the work that will come up in the classroom. This, too, I have found to be useful in working with students at intake.


To be sure, the standardized testing at intake is critical in obtaining important information, which helps enormously in placement and also provides some solid diagnostic information on what to focus on in instruction. It is equally important at intake as well as in class itself to focus on what students can do as well.


  • How do others feel about including emphasis on student strengths as part of the intake/assessment process itself?
  • If favorable, what, if anything would need to change in your program to facilitate that?
  • What are some approaches and strategies that others use to identify student strengths as well as current limitations?
  • In what ways can formal diagnostics be a basis for building on strengths as well as identifying areas for shoring up?


Thanks much.

George Demetrion


[LearningDisabilities 3023] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Thank you, Michael, for a proposal. May I suggest one of the aspects of teaching to be included into presentation when we have it?

As a mentor of staff just entering teaching career, especially out-of-field, I witness the state of confusion of their minds when they are trying to theoretical knowledge of various research-based methods and approaches to practice. The problem is that a lot of methods require exact replication of the basic model. Any deviation from the model brings variables which might not have been not subjected to research and, therefore, destroy the integrity of the model. In other words, when we claim that this or that method/approach is effective, can we expect it be "re-usable" ( = used by a variety of specialists) or "limited usage only" (to be used only through exact replication or only for the use of those who were trained in it)?

Tatyana Exum


[LearningDisabilities 3025] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Michael:

Thanks for your kind words. Would you expand a little on your statement "remediation is not supported by research as an effective way to teach adults with LD." I haven't come across much research work on this and I would really like to see the work you're referring to.

Thanks again,

Mary S. Kelly, PhD


[LearningDisabilities 3044] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Mary!

What I should have said was that there is no research that says that remediation is effective (and also, none that says it isn't) with adults with LD. (Has research validated it for any student??) What has been supported by research doesn't look much like the sort of remediation I've seen (as a teacher trainer and monitor/evaluator) in basic skills classrooms.

Michael Tate


[LearningDisabilities 3048] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work

Hi Michael:

Like you, I haven't found a research literature on remediation with adults. The published research is on children and "young adults." This means older adolescents for the most part. This literature seems clear that multisensory phonics instruction is effective with the younger set. The experiences of my program suggest that they are helpful with "older" adults too. But the field is sorely in need of research.

Best, Mary Kelly


[LearningDisabilities 3093] Re: LD, Self-Esteem, and Work


There are almost no studies that clearly can look at the difference between LD and non-LD adults in adult literacy since the costs involved in distinguishing the groups have made the efforts to do this beyond almost all except the government and to date the Feds have not undertaken this type of study SO . the studies are around are really quite filled with bias and other faults because to date the only studies that have attempted to look at difference between LD and non LD rely on one of the following:

*Those who were self identified LD (which has a lot of mixed populations including those who are LD and those who are MR/DD and those who just have a general low IQ somewhere above MR/DD but do not have the other markings of being LD)

*Those with school records of LD which are very unreliable since the NICHD studies clearly showed that as many as 2/3rds of those with LD are not identified for services in schools and the predominate groups not identified are low-income, especially low-income females, especially low-income females of color, therefore to rely on the school records for identification of LD just continues the racial and gender bias found in many schools systems

*Those who are "screened positive for LD" by using one of many screening tools circulating in the systems. This is also very unreliable as the determining factor since all the screens, including the validated ones, all say that there will be a degree of false positives and false negatives and that the sole purpose of the screen is to raise flags and not to be used as a determining factor. So, unless you find studies that use random selection with the use of full scale diagnostics based on all persons involved none of the studies can be considered reliable and the use of unreliable studies based on the above formats have created a great deal of false conceptions on the rates and the differentials of LD in the populations (including both the NALS and the NAALS)

Glenn Young


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