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Research Study: Life Success for Children With Learning Disabilities

 About Learning Disabilities - Skills For LifeChildren with learning disabilities (LD) grow up to be adults with LD. That is, many of the difficulties experienced in childhood continue throughout adulthood. Even so, some people with LD follow a life path that leads them to success. They become productive members of society. They live satisfying and rewarding lives. Others find little more than continued “failure.” They are barely able to “keep their heads above water”—emotionally, socially, or financially.

Many of these people have similar backgrounds and learning problems. Why, then, do they follow such different paths? Why does one end up with a rewarding career, long-term friendships, and financial stability while another has a life of unproductivity, isolation and financial stress?

Success Attributes

Research by the Frostig Center of Pasadena, CA, has shown that a set of personal traits, attitudes and behaviors can help lead people with LD to successful life outcomes. It identified the following success attributes and offers ways to help children develop them:

  • Self-awareness
  • Proactivity
  • Perseverance
  • Goal-setting
  • The presence and use of effective support systems
  • Emotional coping strategies


Based on more than 20 years of research by the Frostig Center, Life Success for Children with Learning Disabilities: A Parent Guide has the end goal of helping children become competent, content and independent adults. These are people who reach their full potential and lead satisfying lives. Following the successful introduction of the Parent Guide, researchers at the Frostig Center also distilled their findings into a valuable tool for teachers. It’s called The Six Success Factors for Students with Learning Disabilities.

How Can a Child Develop Success Attributes?

Fostering these six attributes is one of the ways that parents can help their children with LD grow up to be more successful throughout their lives. These attitudes, behaviors, and traits require exercise, practice and review just as with any other skills children learn. At different life stages, new challenges may require you to recycle and revisit with your children the success attributes they worked on earlier.

To date, no research tells us exactly how to teach these attributes. Yet, research does suggest a number of key areas to consider. The specific approach to developing these attributes is dependent upon the age, abilities, experience, interests and living environment of your child.

About the Research

The information presented in both the Parent Guide and Teacher Guide is based on longitudinal research. This research compared about 50 former students of the Frostig Center during four different time frames:

  • Entering Frostig (ages 7–14)
  • Leaving Frostig (ages 8–17)
  • 10 years after leaving Frostig (ages 18–25)
  • 20 years after leaving Frostig (ages 28–35)


At the 10-year follow-up, the participants were rated “successful” or “unsuccessful,” using a definition of success that included these factors:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Independent living
  • Family relations
  • Social and community relationships
  • Crime/substance abuse
  • Life satisfaction
  • Physical and psychological health


Quantitative analysis revealed that successful and unsuccessful participants differed little on background variables such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Ethnicity
  • Cognitive or academic measures


Instead, participants who were successful in life were more likely than others to have the success attributes listed above. At the 20-year follow-up, a series of analyses showed that the success attributes were highly predictive of life success. They had even more influence than factors such as as academic achievement, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and IQ (Raskind, et al, 1999). A detailed analysis of in-depth interviews with participants provided an even deeper understanding of the success attributes. It also revealed new themes such as how LD influences life events across the lifespan.



Adapted from the Frostig Center Life Success for Children with Learning Disabilities: A Parent Guide. Used here with permission.

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