“What can an adult who may have a learning disability do?” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 66
Jon B. Fish, high priests group instructor in the Orangevale Ward, Citrus Heights California Stake, and community outreach volunteer working with illiteracy and learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities have been defined as disorders of the central nervous system that involve perception, understanding, and communication. Learning disabilities may manifest themselves in a number of ways, including difficulty with attention, memory, calculation, reasoning, coordination, and reading and writing.
Inability to read or write well, however, does not necessarily signal a learning disability. Some adults who have trouble reading may never have learned to read well when they were young.
“In some areas of the world 75 percent are unable to read or write,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “Illiteracy’s effects are tragic. Those who are its victims … cannot understand the word of God set forth in the immortal scripture. For them there is little light of ages past, and only diminished knowledge of the vast and intriguing world of which they are a part” (“Ambitious to Do Good,” Ensign, March 1992, 6).
Reading difficulties often may be overcome with remedial assistance available through a variety of resources designed to help adults overcome illiteracy or improve their reading skills. The Church’s Gospel Literacy Effort, which is overseen by priesthood leaders in conjunction with Relief Society leaders, is a valuable resource. Through this effort, members’ literacy needs are assessed and individuals in wards or branches are identified who can address those needs. By utilizing the scriptures as reading material, the program teaches adults to read and write and helps them improve their gospel knowledge and better participate in all aspects of gospel living.
Help is also available through programs offered by public, private, and nonprofit groups.
Many people suffer from learning disabilities. In an average ward in the United States and Canada, for example, 10 people have a learning disability while another 6 suffer from some sort of communication disorder (see Carmen B. Pingree, “Six Myths about the Handicapped,” Ensign, June 1988, 20).
A learning disability will probably manifest itself in the course of a literacy or reading and writing program. Those who offer literacy programs often know where adults can be tested or receive help for learning disabilities.
Educational institutions in many areas of the world also offer periodic help and testing, and in the United States, state departments of vocational rehabilitation offer related services.
The scriptures make clear the importance of reading and studying. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Savior instructs the Saints to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). Inasmuch as the Lord encourages the Saints to study and seek learning, we must not let the challenges of illiteracy and disability hinder us. Many avenues of help are available to diagnose such challenges and provide the support and specific assistance needed. In addition, the Lord will help us if we are determined, diligent in taking advantage of opportunities to improve our literacy skills, and faithfully seek his help. In this way, we can overcome our fears and open the way for our weaknesses to become strengths (see D&C 38:30; Ether 12:27).