by: Amy Barto

In their article “Learning Disabilities in the United States: Advocacy, Science, and the Future of the Field”, Louisa Cook Moats and G. Reid Lyon state that “no disease or significant health problem in this country is given much attention until political forces are motivated by parents, patients, or victims expressing their very real and heartfelt concerns about their quality of life” (Journal of Learning Disabilities, May 1993). They offered a perspective on the distinguishing characteristics in the field of learning disabilities in the United States including five reasons why such strong advocacy and legal safeguards was needed for individuals with learning disabilities in the United States: 

  1. Although American educational policies reflect the intent to accommodate individual differences, classroom groupings are diverse, and most curriculum and teaching in graded classrooms are aimed at the common factors among those groupings.
  2. In the United States, the responsibility of schools is to provide equality of opportunity, not equality of condition in educational experiences. 
  3. We typically finance our schools through local property taxes, and there are tremendous inequities in per-pupil expenditures from district to district. 
  4. Education reform movements in this country have not focused on public responsibility for educating all students.
  5. Social, medical, and educational services to children in this country have never been a national priority, as they are in many other industrialized nations.

We want to hear from you! Please complete the short survey via the button below to let us know how you think the reasons Moats and Lyon shared in their article align with the need for advocacy for individuals with learning disabilities today.

LD Today 

Research has helped us come a long way since 1968. We now know that 1 in 5 individuals in the United States have learning and attention issues. LDA’s mission is to create opportunities for success for all individuals affected by learning disabilities through support, education, and advocacy.  We monitor and disseminate research findings and are committed to advocating for and protecting the rights of all individuals with learning disabilities, or “the 1 in 5”.

About the “1 in 5”  

The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, published in 2017, is the most recent research report from The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) . Their report used data from the 2015-2016 school year and research to illustrate challenges and opportunities facing children with learning disabilities and attention challenges. 

[from 1-in-5 Snapshot, NCLD, 2017]

“1 in 5”, or 20%. That may sound like a small percentage. What does it really represent?

Based on the 2019 population, 20% would represent 65.6 million individuals in the United States who have learning and attention issues (U.S. Census Bureau). That does not sound like such a small number. 

There are approximately 56.6 million students in elementary and secondary schools in the United States ( 20%, or 1 in 5, would represent 11.2 million students with learning and attention issues. That does not sound like such a small number either.

What else can NCLD’s report help us understand about these 11.2 millions students? 

Approximately 8.25% are identified in school and receive some specialized instruction or accommodations through an IEP or a 504. Less than half of the total number of students estimated to have learning and attention issues. What about the other 11.75%, or 6.65 million, students? 

Students with learning disabilities drop out of high school at nearly three times the rate of all students. How many of those other students are actually part of the 11-12% of students who have not been identified as having learning and attention issues? 

Unaddressed learning and attention issues contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. A large study found that half of young students with learning disabilities or related issues had been involved at some point with the justice system. How many more are actually part of the 11-12% of students who have not been identified as having learning and attention issues? 

Enrollment in college and completion rates are lower than the rest of students their age. How many of those other young adults are actually part of the 11-12% of students who have not been identified as having learning and attention issues? 

Barriers to Success for the “1 in 5”

[from 1-in-5 Snapshot, NCLD, 2017]

These barriers to success are not only barriers in education. The NCLD report includes that only 46% of working-age adults with learning disabilities are employed compared with adults who do not have learning disabilities. Adults with learning and attention issues are twice as likely to be jobless as their peers without learning disabilities. How many of those other adults are actually part of the 11-12% who were not formally identified when they were in school? 

[from 1-in-5 Snapshot, NCLD, 2017]

“An equitable society is one in which all can participate and prosper”

Policy Link

According to the Center for Public Education, equity “is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school”. LDA works to help individuals with LD participate and prosper in school and in society.  

A Few Ways LDA Helps the “1 in 5”

Empowering Parents

Parents are often baffled by the problems presented by a child with learning disabilities. Often this “invisible disability” does not become obvious until a child reaches school age. Even then, difficulties may be subtle and hard to recognize. LDA has put together multiple resources to help empower parents to help prepare their children with LD for success. 

Online Coffee Connections are designed for parents, caregivers, and educators to safely discuss the challenges and strategies for supporting children with disabilities in a world of blended education. Online Coffee Connection meetings are a new FREE benefit for all LDA members, and are made possible by our partnership with IEPequity. Coffee Connection meetings cost $10 for nonmembers to attend.

Equipping Teachers  

Since almost five percent of all students in our nation’s public schools are classified as having specific learning disabilities (SLD), every teacher can expect to find students with learning disabilities in the classroom. Success for these students requires a focus on individual achievement, individual progress, and individual learning. Despite obstacles, recent research tells us that we can teach these students how to learn. LDA has put together multiple resources to help equip teachers to support students with LD for success. 

LDA is a proud partner of the Educating All Learners Alliance, an organization that brings together disability, civil rights, education not for profits, advocacy, and policy organizations to advance equity and serve the special education community.  They have recently revamped their website, which is filled with new and ever-growing resources, events, news, and more. 

In response to remote learning, LDA developed a COVID-19 Resource Center website with resources for educators including tips for: teaching online, accessible apps, accessible lessons, monitoring IEP goals, and learning opportunities. 

Early Intervention

LDA knows that accurate identification through a thorough evaluative process, is the first step to ensure that individuals with Learning Disabilities receive the services, supports and accommodations that are required for academic and life success. LDA advocates for early identification, which increases the possibility of successful intervention. 

Children need adults to advocate for them; but those children do grow up. Learning disabilities are brain-based difficulties. One does not grow out of having a learning disability. We know that too many people go through life unidentified – based on the NCLD research, approximately 11.75%.  LDA continues to advocate for access to identification throughout the lifespan. 

Building Self-Advocacy Skills

Self-advocacy skills is just one topic that can be found in the resources on The LDA Podcast channel. On Episode 5 of Season 1, Toby Baker shares how she learned to advocate for herself to get where she wanted to be. Toby has self-identified as having ADHD and a learning disability and was discouraged by her high school teachers to go to college. Now, she is earning her Ph.D. in Global Leadership, and has won LDA’s 2020 Harrison Sylvester Award for her research of adults with LD. 

Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey Inc. is currently piloting our new STAMP program, a community for elementary and post-secondary students to embrace their learning disabilities through education, communication, and self-development. For more information on getting involved or bringing the STAMP program to your state, please email

“An equitable society is one in which all can participate and prosper”

Policy Link

Advocacy is about taking action: taking action for yourself; taking action to represent the rights and interests of someone else; taking action to bring about change for groups of people by working to influence social, political, and economic systems; taking action to establish or protect legal rights through attorneys and the legal or administrative systems. LDA advocates for an equitable society for the “1 in 5”.