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Are you…

  • an educational facility challenged by low student performance and overall well-being;
  • an allied health professional helping clients make their way through their mental health journey;
  • a parent wondering why your child is struggling at school;
  • or a working adult that just feels there’s something holding you back?

If you answered yes, there may be a common theme binding you - difficulty learning. 

What you may not be aware of, is just how prevalent are undiagnosed learning disabilities. In fact, according to a study commissioned by the NHS in the UK, two out of five people with learning disabilities are not diagnosed in childhood.

This leaves many individuals to go through their entire lives with a learning difficulty, struggling to understand, interact with and fully enjoy the world around them. As a result, learning difficulties have far-reaching consequences for not only individuals, but also educational facilities and the broader economy.

In this blog we will dive into the multifaceted costs of learning difficulties, both in terms of economics and the well-being of individuals, when we, as a society, fail to help individuals strengthen their brain and improve their ability to learn and engage fully in the world. 

The Cost of Learning Disabilities on Mental and Physical Health

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as: “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Learning disabilities prevent individuals from achieving what is considered by WHO as a “healthy state of mind”. Rather than broadening their horizon into the world, individuals struggling with learning disabilities typically turn inwards and struggle with their mental health. 

This usually starts in school as struggling children experience test anxiety, social anxiety and general anxiety, with accumulated failure leading to low self-esteem and a lowered ability to cope with everyday experiences. 

When left unaddressed, these feelings continue to grow and expand across all aspects of life - no matter the age of the individual. The mental health impact of having a learning disability typically includes:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation
  • Peer rejection
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Impostor phenomenon
  • Shame
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorder
  • Physical illness

Even more shocking is that researchers from the University College London’s  Institute of Health Equity (IHE), as reported in the Guardian, found that people with learning disabilities will die 15 to 20 years sooner on average than the general population.

Dr. Michael Marmot, IHE Director, as reported in the above cited Guardian article, said: “This is a direct result of a political choice that destines this vulnerable group to experience some of the worst of what society has to offer: low incomes, no work, poor housing, social isolation and loneliness, bullying and abuse.

“A staggering 40% of people with learning difficulties aren’t even diagnosed in childhood. This is an avoidable sign of a society failing to be fair and supportive to its most vulnerable members. We need to change this. The time to act is now.”


The Cost of Learning Disabilities on Social and Economic Well-Being

Living with a learning disability has a significant impact on an individuals’ social and economic well-being. 

In fact, according to Wilson, A.M., Armstrong, C.D., Furrie, A. and Walcot, E.  The Mental Health of Canadians With Self-Reported Learning Disabilities, individuals with learning difficulties are more than twice as likely to report high levels of distress, depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, visits to mental health professionals regarding mental health problems and poorer overall mental health than those without.

The differences found in older adult sample (30 to 44) were even larger than in adolescent sample (15 to 21) for suicidal thoughts, depression and distress.

Other statistics that impact the economic well-being of an individual with a learning disability include:

  • Students with learning disabilities drop out of high school at nearly three times the rate of all student (LDA America)

  • Enrollment in college and completion rates are lower than the rest of students their age (LDA America)

  • Adults with learning disabilities are more likely to be unemployed or under-employed than individuals without learning disabilities (PACFOLD)

The Cost of Learning Disabilities on the Economy 

The cost of learning disabilities on the individual's mental health and economic well-being leads to a burden on society’s economy as a whole. Learning disabilities lead to costs associated with:

Hospital services

  • Services of medical doctors
  • Miscellaneous health-related and social services
  • Medications
  • Education services
  • Criminal justice services
  • Welfare programs and worker compensation

In total - according to Learning Disabilities in Canada: Economic Costs to Individuals, Families and Society by the Roeher Institute - each individual with a learning disability costs $445,208 (CAD) from birth to retirement. Some of this cost is borne by the government and some by the individual’s family. 

If between 5 and 10% of the population of a country has a learning disability, this figure represents a huge economic cost to society. 

When it comes to criminal justice services, individuals with learning disabilities contribute significantly to the number of people in prison. Service Correctional Canada estimates that while just 5% to 10% of the general population have a learning disability, the incidence of learning disabilities in the prison population fluctuates between 7% and 77% based on data from both Canada and the US.

Importantly to note, the above study states: “A person also does not outgrow a learning disability - it usually remains present throughout their life.” At Arrowsmith we know that this is not the case, and that targeted exercises designed to strengthen the brain can indeed help an individual to overcome learning difficulties. 

Cognitive Training is the Solution to Reduce Economic Burden and, Most Importantly, Improve lives 

So, what can be done to address learning disabilities and mitigate the social, mental health, overall well-being and economic cost associated with them?

That’s where cognitive training is critical. 

No longer can we rely on workarounds or compensations that only serve to improve an individual’s performance on a specific task at a specific point in time. Instead, we must focus on providing cognitive training that helps an individual to strengthen their brain and improve their quality of life. 

Arrowsmith has created a cognitive training program that focuses on helping individuals to overcome learning difficulties. By strengthening connections that exist within and between different neural networks of the brain, the Arrowsmith Program can enhance an individual's cognitive functions and strengthen their overall performance. 

This is done by harnessing the principles of neuroplasticity (our brain’s ability to change) so that the individual can change - fundamentally and profoundly - their capacity to learn. 

Through cognitive enhancement, individuals can:

  • Improve their focus on tasks
  • Significantly increase their memory
  • Enhance their mental flexibility for reasoning and problem-solving
  • Improve their academic achievement
  • Improve their social and emotional well-being

These improvements dramatically enhance an individual's ability to not only learn in school, but to improve performance in real-world situations whether in the office or socially. 

“We’re not teaching content. We’re not teaching skill. We’re changing the brain’s capacity to learn.” ~ Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, Founder of the Arrowsmith Program

When an individual is able to strengthen their brain through cognitive programming, not only are they able to overcome the learning disability that was holding them back, they are able to change their entire outlook on the world - opening up new avenues for improved mental health, greater overall well-being and better economic opportunities. 

Interested in learning more about the Arrowsmith Program and how we help individuals overcome learning disabilities? Get in touch with our admissions team today, or alternatively learn more about how your organization can become an Arrowsmith Program licensee. 

Debbie Gilmore
Post by Debbie Gilmore
September 13, 2023
Debbie Gilmore is a passionate change-maker and Executive Director of Arrowsmith, dedicated to transforming education and learning worldwide. With over 40 years of experience spanning classrooms to administrative roles, she's driving educational reform. Debbie collaborates globally with educators and professionals in a wide field to help them bring about cognitive enhancement to unlock every human’s potential.