Career counselling for young adults with learning disabilities : falling through the cracks
The subject of this thesis, career choice for young adults with (specific) learning disabilities, deals with two main issues. The first concerns the decision-making difficulties of young adults with learning disabilities as compared with their nondisabled peers. The second and major part of this thesis, deals with the development and validation of a self-report screening method for identifying those are likely to be at risk of being learning disabled. The primary purpose of this device is to provide career counsellors and other professionals, who generally receive only superficial training in the area of specific learning disabilities, with a tool for identifying individuals likely to have learning disabilities. It is important to emphasise from the outset that screening is not diagnosis. Even a very good screening tool can at best identify those at high risk for LDS. Also screening may identify problem areas but no information is available regarding aetiology or source of the problems. Finally screening is necessary because a large section of the population has been identified as potentially containing large numbers of LDS (Singleton et al. 1998). However, before beginning the research, a thorough review of the issues of definition that plague the field is undertaken. While the issues raised cannot be resolved in this thesis, they form a necessary background to the research done. In principle, learning disabilities are understood to be characterised by poor automisation of learning skills due to neurological malfunction, contrasted by at least average intelligence. Therefore the goal of screening is to identify the presence of these difficulties, while explanation of their causes remains the proper area of expertise of diagnosticians who bear the onus of showing evidence of neurological malfunction. The present research, then, is three-phased. First, the Career Decision Difficulties (CDD) questionnaire (Gati et al. 1996) is applied to establish empirical support for the hypothesis that young adults with specific learning disabilities have greater difficulties making career decisions than their non-disabled peers do and to identify problem areas of particular difficulty for these young adults. The second phase of the research is based on the assumption that the majority of adults with specific learning disabilities have not been diagnosed and are unaware of the reasons for study problems that they encounter. Against this background, a parsimonious and easily administered screening device is needed. The second part of the thesis focuses on the development and validation of a self-report model - the Strengths and Weaknesses Academic Profile (SWAP) - and a questionnaire based on it, and their use as a counselling tool. The questionnaire based on the SWAP model was administered to a sample of about 500 young adults in Israel studying in preacademic schemes, of which 117 were previously diagnosed as learning disabled. The data was then analysed for validation. Finally, the results were normed on a larger sample of just over 900. The third phase was undertaken in order to address outstanding issues of validation resulting from the inherent methodological weakness of the Israeli research, a further sample was tested in Sheffield, UK. Unlike the Israeli sample, the non-diagnosed were tested to reveal any hidden dyslexics and they were subsequently removed from the control group. I present here an epidemiological sample validating a research tool in a real life scenario. In order to check the construct validity of this tool, a stricter research definition of LD was adopted, and the same process was undertaken using a well-defined sample known to be dyslexic and non-dyslexic. In conclusion, the results of this empirical demonstration show that the SWAP model predicts to a satisfactory degree those individuals who are at high risk of dyslexia. This thesis combines the strengths of an experimental qualitative approach with those of a quantitative empirical approach. In the main sample, the Israeli sample, scores were normed and converted into percentiles. Preliminary data regarding the predictive success of the use of SWAP for referral for diagnosis is presented. In addition, several case studies are included as examples of the use of SWAP as a counselling tool.