Case Synopsis

Shelley van Dam needs to write a policy brief for her board on the effects of learning disabilities. This policy brief is a response to the upcoming termination of some of the funding for the Learning Disabilities Association of Sudbury (LDAS). The LDAS provides various programs that support students and families that have, or are in the process of being identified as having, a learning disability. The LDAS is a not-for-profit organization that operates throughout Greater Sudbury and across Northeastern Ontario to provide assistance to students who have learning disabilities so they attain the highest level of education possible. Some funding sources are available in the short term, including an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant that allows the LDAS to hire part-time employees in the organization’s satellite offices located in North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Timmins. With this Ontario Trillium Foundation grant ending soon, Shelley realized that the LDAS would not be able to continue employing these people, and ultimately knew that the students in those regions who have learning disabilities would suffer. Shelley identified one possible solution that may help the organization avoid having to cease operations at their satellite offices—looking for more sustainable sources of funding from provincial ministries such as the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

In order to develop the appropriate policy brief required by her board, she needed to gather and present the most up-to-date information available. Students who have learning disabilities have average- to above-average intelligence but require different teaching methods in order to successfully complete school. Shelley found recent data from Statistics Canada (2015) showing the proportion of students who have learning disabilities dropping out of high school was 33% of total students with learning disabilities, compared with 13.1% of the total student population without learning disabilities. She wanted to discuss how socioeconomic status plays a role in one’s health and the importance of successfully obtaining at least a high school education, as that opens the door for other post-secondary educational opportunities. Graduating from high school is necessary in today’s job market because many jobs require post-secondary credentials as a prerequisite to employment. Shelley found research discussing how a lack of education for Canadians who have learning disabilities can fuel further inequities including food scarcity, incarceration and crime. The ecological systems theory, social learning theory, and strain theory were all discussed to better understand some underlying problems that may contribute to the continued, cyclical health disparities faced by Canadians who do not have a high school diploma. By including this information, Shelley hopes to highlight the effects of inadequate support for students who have learning disabilities throughout their academic careers, and how this can increase health care costs not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.

Case Objectives

1. Understand why knowledge gaps exist regarding learning disabilities and how these gaps contribute to stigmatization.

2. Explore the complex interaction between social and cultural determinants of health in local contexts and how this interaction affects specific population groups (Canadians who have learning disabilities).

3. Consider how the ecological systems, social learning, and strain theories, and the varying definitions of learning disabilities, contribute to the negative cycle of social and cultural determinants of health for Canadians who have learning disabilities.

4. Synthesize evidence to create a concise evidence brief.

Case Study Questions

1. How important is education in terms of the present job market? (Is an undergraduate degree equivalent to a high school degree 30 years ago?)

2. In what ways can education impact the health of individuals and their families?

3. Define learning disability.

4. What misconceptions exist in the school setting about students who have learning disabilities?

5. What problems and barriers did the learning teams identify for Canadians who have learning disabilities? What problems and barriers did the learning teams identify for other identified vulnerable populations?

6. What problems would Shelley face if the LDAS was unable to continue providing its advocacy, support, and programs to people who have learning disabilities?


Education; learning disabilities; social determinants of health; socioeconomic status; unemployment; high school non-completion

Additional Author Information

Avery Prince, BPHE, MPH

Mary-Liz Warwick, BA, MA (c), Executive Director, The Learning Disabilities Association of Sudbury

Wendy Larouche, Resource Facilitator and Community Outreach

Gerald McKinley, PhD, Assistant Professor



Recommended Citation

Prince, A., Warwick, M.-L., Larouche, W. & McKinley, G. (2019). Supporting Student with Learning Disabilities: Reducing Secondary School Non-Completion and its Associated Health Disparities. In: Sibbald, S.L. & McKinley, G. [eds] Western Public Health Casebook 2019. London, ON: Public Health Casebook Publishing.