Learning Disabilities and the 4th R

By: Judith Wiener, Ph.D., C. Psych, Professor Emerita, School and Clinical Child Psychology, OISE/University of Toronto and

former President of the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities


Below average achievement in the 3 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) is the key and defining challenge of children and adults with learning disabilities (LD). The problem is that these difficulties are only part of the picture. More than 50% of individuals with LD have problems with social relationships and emotional wellbeing – the 4th R.  Nevertheless, in the past 10 years researchers have neglected this area to the extent that a recently published and otherwise excellent textbook does not include a chapter on the 4th R.

So, what do we know about the 4th R in individuals with LD? We know that they have problems with social skills and peer relationships, have high levels of anxiety and depression, and often are diagnosed with ADHD. We know that parents of children with LD suffer from high levels of parenting stress, that repeated failure affects motivation to work hard, and that successful individuals with LD work very hard and have supportive parents. We know that well-designed social skills training and mindfulness programs are effective. We know that inclusive well-resourced classrooms with teachers who model and praise positive social interactions are helpful. We know that adolescents and adults with LD need to learn self-advocacy skills and we know how to teach those skills.

The problem is that there is also a lot that we don’t know and that researchers need to investigate. For example, we don’t know whether individuals with LD are vulnerable to cyberbullying nor do we understand the impact of social media and online relationships on the 4th R. We don’t know about how to communicate with culturally and linguistically diverse parents in a way that they understand LD and can support their children. Researchers need to design studies that will guide parents, educators, and clinicians to address these and many other issues.


Readers: what are your thoughts?