Mar 1, 2022
In Canada, one person out of every 10 is impacted by a Learning Disability (LD), a neurological impairment that affects how they’re able to take in, remember, understand, and express information, regardless of their average to gifted level of intelligence.
People with LDs struggle to learn in a “normal” way and often fail to reach their full academic, workplace and/or socio-emotional potential. Teens and youth with LDs face particularly difficult challenges, often leading to low self-esteem, behavioural issues, depression, and anxiety. Sadly, approximately 50 per cent of adolescent suicides involve youth with an LD.
In the fall of 2020, the Gay Lea Foundation provided a $12,540 grant to The Learning Disabilities Association of Halton-Hamilton (LDAHH) to create a special ‘Youth-2-Youth’ program for teens with LDs to meet, share their struggles, and develop strategies for success. The program would see workshops organized and led by five LDAHH Youth Ambassadors from the Halton-Hamilton community who were willing to share their experiences of living with a learning disability and act as role models and mentors to younger students.
LDAHH would provide coaching, mentoring, and staff support, as well as leadership training for the Youth Ambassadors and any necessary mental health supports.
“The Learning Disabilities Association of Halton-Hamilton is the only organization in our region dedicated to supporting individuals with learning disabilities,” says Alison Brindle, Executive Director at LDAHH. “We provide programs for reading support, math support, social skills development, executive functioning, and more for children, youth, and adults. We also hold regular information sessions and offer advocacy support for students and parents with the goal of building a world where people with LDs are included, empowered, and celebrated.”
With the support from the Gay Lea Foundation, LDAHH launched Youth-2-Youth in 2021, providing youth ambassadors Katelyn, Karissa, Paige, Ash, and Evan with essential mental health, suicide prevention, and peer-support training, as well valuable guidance in planning and organizing events, and training in both leadership and advocacy.
“A big part of Y2Y is empowering youth with Learning Disabilities to become ambassadors to their community,” says Brindle. “This program gives youth a voice and an opportunity to gain valuable experience.”
In 2021, the youth ambassadors ran virtual events for parents and youth, and launched a support group, called Stronger Together, for youth aged 15-25 with LDs and Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They also represented and engaged the youth LD voice for a research project run by Our Kids Network, a community collaboration of organizations dedicated to supporting children and youth in the Halton and Hamilton regions.
“Connecting youth with LDs and offering support from like-minded peers is a powerful tool at this pivotal time in their lives”, says Brindle. “We thank the Gay Lea Foundation for allowing us to design a program that gives youth with Learning Disabilities a voice and helps decrease the stigma for neurodiverse individuals in our community.”
Going forward, LDAHH youth ambassadors will continue to run Stronger Together, which regularly attracts 15-20 registrants for each monthly session, and will continue to use their stories and voices to encourage and uplift the community and set an example of what it means to thrive with invisible disabilities.
Ambassador and Brock student Paige says, “As a Y2Y Ambassador, I hope to help individuals like myself who also have LDs to recognize that although we learn differently, we have many strengths, and with the right supports, we can accomplish anything we put our mind to.”
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