Article Review: Missed opportunities: Childhood Learning Disabilities as Early Indicators of Risk Among Homeless Adults With Mental Illness

Many studies have shown that childhood learning disabilities have adverse effects in both childhood as well as in long term adulthood. A 2012 study by Patterson and colleagues further studied the topic and compiled interesting findings relating to homelessness, mental illness, service utilization and substance use disorders. The purpose of this study was to assess the question of, “Can outcomes such as homelessness be prevented?”


Data was compiled by sampling 497 adult participants who were categorized as homeless and had a persisting current mental disorder in British Columbia. Of these participants, 133 identified themselves as having had a learning disability in childhood. Over 40% of participants were said to not have finished high school or being in special classes during their schooling. They found that learning disorders were predictive of poorer health outcomes, where “mood and anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation, early and severe substance use and physical health problems” were seen more readily in this population. These factors often lead to not only severe psychopathology, but also social exclusion.


Other interesting findings suggested that 66% of participants reported having had a serious head injury at some point in their lives. This may also indicate a need to better identify traumatic brain injury as a component of lowered cognitive functioning, which may in and of itself function as a factor related to homelessness. This study also noted that daily drug use, as compared to occasional recreational use, was a more significant predictor of a longer duration of homelessness and more severe or intense mental health symptoms.


The conclusion of this study was largely in regard to how structural barriers can be overcome so that children who are considered high-risk can be provided early interventions as a preventative measure. Those who came from poorer neighborhoods, had behavioral or emotional difficulties, learning problems, a history of abuse or neglect, and early use of substances were found to be the most at-risk. Further, the study placed importance on current difficulties for homeless individuals and highlighted that addressing their current learning disabilities could also mitigate difficulties


Patterson MLMoniruzzaman AFrankish CJ, et al
Missed opportunities: childhood learning disabilities as early indicators of risk among homeless adults with mental illness in Vancouver, British Columbia



Monica Babaian, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern

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