Purpose: To identify differences in emotional well-being among adolescents with and without learning disabilities and to identify risk and protective factors associated with emotional distress.
Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of adolescent in-home interview data of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. A total of 20,780 adolescents were included in this study of whom 1,301 were identified as having a learning disability. Initially, emotional distress, suicidal behaviors, and violence involvement were compared among those adolescents with and without learning disabilities using Student's t-test for the continuous or semicontinuous variables and Chi-square for the dichotomous variables. Subsequently, logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify which variables were most strongly associated with risk and protective factors for emotional distress.
Results: Adolescents with learning disabilities had twice the risk of emotional distress, and females were at twice the risk of attempting suicide and for violence involvement than their peers. While educational achievement is below that of peers, connectedness to school is comparable. So, too, is connectedness to parents. Connectedness to parents and school was identified as most strongly associated with diminished emotional distress, suicide attempts, and violence involvement among adolescents with learning disabilities.
Conclusions: Given the increased association with emotional distress, suicidal attempts, and violence involvement, clinicians need to assess social and emotional as well as educational and physical functioning of these young people. We also need to be aware of the role protective factors play in the lives of young people with learning disabilities.