The editors of Adult Learning Disorders report that the purpose of this book is to provide a life-span approach to learning disorders, with particular emphasis on adults. The book is promoted to enhance both clinical practice and education of adults with neurodevelopmental disorders. To meet this purpose, the editors divide the book into four sections; Development, Neurobiology and Specific Learning Disorders, Diagnosis and Assessment, and Life Outcomes.
The “Development” section includes three chapters. The first is a remarkably well-written chapter that reviews the empirical literature and provides additional insight regarding the developmental trajectory found in both reading and math disorders. The second chapter discusses gender differences in development and learning disorders with a thorough empirical review that is appropriate to the chapter. Though primarily an excellent review, it may have been helpful to spend more time considering the fact that despite group differences, there is more shared variance in learning between genders than differences. The third chapter discusses the idea that “Atypical Brain Development” is a way to conceptualize an underlying common neuroanatomical factor among different learning disorders, ADHD and other conditions that seem to co-occur. This chapter uses some nicely written logic, but the authors would have benefited from a stronger empirical review. Overall, however, these chapters nicely fit the theme of this section.
The “Neurobiology and Specific Learning Disorders” section includes six chapters with differing degrees of relevance. Chapter 4 thoroughly reviews neuroscience and cognitive research to better understand developmental dyslexia and its trajectory in adults. The next chapter does a similarly fine job when discussing current neurobiological and cognitive findings in reading fluency. Chapter 6 combines neuroimaging research for both Specific Language Impairment and Autism Spectrum disorders. This chapter is somewhat disjointed which seems to stem from trying to combine too much information for two distinct and complex disorders. Chapter 7 reviews “Nonverbal Learning Disabilities in Adults” from a perspective that basically seemed to attribute almost every non-language-based problem to an NLD. A more unbiased perspective that included alternative explanations would have been helpful, particularly since visual-based measures tend to be more susceptible to problems with attention, impulsivity and organization that may occur for a variety of reasons certainly not limited to right hemisphere dysfunction. After wading through Chapter 7, it was a nice change to read Chapter 8 which discussed math disorders through the use of a nicely written, strong empirical framework. This section concludes by discussing executive functions and their implications in learning disorders which does an excellent job at integrating both cognitive and emotional aspects of problems with self-regulation.
The assessment section includes four chapters. Chapter 10 reviews helpful tests for specific difficulties and takes time to discuss guidelines that are typically required for documenting learning disorders. Though the authors of Chapter 11 make an excellent point in the need to assess phonological processing, their argument against an IQ-achievement discrepancy score tends to miss the empirical mark by pointing out that IQ tests are insensitive to learning disabilities since this is exactly the reason that many use it as a benchmark with which to compare achievement test results. Chapter 12 provides excellent empirical and practice aspects of assessing written expression difficulties, as well as an understanding of the disorder in general. I was excited to get to the last chapter in this section which covered coexisting psychiatric difficulties for those with learning disorders and/or ADHD with a discussion of their own findings in a fairly large sample. However, I was a bit disappointed that the authors did not provide more data regarding some of their own findings, particularly on the SCL-90R, with less of a focus on the pre-existing literature.
The final section, “Life Outcomes” includes five chapters. Chapter 14 discusses the important topic of transitioning from the relatively protective home and high-school environment to a more autonomous adulthood. Chapter 15 discusses the potentially dismal outcome for those with learning disabilities, but also points out some of the very positive impacts of accommodations. Chapter 16 reviews legal issues for adults with learning disabilities in an exceedingly thorough, yet practical manner. Any practitioner who makes recommendations for adults with learning disabilities should read this section to ensure their statements are consistent with current legal parameters. Chapter 17 provides helpful information for accommodations and career planning for with those seeking professional degrees. Chapter 18 reports the results of an interesting study that examines the outcomes of those who would seem to meet the criteria for a nonverbal learning disorder. However, this chapter goes far beyond this focus and actually provides a critical analysis based on empirical findings leading to some questions about the construct of NLD as a syndrome.
The editors conclude this book with Chapter 19 which briefly reviews the text, prevailing themes, and make some concluding thoughts which were remarkably similar to my own impressions when reading this book. Though most of the chapters were very well written and exceedingly relevant, there were a few that missed the mark and lacked empirical clarity. However, this is no different than the field of learning disabilities or neuropsychology in general. As a result, this book may be helpful for a variety of readers; including trainees who are new to the field, those who want to better understand adult learning disorders, and even more experienced researchers and practitioners who may use this data to help guide new research and practice directions.