In this article, Marshall Raskind, Ph.D., based on his research of success attributes in people with learning disabilities, defines what success is and describes how kids with learning disabilities can become successful adults.

Success is really not easy to define. It really means different things to different people and it may mean different things at different times in a person’s life. That said, I still think we can find certain commonalities among people in terms of the factors that might be considered important to being a successful individual, such things as having good friends, positive family relations, being loved, self-approval, job satisfaction, having physical and mental health, financial comfort, spiritual contentment, and an overall sense of meaning to one’s life.

At the Frostig Center, where we’ve been doing our research on success attributes and learning disabilities, we have developed what we refer to as a multidimensional view of success. We include many things in that. Success here includes, again, positive relationships with one’s family, positive relationships with peers, good feelings about oneself, life satisfaction, success in employment, and educational success, as well. In regard to the second question that you asked, “How do children with learning disabilities become successful adults?”, we have to keep in mind that children with learning disabilities really become adults with learning disabilities, and the problems they have in childhood continue into and through adulthood.

It’s been interesting for us to watch kids grow up over the years and move into adulthood. One of the things that we’ve seen and one of the things we’ve had questions about is why do some individuals with disabilities end up doing well employment-wise, have good peer relations, family seems to be doing well, and who could be called “successful,” while another group with similar backgrounds and similar types of disabilities may end up in really a difficult situation, barely able to keep their heads above water either emotionally, socially, or financially? So we’re interested in why that happens, what factors or attributes contribute to success, and what things really stand in the way of success. There have been a number of research studies, including our own, which I’ll mention in a minute, that have pointed to a number of factors, personal characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors that lead persons with learning disabilities to successful life outcomes.

Some of the other studies that have been done in addition to our own have been by Dr. Paul Gerber of Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Emmy Werner at the University of California, Davis. In our own study, we tracked over a 20-year period a group of individuals who had been identified at an early age as having learning disabilities.

In this research, we really tried to get as much information as we could directly “from the horse’s mouth.” We conducted two- to six-hour interviews in areas of social relationships, family and dependents, psychological health, education, and employment. We also went through diagnostic records over 20 years, case records, and even public records — voter registration and court records — to get some additional information about how they were doing and, ultimately, why. We made an effort to determine which individuals were successful, which ones weren’t successful, and then to see if we could really pin down exactly why some were led to successful paths and others were still really struggling.

We were able to identify a number of success attributes, and I think one of the interesting things is that we were actually able to do that mathematically, statistically. We could really analyze things to a point where we could say that these specific success attributes lead to successful life outcomes. Now, some individuals who are successful will not necessarily have every single attribute, and other individuals who are not successful may have some of the attributes. The idea is that successful individuals are more likely to possess these attributes. And these attributes are — and we’re going to go through these in a little bit more detail — but let me name them for you first:

  • self-awareness
  • proactivity
  • perseverance
  • goal setting
  • the presence and use of effective support systems
  • emotional coping strategies

Now, again, these success attributes don’t guarantee success, but just increase the likelihood of more successful life outcomes. I think one of the things that was very fascinating is that the success attributes I just mentioned were more predictive of success than variables (as we refer to them) like academic achievement and IQ.

One of the things that we really hope we can do is sensitize parents to these attributes so parents can help foster these various elements, values, and behaviors in their children, to, hopefully, lead them to more successful life outcomes.


  • Raskind, M.H., Goldberg, R.J., et al. “Patterns of Change and Predictors of Success in Individuals With Learning Disabilities: Results From a Twenty-Year Longitudinal Study.” Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, Vol. 14, Issue 1.
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