New chapter for local Learning Disabilities Association

‘We want to help persons who ‘learn differently’ to achieve their full potential.’ - Janet de Laforest

It’s a bright and exciting new chapter for the local office of the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta.

Just recently, Kim Darbyson took the reigns as executive director for the Red Deer chapter after the organization had gone for more than 18 months without one due to lack of funding. But the board worked non-stop to make sure programs continued and Darbyson is thrilled about a promising future for the organization which was originally launched in the late 1980s.

They’ve also been able to secure United Way funding, and staff are looking forward to some awareness and fundraising events in the coming weeks as well. For one thing, the Association has been given the Telus corner at the Red Deer Rebels game on Oct. 18. October also happens to be Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.

Another fundraiser comes through Bikram Yoga, which holds ‘Karma Yoga’ on Oct. 10th. Portions of proceeds from yoga clients those evenings will support the Association.

“My heart really is with the non-profit community,” said Darbyson, who has also worked with the Central Alberta Science Network, Cosmos and the Central Alberta Diversity Association. “I’ve always been very passionate about the idea that people learn differently, and that they have different strengths.

“You see children who you know are bright and that they have so much potential, but for whatever reason it’s not channeled or they aren’t making the connections they need to make. This Association is doing some really cool things that I haven’t seen before to engage children and to cater to their ways of learning.”

Learning disabilities refer to a number of disorders which can affect how a person acquires, organizes, retains, understands or uses verbal or nonverbal information. It is estimated that 80% of learning disabilities affect literacy.

According to the Association, these are life-long conditions that affect up to one in 10 Canadians. This means about 30,000 individuals in Central Alberta and 10,000 in the Red Deer region need assistance.

Learning disabilities also cross all ages, genders, socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic groups.

They can range in severity and may interfere with acquiring and use of listening, speaking and understanding; reading including word recognition and comprehension, written language and mathematics.

Fortunately, with correct intervention, support, education and programs such as tutoring or social skills programs, persons with learning disabilities can achieve and excel.

But misconceptions about learning disabilities are hard to erase. People sometimes confuse disabilities in general, such as various physical and intellectual disabilities with learning disabilities.

And as Janet de Laforest, the organization’s director/president points out, there can be a bit of a stigma attached to having a learning disability as well.

Sometimes people are reluctant to either enroll their children in a program or adults with learning disabilities don’t want to admit that there is a problem in their own ways of learning. “It very hard for some people to get past that.”

de Laforest also said that battling with a learning disability can take a toll on a student’s sense of self-worth, as they can be struggling to keep up with 20-some others in the class on a particular subject.

Sometimes behaviour problems develop as it’s easier to be seen having that issue than being seen as having a learning disability.

As their web site points out, the LDAA is committed to viewing ‘learning disabilities’ in a positive light as ‘learning differently’ and ‘thinking differently.’

“We want to help persons who ‘learn differently’ to achieve their full potential. After all, persons who ‘think differently’ have intelligence that is average to above average to gifted.

“These individuals also have the capacity to help our society by thinking differently. Persons who ‘learn differently’ are often innovating and seeing new solutions.”

Looking ahead, the Association’s range of programs is in place for the fall.

“What really has excited me is the board’s commitment and energy,” said Darbyson.

“It really motivates me to make sure we have funding in the future, that the community knows we are here and that we are reaching the people (we need to).”

For more information, call the office at 403-340-3885. Check out for more about their programs.