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Impact Feature Issue on Employment and Women With Disabilities

School Dropout and Teen Moms With Learning Disabilities (sidebar)

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Tina Taylor-Ritzler Project Director, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago

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Decades of research have shown that teenage mothers and teens with disabilities are both at high risk for dropping out of school and experiencing a host of negative consequences, including poverty. Although parenting rates vary by disability type, the National Longitudinal Transition Study (2001) found that 41% of young women with disabilities become mothers by their early 20s, compared with 28% of young women in the general population. This places teen girls with disabilities at especially high risk for leaving school because of pregnancy.

To begin to understand why many teenage mothers with disabilities drop out of school, the Young Moms Study at the University of Illinois at Chicago explored the factors related to high school dropout among a sample of African American and Latina teenage mothers with learning disabilities (LD) in a large urban area. The study included interviews with 10 teenage mothers with LD who had dropped out of school and 10 who had not dropped out and were on track to complete their secondary education. It also included focus groups with 24 educational and social service professionals.

What led some teenage mothers with LD to persist in school while others dropped out? Teenage mothers with LD and providers reported that, in contrast to those who dropped out of school, teenage mothers with LD who persisted experienced the following:  

  • Support at home, including assistance with child care (e.g., family, boyfriend or other friends provided child care or helped find professional care), and encouragement related to school.
  • Support at school, including teacher support (e.g., caring relationships and needed academic support to accommodate their LD); positive relationships with peers (e.g., supportive friendship with no or limited threats of violence and ridicule); and accommodating enrollment and attendance policies (e.g., flexible limits on absences, ability to attend their own or their child's appointments and make up work).

The support that the teenage mothers with LD who persisted experienced at home and at school encouraged and bolstered their motivation for school. This helped them to stay focused in spite of the many competing challenges that motherhood presented.

The following are recommendations that can support school completion by teen moms with LD, based on this study:

  1. Assess and assist moms to address deficits in their support at home, including:-Stability, quality and affordability of child care. If they do not have child care they cannot attend to and complete their education.-Encouragement related to school. Without encouragement the challenges of motherhood make it difficult to meet the demands of school.
  2. Assess and assist moms with LD to address deficits in their support at school, including teacher support, relationships with peers, and enrollment and attendance policies.

  • National Longitudinal Transition Study. (2001). Retrieved from www.sri.com/policy/cehs/nlts/nltssum.html.