Survey says: Canadian youth with mental health and learning disabilities less likely to be in school or employed

Statistics Canada has just released the results of its 2017 Canadian Survey on Disabilities.

The survey finds that mental health and learning disabilities are the most prevalent disabilities among Canadian youth. It also shows that youth with mental health and learning disabilities “are disproportionately affected when it comes to being neither in school nor employed.”

The survey defines “learning disabilities” as “persons whose daily activities are limited because of a self-identified learning difficulty or a learning disability diagnosed by a health care professional.” It’s important to note that dyslexia is the most common learning disability.

I’ve pulled out some of the key statistics relating to learning disabilities:

Canadians with disabilities/LD

  • 23 million Canadians — that’s one in five — aged 15 years and over had a disability
  • Of those, 17.7% reported having a learning disability, which equates to one in 25 Canadians
    • Note: This is a useful statistic, but likely low given the survey doesn’t include many groups including First Nations and people in prison (where there is a high rate of dyslexia and other learning disabilities). Also doesn’t includes the many adults who don’t know they are dyslexic, or don’t want to disclose. Other surveys have placed dyslexia at closer to 1 in 10 or 1 in 15.

Canadian youth and disabilities/LD

  • For youth (15 to 24 years), mental health-related (8%) and learning disabilities (6%) are the most common types of disabilities reported

    •  meaning that (at least) one in 15 youth in Canada has a learning disability
  • The majority — 77 % — of youth with disabilities have a mental health-related and/or learning disability

Employment and education status in youth with learning disabilities

  • Among youth with disabilities who were neither in school nor employed, 87% had a mental health-related disability, a learning disability, or both
  • Since those with mental health-related and/or learning disabilities accounted for 77% of youth with disabilities, this suggests they are disproportionately affected when it comes to being neither in school nor employed

Importance of education and accommodations

  • Regardless of level of severity, employment rates for persons with disabilities were higher for those with post-secondary credentials than for those with high school graduation or less, showing a similar pattern as those without disabilities
  • Consistent with previous research, modified or reduced hours/days were the most commonly required accommodation—one in five employed persons with disabilities had such a requirement

Why this matters

The survey shows how prevalent learning disabilities are in Canadian youth, and how this effects educational and employment outcomes.

It’s an important call to action for educators, employers and governments to address the needs of this at-risk population.

Specifically, the survey highlights the need to support youth as they move from school to work:

“Understanding the type of disability and its severity is important, then, for supporting youth in making the transition into post-secondary education or the labour market.”

And the benefits of accommodations:

“Taking this into account is important when supporting youth with disabilities in making the transition into post-secondary education or the labour market since specific accommodations may be required for youth with these types of disabilities.”

About the survey

The Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) is a national survey of Canadians aged 15 and over “whose everyday activities are limited because of a long-term condition or health-related problem.”

The survey provides comprehensive data on persons with disabilities by province and territory and age group, as well as disability types and severity of the disability. The survey is conducted every 5 years, but the 2017 survey can’t be compared to the 2012 “because the sampling frame for the two surveys differed.”

The survey includes only people living in private homes, and doesn’t include First Nations or “institutionalized” Canadians. That means that the statistics may be low for learning disabilities, given that there is a high rate of dyslexia among prison populations. As well, not everyone knows they have a learning disability, and others won’t identify as such.

“The total sample size for the CSD was approximately 50,000 individuals. As the institutionalized population was excluded from the survey, data, particularly for the older age groups, should be interpreted accordingly.”


stats canada 2017 dis survey


Canadian Survey on Disability 2017

Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 (The Daily)

Canadian Survey on Disability Reports: A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017


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