Developmental Disabilities Leadership Forum: Leadership Perspectives in Developmental Disability: An on-line Journal for Consumers, Professionals, Family and Friends
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Volume 4 , Issue 1 Date: Spring 2004 Topic: Youth with Developmental Disabilities and the Juvenile Justice System

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating’s Lifeskills Program:
Recognizing Learning Differences in Defendants
by Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating

There is a growing body of evidence that learning differences and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can contribute to increased rates of social problems including court-involvement.

Simply put, the behavioral aspects of some of these conditions can make it more difficult for people to successfully manage interaction with police and court authorities and to avoid activities that result in being charged with a crime.

To address that relationship, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating has developed a pilot program using a curriculum pioneered in Washington State. This pilot program is designed to recognize and help youth and adults who have learning differences and/or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in both educational and court settings. For court-involved participants, attending the Lifeskills development course is a required condition of probation.

The Lifeskills curriculum has fourteen sessions of instruction. Each session is designed to address difficulties in social skills, anger management, decision-making and problem solving – all from the perspective of having learning differences/ADHD. Two of the fourteen sessions are devoted solely to discussing learning differences/ADHD. Students completing the curriculum will develop skills and strategies to confront the particular challenges that learning differences present in their everyday lives.

Participants become aware of the personal characteristics that are related to or the result of the learning differences/ADHD such as: being late for work, getting lost, confusing right and left, forgetfulness, following directions, etc. The goal of the course is to reframe the participant’s thinking about themselves and begin to feel successful, and thus enhance their opportunities to become successful in their working and home lives.

As mentioned above, the Lifeskills Program is modeled after a successful program in Washington State which was established in 1988. Graduates of that program have reported much improvement in school and employment related issues. The Washington State program has also been very successful in reducing repeat criminal offenses: over a two-year period, repeat offender rates dropped from 72% to 31% for participants who completed the 14-week program. 1

In Norfolk District Attorney Keating’s Lifeskills program, each court or school district in Norfolk County can determine the length of the program, as well as which sessions are most relevant to the specific makeup of the group. Norfolk District Attorney Keating’s office, working with professionals in the learning differences field, has also developed information on client assessment, identification of potential candidates, and other evaluation tools.

Youth with emotional and behavioral disorders and learning differences are disproportionably represented in the juvenile justice system. The 2001 Annual Report of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice found that between 70 and 87 percent of incarcerated youth suffer from learning differences or emotional disabilities; and 82 percent of adult prison inmates are high school dropouts.

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating is committed to this effort and offers the curriculum on a countywide basis. His office is currently working on pilot programs in the Quincy and Brookline Courts. After the completion and evaluation of these programs, he hopes to expand the Lifeskills program countywide for both the juvenile and adult populations.


1Learning Disabilities Association of Washington, CHOICES/START Programs

Attorney William R. KeatingWilliam R. Keating has been the District Attorney for Norfolk County since 1999. Under his leadership, the District Attorney’s office has developed initiatives to address bullying in schools, suicide prevention, teen alcohol abuse, high risk teen sexual behavior, dating violence and collaborated with fire officials to establish the Norfolk Firewall Partnership to address youth fire setting. He also founded the Child Advocacy Center of Norfolk County, designed to expand the existing Sexual Abuse Intervention Network to include evaluating abuse allegations with regard to protective and safety concerns, mental health issues and medical needs.

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