Adults with Learning Disabilities – An Overview

Download/Print Adults with Learning Disabilities – An Overview Info Sheet

Whoopi Goldberg, Dyslexia

Whoopi Goldberg,


Learning disabilities (LD), sometimes referred to as “specific learning disorders,” are life-long, but adults who have LD can experience great success in all aspects of life when using their strengths together with the strategies, accommodations and technology that are most appropriate and effective for their individual needs.

What are learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities are neurological disabilities that affect information processing. They may affect how a person learns, understands, communicates, and remembers information. Adults with LD may have been born with their disability, or they may have acquired it later in life.

LD affects men and women equally.

Daniel Radcliffe, Dyspraxia
Daniel Radcliffe,Dyspraxia

There is neither one type of learning disability nor one profile for adults with learning disabilities. There are many different patterns of difficulties. For example, one adult may have a serious reading disability, while another may be able to read adequately, but not be able to communicate thoughts in writing or have difficulty with math. Most people with LD (85%) have a reading disability, or dyslexia (The Neurobiology of Reading and Dyslexia, by Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., and Bennett A. Shaywitz, M.D.). Some adults with LD will have difficulty with self-control, perceiving social situations appropriately, and getting along with other people. 

Learning disabilities are not related to low intelligence. In fact, most people with learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence, but the impact of the disability may impair their ability to function well in school, at home, or in the workplace.

How are adults diagnosed with LD?

A specific learning disorder is diagnosed through a clinical review of the individual’s developmental, medical, educational, and family history, reports of test scores and teacher observations, and response to academic interventions (Specific Learning Disorder fact sheet, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The evaluator must be licensed to evaluate LD; typically, LD evaluations are conducted by psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, licensed psychological counselors, or school psychologists.

What causes LD?

Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. Some possibilities include:

  • Heredity: Learning disabilities often run in the family, so many people with learning disabilities have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties.
  • Problems during pregnancy and birth: Learning disabilities may be caused by illness or injury during or before birth. It may also be caused by low birth weight, lack of oxygen, drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, and premature or prolonged labor.
  • Incidents after birth: Head injuries, nutritional deprivation, and exposure to toxic substances can contribute to the development of learning disabilities.

However, LD is NOT caused by economic disadvantage or cultural differences. (

Henry Winkler, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia

Henry Winkler, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia

Characteristics of adults with LD

Positive characteristics of adults with LD may include problem-solving skills, compensatory strategies, persistence, empathy, and outgoing personalities.Areas of difficulty include:

  • difficulty with reading, writing and/or math;
  • poor memory;
  • difficulty following directions;
  • inability to discriminate between or among letters, numbers, and/or sounds;
  • eye-hand coordination problems;
  • difficulty putting things in the right sequence;
  • disorganization; and/or
  • difficulty adjusting to change.

Legal rights of adults with LD

Adults with LD are protected by several civil rights laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008; and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act 2015, Subtitle F, Rights and Advocacy. In addition to these laws, the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution provide equal protection under the law related to governmental actions.

Strategies, Accommodations and Technology

Typical strategies and accommodations that may help adults with LD include reading out loud, audio texts, color-coding for organization, use of graphic organizers (charts, diagrams, etc.), having opportunities to re-state information in one’s own words, and one-on-one instruction in school or job training. Assistive technology (AT) is also helpful for adults with LD – at home, school, and work. See LDA’s information about AT at

Additional Resources

All of the links for information about adults with LD,
Job Accommodation Network,

Download/Print Adults with Learning Disabilities – An Overview Info Sheet

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  1. I have trouble reading spelling and learning when some one talks to me for long period time sometime I don’t remember it’s frustrating sense 1st grade i was put in to special classes now I’m 21 still have problems I have a baby I want to go to college and study for something or get a job but I’m just to afraid because my problems I have it’s embarrassing and it sucks I just feel like I have no Confidence in myself

  2. Heather Virgin says:

    I am writing regarding my stepson He is 24. He has lived with his father and myself since 2011. We didn’t find out about his existence untill he was 16 and then we finally located him in 2010.
    My stepson remembers having to take medicating as a child, ive also had some of his family members advise me inderectly that he is “special”. We discovered very shortly after He came to live with us that he does have some type of dissability. He reads on about a 4th grade level which is better then when he first came to live with us. At first sight and at introduction you would not know there is a problem. There definetly is a problem. He hasnt been able to maintain a job longer than a few days. Multitasking is nearly impossible for him and he gets really angry and defensive easily. We love our son, we want to get him help but we can’t figure out how. Especially with him being an adult. We want him to be able to opporate as an adult one day as best as possible. We currently reside in Pace FL. We are trying to get him on medicaid but the are saying we need something showing there is a disability. Do you know what steps we can take, is there some place we can have him tested?

  3. Carl Griffin says:

    As an adult that was diagnosed in 1977, how do I apply for Reasonable Accommodation using documentation that is over 40 years old? EEO is asking for documentation that is more current although there is nothing in policy or law that states how current it has to be for the RA to be considered. I have served in the Navy and received a BSEE degree and currently working on a Masters.

  4. Vickie Buxton says:

    Where do I go to get tested and help?

    • Helen M Horton says:

      I would like to know the same; where do I get test in CT. I never go my high school paper but have been in Special Education classes since 1st grade.

  5. Debbie buning says:

    Have a master’s but having a problem moving into the profession.

  6. Is there something in place that pays for the education of an adult with a learning disability?

  7. Ruben Ruiz says:

    Would like to get help to get my GED or diploma

    • kathy fonseca says:

      I live in kingsport,tenn. My name is kathy.I was in special classes,lots of abuse,molested ,raped and married at 14.sorry.I’ve never felt confident,I’m working on it now.I know I have LD becauce,I couldn’t get anything right in school and I tried!I would love to go to college (bible)and take a work shop to start my own bussiness.I applied for disability , am still waiting to hear.I get help with food every month, is it possible in any state to get a free test for me.I just know that I have a problem that was never caught.can you help..♡ thank you

      • Arlene Stewart says:

        Hi Kathy. . . .
        Have you tried talking with Vocational Rehabilitation? They would be a good starting point for you.
        The contact information is: SULLIVAN COUNTY
        Vocational Rehabilitation District Office
        1060 Wilcox Court
        Kingsport, TN 37660-5381
        Phone: (423) 245-4278
        TTY: (423) 224-1961
        FAX: (423) 224-1965

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