Adults with Learning Disabilities – An Overview

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Whoopi Goldberg, Dyslexia

Whoopi Goldberg,
Dyslexia

Introduction

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. (http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/learning-disabilities/basics/causes/)

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 https://ldaamerica.org/tools-for-life/.

Additional Resources

All of the links for information about adults with LD, https://ldaamerica.org/adults/
Job Accommodation Network, http://www.jan.wvu.edu/
www.understood.org

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

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Feel free to leave a comment below regarding this article. If you have a specific question for LDA, please contact us directly.

Comments

  1. Katnorris says:

    I am 49, female. I ran from my LD my whole life. Reading and comprehension has always been difficult. I barely made it through college with a low gda. I’m still unfinished because of the frustration of not understanding. I have no career because of these struggles. I”m so behind in life. I would love to get more training through a tech school or nursing, but it seems impossible with my low gda and LD. Am I stuck in a low paying job forever? Is there help?

    • LDA of America says:

      Today, many new assistive technologies such as voice-to-text and text-to-speech software are available to assist individuals with reading comprehension disabilities. Check into a local college that also provides assessments to see what strategies the testing suggests would be beneficial. Your state Vocational Rehabilitation Office can also help with a new assessment and with letting you try out technology and check into further training. You can find out who to contact in your area by checking out our information sheet: https://ldaamerica.org/rehabilitation-services-administration-rsa/. Also, check with Job Accommodation Network at https://askjan.org/ to research employment strategies.

    • I am 49 also and went through the same thing. All my life. Just now learning about LD. I can see why I failed all those years in school. My name is Carl.

  2. Hello, I am 19 years old. I have completed high school and am in college to become a teacher. After reading about LD’s I’m growing concerned that I may have a minor disability. I often have a hard time finding the right words or my words come out in the wrong order, I am also concerned by my vocabulary, I often feel like my vocabulary is behind my peers. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • LDA of America says:

      If your college provides testing free or at a discount, you could see what the cost would be. This testing is monitored by qualified faculty and is usually conducted by graduate students. If the testing concludes that you have a learning disability, this assessment should also have strategies to use that could help you to learn material in a different manner. If your college does not provide this testing, you might check with faculty in the psychology department to find a college in your area that does.

  3. Hi am 25 years old I go leaning difference i got diagnosed when I was 7, and I don’t have the help in the school they where saying that there wasn’t nothing wrong with me, my mum as trying to move me to a special school but they didn’t let me go and now I am finding it hard to live a normal life, my mum his try to help but she get on and she is getting upset in case something happens to her and am stuck because I found it hard to live life outdoorso
    Is there any help for me

    • LDA of America says:

      I would suggest contacting your local Department of Human Services office to see what help might be available in your area. In many states there are group homes where individuals can live fairly independent lives, but they have help with taking care of food, medication, and paying bills.

  4. Simone Hazell says:

    Hi my name is Simone I’m 56 years old having difficulties in my current job I’m reaching out for some help this current job has a lot of spreadsheets project presentations deadlines and out of all the years I’m under so much pressure I want to sit down with a counselor to look into this further.
    Thank you for your time

    • LDA of America says:

      I would suggest that you check with the Job Accommodations Network, JAN at https://askjan.org. Besides the information on their website, they also have individuals who will talk to you. Sitting down with a counselor in your area would also be a good idea.

  5. jessica says:

    Hello I am 29 years female I have learning abilities since was little girl I graduate high school with special diploma i want to able college I can’t in because of diploma i hard time understanding math and reading and writing and focusing on thing .

    • LDA of America says:

      Colleges do require a high school diploma – not a certificate of attendance. However, one way to increase your reading, writing, and math skills in order to get into college could be attending a high school equivalency exam program. Most colleges accept students with specific scores on an equivalency exam. Additionally, community colleges often teach the equivalency exam classes and provide a seamless transition into the community college. You might also check with an adult education program in your area. You can find out more about high school equivalency exams here: https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-high-school-equivalency-exams/

  6. Asha Crumlin says:

    Hello I am 22 I have a learning disability. This is my last year in college and it’s been a struggle. It’s been getting harder and harder because I have an internship because I want to become a teacher. I am doing my student teaching and the class I will be in is a 5th grade class and the kids are teaching me new stuff every day. I want to become the best educator but I feel like I am not understanding the information myself .

  7. HI,MY NAME IS PAUL HASS
    I AM 51 YEARS OF AGE MY PARENTS WERE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AND THEY DID NOT HAVE THE UNDERSTANDING WHAT LEARNING DISABILITY IS DUE TO THE FACT THEY WERE JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE BEING MURDERED.
    I NEVER GRADUATED ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AND THE HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA I RECEIVED WAS SORT OF FABRICATED . COULD NOT GET JOBS BECAUSE I COULD NOT COMPREHEND INSTRUCTIONS AND MATH RELATED RESPONSIBILITIES AS IN SCHOOL. JUST THIS YEAR THROUGH INTENSE RESEARCH I DISCOVERED I HAVE DYSCALCULIA AND DYSGRAPHIA BESIDES A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN, WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY DO TO ENHANCE MY QUALITY OF LIFE AT THIS STAGE?

    THANKS :
    PAUL HASS

  8. I am 29 years old girl.and I have trouble in handling money and staying organised please help

    • LDA of America says:

      Contact your local adult education program to see if they offer life skills instruction. If they don’t, they may be able to refer you to a local resource that does.

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