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. michelle moore says

    hello my name is michelle im 37 and a mother of 3 i have LD i need and want to better mysafe for my kids im in tn

    • LDA of America says

      I would suggest first that you contact your local Adult Education and Literacy Program. If you don’t know where it is, check with your area high school. They should know. You might also talk with the Vocational Rehabilitation Services in your area. I admire your determination to make a difference for yourself and your children!

  2. Hi I’m 40+ and had lots of struggles in reading & comprehension, but also some strong abilities, like spelling and foreign languages. I’ve been reluctant to share my Diagnosis with jobs in fear of not getting hired, or of them using it against me in some way. But after so many times of inadequate training, and allowance for minimal aid I’d need, I’m considering revealing my LD diagnosis. Looking for thoughts and experiences please! Thanks

    • LDA of America says

      Thanks for reaching out to us. The best resource for you is LDA’s info sheet on disclosure found here: https://ldaamerica.org/disclosing-your-learning-disability/. The best thing to do when disclosing is to start with the good things that you bring to the organization – your strong abilities and characteristics. Then be specific about what you need in order to serve them better. Make your discussion all about how the organization will benefit as a result of providing you with a few accommodations. Good luck!

  3. Danielle says

    I really want to get my high school finish i never finished Im 35 I can read and understand but I can not spell or really explain what i read. I took a pre ged test n got 4th grade and lower on the test and gave up. I saw this website and i talked to my dr. He says i have learning dis and you guys can help me but I can’t not get a hold of anyone. I email n call idk what to do to get help with you guys

    • LDA of America says

      I’m really sorry that you have not received help through our website. Kudos to you for working on getting your GED! It sounds like you need education to teach you skills so that you can pass your GED, an assessment to determine if you have a learning disability, and probably accommodations for the GED based on your diagnosis. The best way to get these is to first contact your local adult education organization. If you don’t know where that is in your area, call your local high school, and they should be able to put you in touch with the right folks. Adult Education programs can often do the assessment for you or they can put you in touch with someone who can. Once the assessment is complete and the adult education teachers have worked with you, they will know what accommodations you should request on the GED. Also, if you attend a church, you might also reach out to them. Often times churches network with community-based or volunteer organizations that may be able to help you. Good luck!

  4. Hello,
    I am a 30 year old veteran who was just medically retired due to having a TBI. I have always had a problem learning especially with reading and math. While taking the entrance exam for the military I count read the question well so the guy next me read out loud so I could finish.
    The VA won’t refer me to anyone to be tested for learning disabilities and I can’t afford to pay a psychiatrist being that I can’t work because of injuries. Does anyone have suggestions on what I could do? Thanks in advance.

  5. Hi, my name is Emilie, I’m looking for a place in Georgia that test for learning disability at a discounted rate. I was originally tested in New York for about $500. I called a couple of universities in Georgia they are asking for about $1000. Help.

  6. Hello my name is Dutta, and I am 31 years old. I have extremely hard time focusing to read and write. When I usually try to read I am on the same page for hours, feel overwhelmed, and can’t focus. There are times I cannot make sense out of the sentences. In regards to writing my thoughts are usually unorganized, I feel stuck to express myself, it takes way longer than usual to write anything. Even if it is a social media post I would hesitate to post. I usually lower usage of vocabularies and very inexpressive writing. I feel like that I find it easier to speak than to write. I would appreciate it if I could find any resources in NYC or online to get diagnosed or have evaluation of any sort of learning disability I might have. And any cure that might be available. Thank you so much. Would love to hear from you.

    • LDA of America says

      Colleges that have an Educational or School Psychology Program are able to assess at a sliding scale. Another lace is to Google New York diagnosticians; then check to see if any are close to your area. You may want to try text to speech software, which is embedded in Microsoft or Dragon Naturally Speaking. These speech to text allow people to speak their thoughts without the additionally processing from thought to word to write or type out.

  7. My brother who is 65 was diagnosed with LD in college, but was never given any tools to help him navigate the world! I think he may have Dyscalculia, along with Memory and Executive Functioning. We live in Austin, TX and I am wondering if there are “classes” taught which can teach him “work arounds” so he is not trapped by them any longer. His income is wouldn’t allow him to pay for such classes. Any suggestions?

  8. Hi my name is Anne and I am 53 years old. I was Born with F,A,S and I did not Graduate high school and I am a very slow Learner, I have a hard time focusing on things and I forget a lot. I’m looking for a program that Can can help me with Learning with my F.A.S . If u know of any programs out there I would be very grateful.

    Thank you: Anne
    P.S I live in Alaska in Anchorage

    • LDA of America says

      To help you find resources for F.A.S., I first want to direct you to the Alaska Center for the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: http://www.alaskacenterforfasd.org/. The center provides information for people of all ages. My next suggestion, is for you to reach out to a local adult education training center. Many adult education classes are free and can provide a learning program for improving basic skills in reading, writing, and math. Adult education classes provide educational support for adults who struggle with learning regardless of the reason. In Anchorage, I found the Adult Learning Center: http://www.akalc.com/. The website will give directions for registering for classes. My hope is these suggestions get you started. The important thing to remember is, it’s never too late to learn. Good luck!

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