Learning Disabilities in the Workplace

Employer consulting with employeeLearning disabilities may make it difficult for an individual to learn, work, or behave in the manner that ordinarily would be expected.

A learning disability is an impairment of neurological origin that impacts on specific areas of learning. The following are major types of learning disabilities:

  • A sequencing disorder is a difficulty with the order of a series of things. It may lead to problems with prioritizing, organizing, doing mathematics and following instructions.
  • Language disorders are difficulties with receptive language (understanding and remembering) or with expressive language (oral or in writing).
  • Visual perceptual and visual motor disorders are difficulties with processing in-formation visually, thus leading to problems with reading, spelling and writing. This is sometimes termed “dyslexia”.
  • Auditory disorders are difficulties with processing sounds, such as distinguishing words that sound similar.
  • A memory disorder is a difficulty retrieving certain information from memory within a reasonable time.
  • Gross motor and fine motor disorders interfere with coordination. A problem with fine motor coordination could lead to difficulty with handwriting.

A learning disability is not an emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, or sensory impairment. It is not the result of environmental deprivation, inadequate parenting or lack of educational opportunity. Individuals with learning disabilities also have strengths. They can be successful in the workplace. Employer, family and other social supports, combined with a willingness of the individual to advocate for himself, are key elements in achieving success.

Reasonable Accommodations – Employers

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) provide that employers covered by either of these laws make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, such as learning. To show that a person has a disability under these laws, it is necessary to establish substantial limitation in a major life activity compared to most people.

Accommodations for an individual with learning disabilities depend upon the particular learning disabilities involved in the individual case. Generally, the successful accommodations are ones which will 1] provide clear guidance as to workplace expectations, both for the “hardcore” work tasks and the more broadly social ones inherent in the workplace, 2] provide clear and repeated work instructions, both orally and in writing, and 3] respond with specific aids to the particular learning disabilities.

Possible specific accommodations include: checklists to assist with organization, periodic meetings with supervisors, frequent and specific feedback on meeting expectations, modified examinations and training programs, and modified work schedules.

Strategies – Employees

It cannot be stressed too strongly that the process of achieving success is a two way street. Individuals with learning disabilities and employers should work together for their mutual benefit.

Individuals with learning disabilities should inform themselves. They may obtain evaluations from professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, and career counseling which may assist them in selecting suitable employment, designing helpful strategies and, if appropriate, requesting accommodations which are truly suited to their needs.

Possible strategies include: 1] take notes or use a taper recorder during meetings, training courses and seminars, 2] use a day planner book or electronic scheduler to make a “to do” list and to make notes, 3] keep work space orderly and clean, 4] leave early for work, interviews, appointments and meetings, and 5] set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to plan your work for the next day.

Each individual with learning disabilities is unique and has particular learning disabilities and strengths. Accommodations and strategies should be tailored to individual needs to maximize success in the workplace.

Authors: Peter S. Latham, J.D. and Patricia H. Latham, J.D.

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Comments

  1. ROBERT MARSHALL BOYER says

    In the summer of 1988, at age seven, I was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Distorter (APD) or also known as Central Auditory Processing Distorter (CAPD), ADHD and some fine motor skill issues. As I found out that 2% to 7% of school-age students, twice as much in males than females, have CAPD. Many of them are misdiagnosed with ADHD due to the overlapping symptoms of both CAPD and ADHD due to the similarities of the symptoms.

    Therefore, I feel like I have more CAPD and maybe an diagnosed issue of Asperger’s Disorder based on the classic symptoms and behaviors that my family, co-workers and other have witness over the years, which since 2013, Asperger’s has been put as an umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

    I struggled throughout public education and was qualified to be in LD program during public education. In high school my final GPA was 2.53. I received an Associates’ Degree in Film and Video Production Technology with a GPA of 3.50 because the program was hands-on and visual learning (maybe because it focused on undiagnosed Asperger’s symptoms I have).

    What I continue to struggle with is multi-tasking and speed (pace) in the real world, language, and comprehending things due to CAPD, which does effect multi-tasking, not getting a clear signal from the inner ear to brain (short circuits) and that effects my pace in a fast-pace employment opportunity.

    I got my CDL Class B and drove a public school bus, which was 39 foot long, from 2006 to 2019, and I struggled a lot due to the student misbehavior and multi-tasking when students got out of hand everyday with out any support from the school system.

    I left the school system in March 2019 to try to work as a concrete mixer truck driver and front wheel loader operator but that did not work because of the multi-tasking and fast pace environment.

    I will be going to Vocational Rehabilitation Services for orientation on May 6, 2019 to see what they can do and on April 25, 2019 I talked to an SSD attorney office to see if I can get Social Security Disability Benefits.

    • LDA of America says

      Some neuroscience studies state that people are not able to multitask. One suggestion is to create a to do list and then prioritize the tasks to be completed. One resource for Autistic resources is autismspeaks.org

  2. I have ADD and Language processing disorder. I recently started a new job in a library that is very simple. But I can’t even get things done correctly. I hear whispers in the office that I have been I have making many mistakes and I can feel the frustration with almost everyone. I I hate hearing the whispers because I know they refer to me, one said, she thinks she knows what she’s doing but she doesn’t. I did not mention my learning disabilities to my boss. I have yet to be talked to about my shortcomings but I know it’s coming. I don’t know what to do. Should I tell my boss about my issues? I’m so scared of gossip around the office. I already feel like a terrible burden and I I want to quit. But I always do this, I feel so bad that I’m always messing up and I give up.

    • LDA of America says

      A person with a disability needs to think and weigh the benefits of self-disclosing his/her disability to Human Resources or supervisor. A discussion that includes your strengths may be needed to brainstorm various assistive technologies or apps that will assist you with your challenges. Check out LDA’s information sheet on disclosure here: https://ldaamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Disclosing-Your-Learning-Disability.pdf. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has a wealth of information regarding employment for people with disabilities. The JAN link is https://askjan.org/. When you go to their website, they also have people available to talk to you about your specific workplace challenges.

  3. I am a 54 year old, working in retail, working for a different company after 11yrs with for the big box Wal mart. In my interview I informed my new employer/ mgr. of my LD, letting them know I would need extra help, I am / was not good at computers using them as they used them. They did not have me working along with some one ( shadowing ) for any length of time. The company really had very poor training to began with, I was told by my mgr. over the front end ” Its all apart of our growing pains of opening a new store ( Just an excuse in my opinion) I was told/ shown of the different functions of the customer service area BOPIS, and Rain checks. both using the computer differently. I took notes to the best of my ability, but I learn better with hands on and lots reputation. I would ask for help of the same thing and people would get angry as I asked them that question 10 min ago. It got to the point where one person just would ignore me or pretend he did not hear me, when I asked for his help. I made myself sick several times over this. and after two months of my frustration I gave my notice an quit. After giving my notice I talked to the HR person and told her of the young man ignoring me. She apologized to me and said, I can see you tried but the computer is just too much for you. In my opinion I was set up to fail!!! On a Friday night I was working with a young man who did nothing but talk down to me and questioned everything I did. So I did not work out mu last two days.

    • LDA of America says

      It sounds like you had a bad and frustrating experience in that workplace! Fortunately, there are a couple of good resources you may want to check into while you look for another job. One is the Rehabilitation Services Agency (also called Vocational Rehabilitation Services). This agency’s purpose is to help adults with disabilities find jobs that are a good match for the person’s strengths, and also to help arrange for job accommodations to help the person with their job challenges. You can find information about this agency at https://ldaamerica.org/rehabilitation-services-administration-rsa/. Another great resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at http://askjan.org/ JAN’s services include a toll-free number (800-526-7234) which you can call to speak with an accommodations expert about your job accommodation needs. Their website includes a multitude of articles that are helpful for determining what accommodations might help you the most in your prospective new job.

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