Managing Social-Emotional Issues of Adults with Learning Disabilities

J Schultz photoSome guidelines for adults with learning disabilities: Managing (and perhaps mastering) the social-emotional aspects of living with a learning disability.

It’s important to start out with the reminder that although a learning disability (LD) is a life-long condition, that does not mean that it’s a life sentence. With increasing frequency, adults have found success in navigating a world lived through the lens of a learning disability, either in spite of it, or more importantly, because of the LD. A learning disability has certain common features, but it shows up in different people in different ways. This is especially true in adults. Two people born with the same type of disability may have entirely different life paths, influenced by educational, social, emotional, financial and health factors as they mature.

The path of some adults has been paved with positive experiences, while the lives of others have been shaped by the reactions of others, resulting in life conditions that are far from ideal (and even adverse), and can include negative self-thoughts and a lack of opportunities. Like any condition that throws you a curve ball, a life plan can help you navigate the often challenging social-emotional aspects of a life with LD. A learning disability does not have to define you as a person, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse that keeps you from realizing your potential. But without a plan to guide you, the road to success may be a rocky one. This FAQ sheet explores some of the common challenges faced by adults with LD, provides some practical strategies to help you create your own life plan, and helps you take the next step toward a more fulfilling and satisfying “rest of your life.”

The questions and answers (Q & A’s) that follow are based on the questions many adults have about their learning disabilities and the impact of LD on their social-emotional functioning. It’s my hope that these “conversations” contain advice that may change the life paths of many adults with LD.

Q: What are some of the common problems that adults with LD have with forming and maintaining friendships and romantic relationships (including marriage)?

A: Many adults say that they “hide” the LD from potential friends or romantic partners. While it’s understandable–and perhaps desirable–not to “lead with the LD,” the unique characteristics of the LD usually find their way to the surface in any relationship. At some point, it’s important to share with your significant other the fact that a learning disability has impacted–and might continue to impact– your life. In this conversation with your partner or friend, focus on what you have done to work around or overcome challenges in the past, and how likely that will be to continue into the future. Making the effort to manage a life with LD is sign of character and strength. A good friend or lover is more likely to sign on as your partner in this venture when they feel like they are pairing up with a person who lives by the motto, “This might be hard, but I can do it.”

Q: How do I talk about my LD with that “special someone?

A: If you meet at a mixer for folks with LD, you might find a person who understands you better than anyone else. It might be like sparks going off, and many adults with LD find that forming a mutual support system for each other strengthens their relationship. You might bump into each others’ quirks from time to time, but if you think about that proactively, you’ll be prepared for when that happens and have a plan to work through these tough times. You might want to establish rules like, “We never accuse or blame each other.,” “We don’t argue in public,” “Please don’t talk until I sit down,” or “Never promise or threaten anything when we are upset.” If you are tech-savvy, you might want to make a video of yourself saying the things you want to say to your friend or partner, and play the tape a couple of times before you share the message in person. This kind of social rehearsal can save you embarrassment or regret later. One note of caution: don’t post this on Facebook or YouTube and don’t email it anywhere. You have no control over where these videos show up, and they live a long life in cyberspace. Writing or dictating your feelings in a paper or electronic journal might help you get the message out, and give you the chance to review it before you decide to share it (or not!).

Q: What are some work-related stressors, and how can adults manage anxiety, self-doubts, or self-esteem issues in the workplace?

A: If you have a job that takes advantage of your strengths, it will be a better fit for you than jobs that make demands on skills that are not strong.

Like everyone, folks with LD can find themselves under significant stress in jobs that require them to do tasks that they don’t do well. If you have a reading difficulty like dyslexia, or a specific math disability, or you are not great at organizing and managing tasks, and your work requires any of these skills, this means that you will not only have to work harder than other people, but also, you’ll have to work “smarter” to keep up the pace and quality of your work.

Using this extra effort can make people crabby or short-tempered, or very, very tired. This means that you’ll have make sure that you take care of yourself. Getting proper sleep, nutrition and exercise will help your brain work better. Being with friends and having fun is a good way to do that, but a trip to the gym with them before or after work is generally a better idea than stopping off at the local pub! If you do something at work that you think will get you in trouble with the boss or a co-worker, let them know about it before they find out in some other way, then apologize and let them know you will try very hard not to let that happen again. Let them know that you learned from the experience, and never, never, never blame it on your LD. Also, if you’ve made a mistake, try not to dwell on it. Make a commitment to yourself to stop worrying about it before you go to bed. Try to begin each day with a fresh start.

Because your brain is programmed to get you out of trouble when you are under stress, this miraculous organ turns on its “survival centers” and actually shuts down the “thinking brain” when you are feeling out of control, or less than competent (at work, in relationships, in sports or hobbies). The best way to get back that confidence that helps you be more confident is to “take a walk.” Literally! Put on your headset, turn on some happy, fun music (which a brain absolutely loves) and take a vigorous 15-minute walk. While you’re at it, practice what’s called “positive self-talk.” Believe it or not, when you say positive things and when you smile, your brain believes you are happy and it will work much more efficiently. Then you can get back to the job!

Q: I often misread people’s words or actions. This can cause embarrassment or rejection. What can I do avoid or manage these awkward situations?

A: Most adults tell me that there are one or two people in their lives or at work that they can understand better than others. This is usually because these associates or friends “say what they mean and mean what they say.” I would advise you to identify people like this, and hang out with them as much as you can! If you are not sure what other people mean, or you are confused by their expression or body language, learn to have the courage to say, “I’m really interested in what you think about this, but I’m really not sure what you mean.” You can also say, “I need to think about that a bit. Can you say that again?” or “I’m not quite sure that I heard you right; is this what you mean?”

Q: There are times when I just “lose it,” and flip out on people. It’s like I store all this stress and it kind of spills out. I’ve often heard (and been told) that once you’d said something you can’t take it back. What can I do to redeem myself after I’ve impulsively blurted something out? I have this massive “oops” feeling, but I think it’s too late to fix the damage.

A: It’s always okay to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t meant that.” It’s also okay to explain, “Sometimes I get worked up and when I do, it’s hard to control what comes out of my mouth.” Think about it: when you step on someone’s toes, it’s okay to say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Likewise, when you blurt something out impulsively, it’s always okay to say, “SorryThat’s not what I meant. Let me say that another way.”

Q: People have told met that I need a “coach” to help me improve my social interaction skills. Can’t I teach myself how to do this?

A: Think about life with LD as a golf game: Some people need a coach to give them feedback and guidance about how to improve their swing. The same is true for LD. Some people can work on this by themselves, and other people need more guidance and advice to learn how to navigate the social landscape. What kind of person are you?

The bottom line: Being an adult with LD doesn’t mean that you will not be able to have a happier, more satisfying work experience or social life. The key to success is understanding what you might be doing that pushes people away, and practicing responses that pull people toward you. Doing role plays or watching popular TV shows that depict social interactions and discussing these with friends with LD may be very helpful. Finding that special thing that you do extremely well will also help reinforce the image of you as someone who does something well–someone who takes responsibility for his or her own life.

Q: What resources should adults know about if they have concerns about their social/emotional well-being?

A: The links or books below can provide valuable guidance for adults who are working on improving their social-emotional lives.

View and/or Print Social-Emotional Issues Information Sheet

American Psychological Association (APA). “Right hemisphere dysfunction in nonverbal learning disabilities: Social, academic,and adaptive functioning in adults and children.” Semrud-Clikeman, Margaret; Hynd, George W. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 107(2), Mar 1990.
*Article may be purchased by non-APA members for $11.95.

Arlyn J. Roffman (2011) Meeting the Challenge of Learning Disabilities in Adulthood, Princeton Review. LD Online, “Social Skills and Adults with Learning Disabilities,”

National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Developing Social Skills and Relationships,”

National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Dr. Arlyn Roffman on Promoting Self-Awareness and Self-Acceptance in Teens,”

Author: Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D., Clinical Neuropsychologist, Harvard Medical School
Member, LDA Professional Advisory Board

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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.


  1. Please help me find social programs for people with learning disabilities that are bad enough to affect their social skills, but able to function semi normally. There are a lot of help for people with more severe disabilities but cannot find any help for me. I have processing disorder and auditory processing disorder. I have no friends and when I try to meet someone they are instantly not interested because of my disorder

    • LDA of America says

      One place you might check into would be local behavioral therapy programs that could practice and role-play with you to increase your pro-social skills.


    I have a learning disability, but mine has more to do with both a emotional disability/depression disability than a learning disability. Also having ADHD and frustrations with Epilepsy controlled with medication.

  3. Phillip Troy says

    In the article it speaks about work stressors. One that was not mentioned that I deal with is the stress from having the inability to memorize and retain information. I have many compensation strategies to get around my lack of memory and have strategies for avoiding the embarrassment that would come with being found out as having such a limited memory. I use these strategies at work, in personal relationships, etc. I’m 49 and just now understanding I’m dealing with a learning disability related to memory and retention. All through adulthood I have declined great career opportunities because I know I’m incapable of remembering the information needed to perform the job. Examples of my memory: I’ve worked out 5 days a week, for the past 2 years. Here is my routine: Mon-Chest/Arms, Tues-Back/Shoulders, Wed-Legs, Thurs-Chest/Arms, Fri-Back/Shoulders. It’s only been the past couple of months I’ve been able to follow my routine without it written in front of me. Almost everything is like this for me. Part of what is so frustrating is that I know I’m not an idiot or lazy. I just can’t memorize or retain any depth of information. Another example, I’ve tried for years to memorize birthdays of family members, the names and number of states in the United States, the notes on the neck of a guitar, etc, and it’s literally impossible. My inability in memory has significantly impacted my career opportunities. I found this website today and am starting to get a picture of what is really going on with me. Looking forward to finally getting some answers.

  4. I am a almost 40 year old female with LD issues in reading, writing, comperhension. I was in special reading and speech classes until I started 7th grade. Now as an adult I am doing a job that I have done for almost 20 years and had changed jobs a little over 1 year ago. In September of this year I was having issues with my job, thought it was ADHD and turns out no not that at all. I would not have complete thoughts wrote down for others to read if needed. I left work incomplete if it got to a point I could not figure it out. I also was let go years ago for this condition and found out I also have dislexia. I also have anxiety and get over sensitive about issues that don’t really matter much. I work full time and went to see a therapist she said that my work situation is toxic and need to find something different. She also suggested that work only part time, due to other medical issues that I have. I have PSA, COPD, HBP, PCOS, back issues, and fracture my feet all the time. Right now I am off due to the foot fracture and have not had any issues. My boyfriend thinks that I just need to let things blow over and see how things go when I go back. I work as a pharmacy technician and have for many years. My previous employer wants me back, I want to go back but the health benefits are not as good.

    • LDA of America says

      Contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at JAN’s services include a toll-free number (800-526-7234) which you can call to speak with an accommodations expert about your employment choices. They can help you choose what’s right for you based on your individual strengths and challenges, as well as introduce you to ideas for technology, strategies, and accommodations that will help you work more effectively at the job you choose.

  5. I only realized recently that I have a learning problem. Kind of a relief because I honestly always thought I was just stupid. But it continues to cause major anxiety specifically at work. I’m at a new job and I’m having a lot of trouble learning their cash register/point of sale system, it’s very different than the ones I’m used to. It’s awful because I’m supposed to be the shift lead and have more knowledge than the other associates but no matter how hard I try I still have trouble with it. I’d say every day I my brain has to ‘re-learn’ about 25% of what I just did yesterday. My co-workers are a buncha rude mouthy jerks and they make fun of me constantly. They say that I’m ‘slow’ and like to point out that newer employees have already learned the system better. ( of course they use the system every single day and I don’t, and they are trained for an entire month whereas I only got a week and was told just figure it all out myself. True story. ) But none of this matters to them or my boss, who doesn’t even really speak to me anymore because he’s mad that I have trouble with the register. Obviously I hide my learning probs, no one knows. Some of the few ppl I’ve told are dismissive and say the usual dumb stuff like ‘you’re just not trying’ or ‘everyone has a bad memory sometimes it’s just age’ blah blah. They don’t understand. I’m very stressed at work and feel pretty worthless there most of the time. I worry that I’m never going to be able to hold a job that pays decent because it’s so difficult for me to do anything complicated.

    • LDA of America says

      If you have current documentation of your learning disability (within the last 5 years), you should consider meeting with your Human Resources department to discuss possible job accommodations. Before that meeting, read the article about requesting job accommodations at and spend some time thinking of what strategy or technology would help you use the register more effectively. Requesting more training time would be an option, but there may be others that would help even more. Also – and this is an important thing – call the 800 number for JAN mentioned in that article and speak with one of their accommodation experts about your specific situation. It’s free, and they may have ideas for specific strategies and/or technology that would help. The anxiety you’re experiencing at work every day is probably making things even harder for you, so the more knowledge you get about how to solve the problem, the less anxious you’ll be, and even just that will help. Good for you for meeting the problem head-on and not giving in to the workplace bullying you’re experiencing!

      If you don’t have current documentation of your disability, go to to learn how to get it. That documentation will help you pinpoint your areas of strengths and challenges to more effectively choose accommodations that will work for you.

  6. Hi I am 24 yrs old a student at university doing my honours. I always struggled at school, and my first few years at university until now
    I never knew I had LDA but in this year of my honours I find that I have a problem concentrating and remembering my work,sometimes I go completely blank in the exam. I’m very depressed and stressed because the work load is expanding and I am so behind with my assignments and studying and I cannot focus . I need help and some advise as to what to do. If anyone was or is in a situation like I am, please tell me how to cope and how to handle this. Time is running out. If anyone knows where I should go to OR who I should see for this problem. Please share your advise with me. As I am desperate. Regards Anusha

    • LDA of America says

      I would suggest that you find a physician in your area who has experience working with adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and make an appointment to determine if you have AD/HD and if medications might help you. If you do have AD/HD, that might be the cause of your depression and stress. If not, I would suggest that you visit your college’s counseling office or a counseling facility in your area for support as soon as possible. As students with disabilities get closer to the end of their academic year or academic career, the stakes are high, and emotions can run high as well.

    • Hi there,

      I have had this problem as well “going blank”. I could even tutor someone on a subject and be a total idiot in the exam. I know how frustrating it is. BUT… you can overcome it. First off you need to figure out how YOU learn. I can only tell you how I learned how I learn. You should know that I managed to get into law school and graduated with high honors. How? OK well its alot of planning. If time is running out and your semester is almost up well you need to postpone your exams. It sucks but you need to “stop the bleeding” and getting a docs note is the only way to go for people like us. Sounds bad but at the end of the day the education system is not made for everyone. When people see how much I study 12+ hours 7 days a week they shut up. They understand why. But dont tell anyone that is not close to you because people dont get it.

      Next, when planning your semester you need to start studying as of day 1. Yup its that much more work for us. Biggest advice: I wake up at 6am before class and revise topics very quickly from the previous week. I make mind maps about the topics and I take the time in the morning to go over them first thing. This is going to move your information into your long term memory instead of short term memory. See what I discovered after reading books about learning and memory is what is happening is you are going blank it is because the information is not being stored in the right place for you to use it when you are stressed.
      So put it in the right place by doing this — this is the biggest thing you can do to improve your memory. Revise first thing in the morning and if you can at night before bed. It sucks at first but you get used to it.
      Do you record your classes? You need to make sure your notes are perfect. Everything the prof says is important. Become OCD about it.
      Not only that, you need to go beyond what the prof says in class .. how? You have to go see him or her. Even if you have no questions make one up as you go along… why? because you get to know how they think. Best advice I learned in law school is KNOW YOUR JUDGE. Most grading is subjective (in law anyway) and profs want to hear you heard what they said.
      When you get to your exams you need to start re-reviewing again. Yup from the first day. I would say start this four weeks before finals.
      I have many more tips with Nootropics and vitamines to take that can help. Rhodiola helps with the tiredness form studying but only start that mid to end as you can become resistant.
      Having a LD means atleast I cannot take time off from September to December. I study 12+ hours a day, EVERYDAY, but I always make time to exercise 30 mins 5 days a week and sleep min 7 hours. That time is non negotiable it helps strengthen your synapses.

      FYI I was told I would never be able to do university. I was told I have a lower than average IQ because “I went blank” during the IQ testing I was so nervous and felt pressure to do well. Now I realise it meant nothing. Nobody can tell you what you can or cannot do, only you can decide that. BTW retook an IQ exam last year and scored well above average 127. Hence, IQ testing is seriously flawed and means nothing. Good luck I have so much more advice you can msg me if you want.

  7. Hi my name is Katie Familia n I have struggled with a learning disability since I was in the 3 grade n I ENDURED ALOT OF HUMULIATION RIDICULE MOLESTATION FROM A CLASSMATE I NEVER TOLD ANYONE I WAS BULLIED I WAS SLAPPED IN THE FACE BY ANOTHER CLASS MATE I HATED GOING TO SCHOOL BECAUSE THERE WAS NOT A DAY THAT I WAS NOT HARRASSED OR BULLIED I NEVER TOLD MY TEACHERS NOR MY GUIDANCE COUNSLER NOT EVEN MY PARENTS THEN WHEN I GRADUATED FROM JUNIOR HIGH THE ABUSE FINALLY STOPPED ! WHEN I WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL EVERYTHING WAS MUCH BETTER ! I was no longer bullied. I did better academacally! Alot of the people in reugular ed would laugh at me n the other people in special ed n I didnt care! I graduated from high school! I went to colledge but I dropped out because I could not keep up I had so much trouble with math n remembering what the professors would say! I went to a vocational school for 9 months n I got my medical asstiant diploma n it took me 2 years to find a job! My cousin found me a job as a medical records clerk ! So I took the job it did not pay much 9.00 an hour! I WAS VERY UNHAPPY IN THAT JOB! THE MANAGER WOULD THREATEN ME CONSTANTLEY THAT SHE WOULD FIRE ME ! SHE MADE ME CRY SO MUCH! SHE WILL RIGHT ME UP FOR THINGS I NEVER DID! THE GIRLS IN THE FRONT SAID I MADE TOO MANY MISTAKES N THAT I WAS TO SLOW AT DOING MY JOB THAT I DID NOT KNOW HOW WHAT I WAS DOING THAT I DID NOT FINISH MY WORK! It was awful every day I would go home with tears on my eyes! I never told anyone anything! I did not sleep at night! I started having anxiety attacks n panick attacks while I WOULD BE DRIVING OR GETTING READY TO GO TO WORK ! I ended up getting Depression n High blood preassure as well ! My father adviced me to quit n so did my psychiatrist so ten years later 1-16-2017 I left ! I am so much better now but I AM GOING THRU ALOT BECAUSE I CANNOT FIND A JOB! I been on 2 interviews n I disclosed that I HAVE A LEARNING DISABILITY N THEY WONT HIRE ME BECAUSE OF THAT! I am frustrated upset n Depress N I DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO! I NEED TO TAKE MEDICATIONS FOR MY ANXIETY DEPRESSION. OCD PTS PANIC ATTACKS MIGRAINS HIGH BLOOD PREASSURE N I DONT HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE! I AM RUNNING LOW ON CASH!

  8. My IQ below 70 when I was in 1st grade, I have always been in EMR class, till I was in 10th grade. I have been fighting for my rights, as a LD human being are a low IQ subject all though school. because they act like I could not do anything..but feel sorry for me. time I fought get out of EMR, class, though others and got tested a hundred times, by LD class I did n even know my time tables. which I had to go to school, and take GED classes, just pass my diploma . so by the time I got that I was in my 20’s.. got diploma off Nursing school I finally thought I can go on with life!! well after being excepted in college, took my basic, The Nursing teacher, said you could not be a Nurse, because you was in EMR, and you have a special diploma. I thought are you KIDDING!! but yes its true, as a LD are EMR, even know you pass, all your high school test you still don’t get the same diploma, as the next person, so with that said, people best thing to do get your kid take the GED. I should no, I’m 47 worked 10 years as a Nurse asst. 10 years as a Armed Federal officer. I still have a Low IQ, but have high IQ children. Oh yea, only regrets I have I should went to court when I was asked too. fight this, where people like me, in LD or EMR, don’t get diplomas, its sad. really. No Doctor are Meds is a cure, you just have to learn to deal with it. Art is the key, get a hobby relive stress. do something eles, beside worry and work..

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