Overcoming learning disabilities in adults can be a challenging but achievable endeavor with the right strategies, support, and mindset. 

Understanding Learning Disabilities in Adults: The Basics

A learning disability in adults is a neurological disorder that affects some of the brain’s abilities. It can’t be cured, so no one should expect that you can get over it. Instead, supports, strategies, and interventions can help you manage the learning disability as you work to create a successful career and life.

There are seven types of LD: Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Auditory processing disorder, Language processing disorder, Nonverbal learning disabilities, Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Adults with LD have long been known to be at risk for a number of negative outcomes across the lifespan (greater high school drop-out rates, underemployment. workplace difficulties, overdependence on others, social/emotional problems). However, research suggests that many, despite their learning difficulties, have developed ways to overcome the risk factors in their lives. 

Busting Myths about Learning Disabilities

There are three common misconceptions about having an LD

  • It is a Sign of Low Intelligence
  • It Can Be Outgrown
  • That All Are the Same

Separating fact from fiction.

  • LDs are neurodevelopmental conditions that affect specific cognitive processes, such as reading, writing, or math. They do not reflect a person’s overall intelligence or potential. 
  • LDs are lifelong conditions. While individuals can develop strategies and coping mechanisms to manage their difficulties, the underlying challenges persist into adulthood. 
  • LDs come in various forms and can impact different areas of a person’s learning process. Common types of learning disabilities include dyslexia (affecting reading), dyscalculia (affecting math), and dysgraphia (affecting writing), among others. 
Explore Effective Effort Consulting's Services

Empowering Yourself: Becoming Your Own Advocate

You can develop ways to overcome dyslexia and other LDs. You should empower yourself with tools, strategies, and resources to help. Becoming your own advocate is a superpower for many successful people with learning disabilities. 

Recognizing Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

Get to know your strengths and work hard to develop those strengths and interests. Also, take inventory of your weaknesses that impact progress in your life. Work to develop compensatory strategies to manage those weaknesses. 

Evaluating one’s own learning landscape.

There are excellent free resources to help you better understand your strengths, interests, and learning profile. You can start with this Learning Styles Assessment. I would also recommend this Free Interest Profiler developed by the Department of Labor. 

Harnessing strengths for better outcomes.

Life has a way of focusing on the negative, and it can sometimes be easier to focus on weaknesses and setbacks and the disadvantages and disabilities. Do your best to ignore all of that. Keep in mind what you want to become skilled at and work to develop those strengths and follow a path towards building meaningful skills and working towards your goals. Many Neurodiverse Adults have found success Working with an Executive Functioning Coach to develop a clear roadmap of skills and goals. 

“We become what we think about most of the time.”

Effective Communication

Two individual with ADHD are effectively communicating to overcome learning disabilities.

The importance of voicing challenges.

Know your goals and your learning disability. Be clear about the challenges and roadblocks that can impact your access and progress toward your learning and life goals.  This will help you effectively communicate with others 

Navigating conversations about accommodations.

Asking for help is a superpower! Developing these skills takes time and practice as you approach teachers and adults, conversing about your LD and discussing your need for accommodations and resources. It’s an empowering process and will get easier with practice. 

The Reality of Living with a Learning Disability

It’s not easy living with learning disabilities. Too often, the long-term challenges of managing a learning disability can lead to low self-esteem, social problems, and the chronic fear of failure. 

Lifelong Implications

Many people don’t realize the extent to which a learning disability can affect daily living throughout one’s life, including job performance. In addition, learning disabilities aren’t obvious from the outside, so many suffer in silence. It’s hard to explain to others how to learn differently and the accommodations you may require. 

Exploring the continuous nature of learning disabilities

An early diagnosis can lead to helpful services in school through an IEP and 504 Plan. However, once school ends, the disability does not go away. 

The quest for strategies, resources, and coping mechanisms 

Despite no longer having the support of schools, there are ample resources available to help most adults with LD. Below are some examples

Overcoming vs. Managing

A Learning Disability will be with you for life. However, it does not have to control your life or limit your potential. Some learn to overcome the disability, and some learn to manage the symptoms related to the LD. 

What it truly means to “overcome” a learning disability.

The concept of “overcoming” a learning disability is possible. It’s crucial to recognize that learning disabilities are typically lifelong conditions characterized by neurological differences that affect specific cognitive processes. While LDs cannot be completely cured or eliminated, individuals with learning disabilities can learn to manage and completely mitigate the symptoms of their LD. It’s important to emphasize that “overcoming” a learning disability does not mean the complete eradication of the disability itself. Instead, it entails learning to manage and work with the challenges posed by the disability in a way that allows the individual to lead a fulfilling and successful life.

The realistic approach to daily management

With the right support, strategies, and mindset, individuals with learning disabilities can make significant strides in their personal and academic endeavors. It’s important to develop a consistent approach to managing each day. Consider maintaining clear goals, being organized in your daily routines, becoming a fierce advocate, staying optimistic, building a network of support, and embracing your individuality.

Essential Strategies for Managing Learning Disabilities in Adulthood

Regardless if you are managing work demands or home demands, the effective use and integration of technology into your daily life can have an immense impact on your productivity and well-being. 

Technology and Tailored Tools

Integrating ChatGPT as a tool to overcome learning difficulties.

There is an endless list of technology tools, products, apps, and services to support you and your learning disabilities.  Below are some recommendations to consider for work and home. 

Digital resources and gadgets to aid learning:

  • Text-to-speech is a powerful resource for reading. A PDF reader like Kami is excellent. 
  • Grammar software, such as Grammarly, points out written problems and gives suggestions
  • Google Keep to aid in working memory support – Making a shopping list or scheduling appointments. 
  • ChatGPT is a resource to aid in daily functional skills. Making a morning routine or planning a trip.  
  • Speech to Text tools integrated into any smart device is an excellent resource to aid in written communication. 
  • Graphic organizers, such as Inspiration
  • Calculators
  • Math software like Desmos

Personalized strategies for different disabilities.

Developing a personalized relationship with the right digital resources takes time and practice. For example, technology can be a powerful tool to support individuals with dyslexia by providing assistive features and specialized tools to enhance reading, writing, and overall communication skills. Here are three top technology platforms and tools often recommended for individuals with dyslexia:

Text-to-Speech Software:

  • Read&Write for Google Chrome. 
  • Natural Reader: Natural Reader is a text-to-speech software available for various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and mobile devices.

Speech-to-Text and Dictation Software:

  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking: This speech recognition software by Nuance allows users to dictate text, control their computer, and perform various tasks using voice commands. 
  • Google Docs Voice Typing: For those who prefer a free option, Google Docs offers a built-in voice typing feature. 

Dyslexia-Friendly Fonts and Tools:

  • OpenDyslexic Font: OpenDyslexic is a font designed specifically to make reading easier for individuals with dyslexia. 
  • Ghotit Real Writer & Reader: Ghotit is a comprehensive writing and reading assistant designed for individuals with dyslexia and dysgraphia. 

Community and Professional Support

Accessing community and professional support may be necessary. Don’t delay on this.  Set up a meeting with your educators or employers to discuss your needs. In an educational setting, regular feedback or check-ins are important for staying on track. College settings typically have an office of disability services to help students navigate the services that can help. Employers may also be required to provide accommodations to ensure an equitable work environment.

The role of support groups and therapy.

Therapeutic support can be necessary in order to develop self-regulation skills and coping skills to overcome a learning disability. These supports can help individuals maximize their potential and minimize the impact of the disability on their daily lives. Search for a therapist or support group service provider in your area.

Tapping into specialized expertise for targeted help.

You will want to screen all supports and resources to ensure you are receiving the qualified help you need. 

Crafting a Supportive Environment for Success

Crafting a supportive environment means surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and build you up. Get rid of critics and anyone who brings up down. This goes for work, friends, and family. Life is hard enough. To live a meaningful life with a learning disability takes focus, a positive attitude, and people who will support you and your goals. 

Organizational Tactics

For students, surround yourself with like-minded students who will support your academic goals. The best organizational tactic is to remove all clutter and distractions that do not serve you, support you, or keep you focused on your goals. 

Streamlining surroundings for focused learning

If gaming is a distraction, then remove the console. A clean bedroom is a clean mind. Keep your house clean. If you need to be productive, then schedule time at the library for focused learning, or create a home office for focused work. 

Embracing routines for consistency. 

Once you take inventory of your goals and priorities, and take accountability for your learning differences, then what’s next is to create and consistently embrace the routines that take care of each day. We climb mountains one step at a time! Break life down into manageable parts.

Customized Learning Approaches

The key to overcoming a learning disability is to customize your approach to learning. Learning styles refer to the different ways individuals prefer to process and retain information. While there are various models and theories about learning styles, one of the most widely recognized is the VARK model, which categorizes learning styles into four main types:

  • Visual Learners (V):
  • Auditory Learners (A):
  • Reading/Writing Learners (R):
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners (K):

Regardless if you are a visual learner, auditory learner, or kinesthetic learner, it’s best to incorporate as many as possible in the learning process.  

Experimenting with diverse methodologies.

It’s important to note that you will not fit neatly into one specific learning style category. Many people exhibit a combination of these styles, and their preferences may vary depending on the subject matter and context. The goal is to experiment with what works and incorporate a variety of styles in order to engage as much of the cognitive faculties as possible. 

The Emotional Impact: Stress and Learning Disabilities

A stressed man showing the emotional impact of learning difficulties of a person with ADHD.

There is good stress and bad stress.  Some levels of stress can be motivating and help individuals stay focused and alert. This is known as “eustress.” However, chronic or excessive stress, often referred to as “distress,” is generally detrimental to the learning process.  Bad stress can feel overwhelming and have an unintended emotional impact

  • Impaired Memory: Stress hormones like cortisol can interfere with the formation and retrieval of memories, making it more difficult to recall information during exams or when needed.
  • Reduced Motivation: When individuals associate learning with stress or negative emotions, they may become less inclined to engage in educational activities.
  • Impact on Decision-Making: Stress can lead to impulsive decision-making and poor judgment, which can affect the choices individuals make regarding their learning strategies and priorities.

Emotional and Social Challenges

Distress can lead to emotional disturbances such as anxiety, frustration, and irritability. These emotions can interfere with a person’s ability to focus and engage in the learning process. Chronic stress can also contribute to feelings of burnout and disengagement from learning and other life endeavors. Prolonged periods of frustration and irritability can lead to social isolation and impact relationships with colleagues and loved ones. 

Navigating feelings of isolation or misunderstanding.

To prevent social isolation, distress, and feelings of burnout, it’s important to have some consistent strategies to manage your learning disability, promote mental well-being, and support positive social interactions.  Try to nurture a Growth Mindset.  Embrace the challenges, persist through failure, cultivate self-compassion, and celebrate achievements. 

Coping and Support Mechanisms

Laughter and humor are wonderful coping strategies amidst the stressors of life: The ability to laugh at yourself can be a powerful coping strategy. People with LD and neurodiverse challenges have indicated that it was an “important catharsis” in relieving stress, anxiety, and frustration for themselves and those around them. 

Be proactive in your plan for seeing external validation, support, and guidance. Don’t wait until life gets overwhelming. Remember that you are not alone. Reach out to educators, tutors, therapists, and support networks for guidance and assistance. There are often resources and accommodations available to help individuals with learning disabilities.

Engaging in self-care and mindfulness exercises.

Being prepared to take on the challenges of the day requires having proactive and consistent self-care strategies such as positive sleep hygiene, diet, and exercise. There is no better feeling than a good night’s sleep. Consider adding to your morning or afternoon routine exercise, like running or yoga. Mindfulness training is another significantly helpful self-care strategy. 

  • Greater Compassion and Empathy: Mindfulness can lead to increased compassion and empathy for oneself and others. This can improve relationships and support networks, which are vital when facing challenges.
  • Enhanced Coping Skills: Mindfulness equips individuals with tools to manage difficult situations. By being present, accepting, and non-judgmental, people can approach challenges with a more balanced perspective and a calmer disposition.
Get a Free Screening Call with Dr. David Murphy

Triumph Over Trials: Success Stories of Adults with Learning Disabilities

It’s helpful to know that you are not alone and there are others who have overcome similar challenges posed by learning disabilities to achieve remarkable success in various aspects of their lives. These stories serve as inspirational reminders that with determination, support, and the right strategies, individuals with learning disabilities can excel and achieve their goals.

Real-life Inspirations

David Goggins (Learning Challenges and Dyslexia): David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL, ultramarathon runner, and motivational speaker, faced various learning challenges during his school years, including dyslexia and a stutter. He struggled academically and had a difficult upbringing. However, Goggins made a life-changing decision to push his limits and challenge himself physically and mentally. He lost a significant amount of weight, became a Navy SEAL, completed numerous ultra-endurance races, and set multiple world records.

Goggins’ story is a testament to the power of determination and relentless self-improvement. He shows that regardless of early setbacks and learning difficulties, individuals can redefine their limits and accomplish extraordinary feats through sheer willpower and resilience. His message of “taking souls” and overcoming adversity resonates with teenagers and anyone seeking motivation to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

Thomas Edison (Dyslexia): Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history, had learning difficulties and was likely dyslexic. He faced multiple setbacks throughout his education, as traditional schooling methods did not suit his learning style. Despite his challenges, Edison was a relentless experimenter and inventor, holding over a thousand patents, including the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and the motion picture camera.

Edison’s story serves as a timeless inspiration for teenagers and individuals of all ages. It highlights how creativity, determination, and a willingness to embrace unconventional approaches can lead to groundbreaking achievements. Edison’s inventions revolutionized the world and underscore the idea that learning challenges do not have to limit one’s potential for greatness.

Keira Knightley (Dyslexia): Keira Knightley, the famous British actress known for her roles in movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Pride & Prejudice,” has dyslexia. She faced challenges in school due to her reading difficulties but pursued her passion for acting. Knightley’s success in the film industry serves as an example of how teenagers can excel in creative fields, even with a learning disability.

The Role of Determination and Perseverance

These examples are reminders that Determination and perseverance are critical factors in overcoming a learning disability. 

Analyzing common themes among successful individuals.

They play several vital roles in helping individuals with learning disabilities achieve success  LDs often come with setbacks and challenges. Determination and perseverance enable individuals to bounce back from failures and setbacks rather than becoming discouraged or giving up. This resilience is essential for maintaining a positive attitude and continuing to work toward academic and personal goals

Drawing motivation from their resilience.

Determination and perseverance drive individuals to seek help, advocate for themselves, bounce back from setbacks, and consistently work toward their goals. These qualities are essential for building resilience and self-confidence, developing effective strategies, and ultimately achieving success in education and life.