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Blog #2: What are Learning Disabilities?

Updated: Jul 1

Episode Summary

Everybody has problems and issues that they deal with everyday--but yours are unique. Your life is shaped by a little understood phenemona called "learning disabilities" or LD. There are many types of LD, but the most common is dyslexia. We'll explore these complex topics together in this episode by:

  1. examining the myths and stereotypes about LD and dyslexia

  2. defining what learning disabilities and dyslexia are

  3. exploring how these areas are manifested in your adult life

  4. learn how LD and dyslexia shape experiences in home, work, school and community

  5. give you lots of new ideas, links, and resources to check out on your own


 

Questions about Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia

Do these questions apply to you?

DYSLEXIA:

  1. Do you need to read a sentence or paragraph 3 or 4 times before you "get it"?

  2. Do you mix up letters or forget them entirely when writing?

  3. Do you misspell common words--misspelling them a different way every time?

  4. Do you find yourself reading slower than most people you know?

  5. Do you avoid projects that involve a lot of reading?

DYSCALCULIA:

  1. Do you get anxious when you know that math-related tasks are coming up? For instance, you are asked to discuss your company's quarterly profits or losses?

  2. Do you have problems telling time on an analog clock?

  3. Do you find it difficult to do mental math calculations? For instance, you give incorrect change or a widely inaccurate tip?

  4. Do you forget math facts that everyone else seems to know by heart (e.g., times tables, common formulas, etc.)?

  5. Do you skip numbers or read some backwards when reading a long list?

DYSGRAPHIA:

  1. Do you mix lower and upper case letters when writing?

  2. Do you use incorrect spacing between words or lines of text?

  3. Do you switch randomly between print and cursive?

  4. Do you have trouble filling out forms by hand. For example, at work, school, bank, or doctor's office?

  5. Do you think that the physical act of writing is painful or difficult?

  6. Can you explain yourself clearly when speaking, but not in writing?

  7. Is your handwriting hard to read, even to yourself?

  8. Have you been told that you hold a pen "awkwardly"or "strangely"?

DYSPRAXIA:

  1. Do you have difficulties with self care (e.g., tying shoelaces, fastening buttons, zippers)? What about painting, cutting, or sewing?

  2. Did you have problems learning to ride a bike compared to your peers?

  3. Do you have difficulties with team sports (i.e., football, volleyball, golf, basketball, baseball, bowling, or soccer)?

  4. Do you accidentally bump into objects or often trip over things?

  5. Do you have trouble playing a musical instrument (e.g., guitar, piano, recorder, violin, etc.)?

  6. Have others commented on your poor coordination or call you "clumsy"?

If so, compare this information with any previous documentation about a LD or dyslexia diagnosis......


 

Some Interesting Statistics:

Did you know these facts about learning disabilities and dyslexia?

  • Approximately 30 million adults have dyslexia (ReadingWell, 2020).

  • One in five children in the United States have some type of learning disability (NCLD, 2017).

  • 4% of all children in American schools have been diagnosed with learning disabilities or dyslexia (NCES, 2018). That means over 76.4 million children in the United States have some form of learning disabilities or dyslexia (Taylor, 2018).

  • Research found that only 16.4% of people with disabilities, aged 25 or older, completed at least a bachelor's degree. This is in comparison to 34.6% of students without disabilities who completed at least a bachelor's degree. (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

  • 2.3 million children in American special education have IEPs for learning disabilities (Understood, 2021).

  • Students with learning disabilities drop out of high school at nearly three times the rate of all secondary students. Why is this so? Fifty-seven percent of those students reported hating school and/or poor relationships with teachers or peers (Understood, 2021).

  • People with learning disabilities enroll in four-year colleges at half the rate of the general population. Their college completion rate for any type of college is 41% as compared to 52% of all postsecondary students (Understood, 2021).

  • Approximately 46% of adults with learning disabilities are employed. When compared with all American employees, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed (Understood, 2021).

  • "10-15% of all employees in any industry or business have learning disabilities" (Flynn, 1996). *Note: This is an old statistic--I have been searching for the last 5 years to find credible, definitive statistics on the prevalence of learning disabilities and dyslexia in the workplace. If you find any, please let me know so I can share them with others!

  • In the United States, homeless Americans are significantly more likely to have a learning disability than the general population (Vuleta, 2020).

  • It has been estimated that between 10-40% of all people diagnosed with chemical dependency have dyslexia (Jhanjee, 2015).

  • Also, did you know that: a) Thirty-three per cent of classroom teachers believe that students with learning disabilities are just lazy; b) When asked, 43% of the parents surveyed said that they did not want anyone to know that their child had learning disabilities; and c) Forty-eight per cent of these same parents believe that children will "grow out" of their learning disabilities (Understood, 2021).

  • In terms of getting postsecondary support, 76% or 3/4 of college students with learning disabilities did not self-disclose to anyone in their college that they have learning disabilities. (Gerber & Price, 2005; Great Schools, 2009; Understood, 2021).

  • This is reflected in the workplace where 81% of adults with LD have not self-disclosed to their employers about their learning disabilities or dyslexia (Madaus, 2008; Understood, 2021).

  • Only 5% of employees with learning disabilities receive accommodations on the job (Understood, 2021). Another study found that only 12% of the employees had requested accommodations from their employers (Madaus, 2008).


 

Definitions and Types of Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia

Here's the full National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities Definition of Learning Disabilities. To me, this is the foundation of everything that you will read about and learn in terms of learning disabilities in adulthood:

Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities (for example, sensory impairment, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance), or with extrinsic influences (such as cultural or linguistic differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences.

For more information, see: National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities. (1991). Learning disabilities: Issues on definition. Asha, 33, (Suppl. 5), 18–20 or google this search term: NJCLD definition of learning disabilities.


4 Types of Learning Disabilities

  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a reading and learning disorder where people have problems identifying speech sounds and decoding letters and words. In general, it involves how efficiently the brain processes language (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Examples: Difficulty reading, including reading aloud; slow and labor-intensive reading and writing; problems spelling; avoiding activities that involve reading; mispronouncing names or words; problems retrieving words; trouble understanding jokes/expressions that have a meaning not easily understood from the specific words or idioms, (e.g., "piece of cake" means "easy"); spending an unusually long time completing tasks that involve reading or writing; difficulty summarizing a story; or trouble learning a foreign language.

  • Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia can be defined as a neurological disorder that effects someone's ability to plan or process motor tasks. It may involve language problems, fine or gross mother skills, or difficulties with thoughts and perceptions. It does not affect a person's intelligence (Newman, 2017). Examples: Poor balance, poor posture and fatigue, clumsiness, unclear speech, and perception problems, difficulty completing normal chores, grooming or dressing; problems coordinating both sides of the body, poor eye/hand coordination, difficulty planning thoughts or tasks, lack of rhythm.

  • Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia means a type of learning disability that is based in fine motor skills (e.g., cutting, pasting, coloring, writing, sewing, buttoning a garment, etc.). The primary deficit is in writing, not only in terms of the actual physical act of forming letters, but also related issues with choosing and organizing specific ideas, writing paragraphs, and clearly expressing one's self (Frye, 2021). Examples: illegible handwriting, problems cutting food or manipulating small objects, difficulty drawing, tracing, or cutting, trouble filling out forms, frequently mixes lower with upper case letters, combines print and cursive writing, rambling written communication, misspelled words, incorrect grammar, writing cramps.

  • Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a learning disability based in mathematical processing. It involves both calculations and math reasoning, but can also include problems with telling time and following directions (Frye, 2020). Examples: number-related concepts, sequencing numbers, reasoning/ problem solving with mathematical ideas, counting money, mental calculations, counting backwards and forwards, recalling basic math facts, estimating qualities, connecting numbers & symbols, left/right directions.

*Note: It is important to remember that many types of learning disabilities, like those listed above, go hand-in-hand with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For instance, it has been estimated that 45% or more individuals with learning disabilities will also have ADHD (CHADD, 2017; DuPaul, Gormley, & Larcey, 2012). ADHD can involve a separate screening and diagnosis (see below). Given the complexity of this topic, it will not be addressed in depth here. However, see the references below for more information and ways to address the intricacy of ADHD in adults.

 

SOME MYTHS ABOUT LEARNING DISABILITIES & DYSLEXIA

Have you heard any of these myths or stereotypes about LD?

  • People who have learning disabilities have low cognitive skills and can't learn (PBS Newshour, 2016; Rivas, 2020; Verywellfamily, 2020).

  • You can grow out of your learning disabilities or dyslexia.

  • Learning disabilities only effects school settings.

  • Individuals with learning disabilities are lazy and unmotivated.

  • Students with learning disabilities and dyslexia do not need any more accommodations--they just need to work harder.

  • Learning disabilities can be cured with the "right" medication, vitamins, glasses, or other materials or techniques.

  • Children with learning disabilities or dyslexia will never be successful adults.

*Note: For more information, look at any of these links: Frye, 2021; PBS Newshour, 2016; Rivas, 2020. They are also a good place to start to tell others about your LD or dyslexia.


 

Tips and Tricks from Episode #2

Primary Tip for this Episode: Define your own learning disability


Tip #1: Write your own definition of your learning disability.

Here's some samples to get you started:

Example A: "I have dyslexia. That means I have problems connecting sounds, letters, or words. I'm smart but it takes me longer to decode words and written language."


Example B: "I have a neurological problem that has been with me all of my life. Although I don't know what caused it, but I know it effects my life everyday. For instance, I have lots of trouble with math at home and at school due to my dyscalculia. I also have trouble with calculations and estimates at work."


*Note: If those samples are too long for you, try this short definition: "I have learning disabilities. That means sometimes I may not be good at __________ (you pick one or more: reading, writing, math, spelling, organization, listening, or social skills), but I'm really good at this: ___________________ ."



Tip #2: Journal Your Progress: What is your process?

Here's some places to start journaling--If you're a Mac person, I'd recommend the DayOne app. It's easy, free, and it has lots of multi sensory features. For other apps and IOS users, try one of these: Diaro (best to include images); Journey (best overall layout for a journaling app); Penzu (most secure app); Daylio (if you don't want to write anything); and Momento (use your social media). You can also try the 5 Minute Journal app as a simple way to get you started journaling--and then move to one of the other apps later to really explore in depth your understanding of your own LD or dyslexia.




Tip #3: Get a piece of Survivor Jewelry:

Find something that says something about you and how you survived the battles of your life--and came out stronger in the end. Examples could be: something from your children or grandchildren, family jewelry, a wedding ring, gifts from special friends, a souvenir from a wonderful vacation, a high school or college graduation ring, a sports/competition medal, and so forth. Wear it with pride!


 

Special Topics: LD Screenings and Diagnosis

Perhaps, no topic is more controversial or difficult to tackle than the area of the screening/diagnosis of learning disabilities. Throughout the last four decades, it seems everyone in various states or school districts has an opinion about how to effectively diagnosis someone with suspected LD in a credible way. There's not enough space to adequately discuss all that information in this blog, but here's some key ideas to keep in mind:

  1. You MUST have a legitimate diagnosis of learning disabilities or dyslexia to receive any type of services or accommodations in public schools, postsecondary education or the workplace.

  2. While some screenings are free or cheap, a true diagnostic work-up is often very expensive and rarely covered by health insurance. However, screenings and diagnosis are free if you attend K-12 public education.

  3. ONLY qualified psychologists, educators, and other professionals can diagnose LD or dyslexia. A visit to a doctor's office is NOT sufficient. (See links below for more information + how to find someone in your area.)

  4. A screening is NOT the same thing as a full diagnosis. Just as you can't diagnose pneumonia with only a thermometer, there's not enough information from a simple screening to make a full-blown diagnosis. This is a critical point, because once you have been diagnosed with LD or dyslexia, you will have that diagnosis for life--no matter what your age.

  5. Diagnostic testing should be up-dated annually in public schools, but this timeline changes for adults. For instance, if you request accommodations under the ADA, you will need an evaluation that is no more than three years old. It becomes your responsibility to have that material available.

If you want to know more about a diagnosis or screening for LD or dyslexia, see these links:



 

Articles, Links, and Resources

We've covered a lot of basic information about LD and dyslexia that is the foundation for the rest of the episodes. You probably want to investigate all of this further on your own--or share this information with someone else. So here's a final mix of lots of great resources to get you started:

  • LD Online--One of my all-time, favorite websites. It's jammed packed with lots of useful, easy to understand information about a variety of critical topics. Be sure to check out the section on "Adults with LD". Some of the best minds in the field have written material here--just for you!

  • Understood--One of the biggest websites originally created for parents and children with disabilities. To me, the best part about these folks is that their materials are short and easy to understand. Also, they cover a huge range of related topics. For instance, their materials about LD, dyslexia, and ADHD have great links, simple summaries, and brief case studies.

  • National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities Online-- The NJCLD is the grandaddy of most of the trustworthy, empirically-based knowledge about learning disabilities. If you're looking for up-dated, credible research, links, or theories from the experts, this is the place to start.

  • Learning Disabilities Association of America--LDA is the largest, most comprehensive source for information about learning disabilities in the United States. It focuses on parents, teachers, related professionals, and individuals with LD of all ages. They cover everything from the basics to virtual reality. They have individual state chapters where you can get lots of local information and support. Their conferences are also well done.

  • Job Accommodation Network--Here's my other favorite website. JAN is my "go-to" place for anything about employment and LD or dyslexia. It is unique, as it has great materials specifically written for employers and job settings. Everything is free, easy to understand, and can be use right away. Be sure to look at the accommodations and definitions sections.

  • The International Dyslexia Association--IDA will give you the big picture about dyslexia; both in the United States and abroad. Its website covers the many facets of dyslexia in all of its complexity with useful summaries, FAQ, and stories of adults with dyslexia. Another good place to start.

  • CHADD--To me, this is the everything source about ADHD. It is really thorough and well researched, with incredible sections on adults with ADHD. Be sure to read the sub-sections on "Work", "ADHD Diagnosis", and "Women and ADHD". Again, a winner!

 



References:

TRANSITION CONNECTION

Use your journal to write your own story of your learning disability or dyslexia. Imagine that you're telling this story to someone else or that you're the star in your own movie. Be sure to use lots of details and as much description as you remember when telling your story. You can also use these words as headings to get you started: Who? What? Where? When? and Why?

For instance, talk about when you first realized that you learn differently from others. Or, explain where in the past you had problems due to your LD (i.e., mispronouncing new people's names at work, in the classroom when you couldn't remember new vocabulary words, at home following directions, consistently missing deadlines at school or at work, etc. Here's an example:


My name is _______ and I have dyslexia. My dyslexia means that sometimes I have problems with reading, spelling, mis-pronouncing, or decoding words. So, I'm smart, but I have trouble with connecting written symbols and sounds. I never knew that I had a learning disability until I was a junior in high school--my parents went to all those IEP meetings, but I never knew what they meant. I remember being pulled out of class during elementary school for reading tutoring, but I thought everyone did that who couldn't read. Sometimes the kids would call me "stupid" or "dummy" cause I couldn't read aloud in class, but I just ignored them or hit them later on the playground. Now I know that if I use my accommodations at work or in college, I'm fine. I just need to use them (List here: ___________) so that I can really show my skills and talents as an adult.


 



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2 Comments


robertjioleretills
Feb 24, 2023

Thanks for the interesting article. Our company is constantly improving the software to facilitate the work of the personnel department.

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Linda Price
Linda Price
Feb 26, 2023
Replying to

It was so great to hear from you! Many employers that I've worked with over the years "don't know what they don't know". In other words, they are totally unaware of how many employees, supervisors, clients, etc. they work with everyday who have invisible disabilities. You're one of the good guys--just let me know if there's anything else I can do to help you.....

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