Found out I have a learning disability and a high IQ, what do?
September 23, 2014 3:57 PM   Subscribe

My basic question concerns what I should do with my life, or how to find that out for myself. I'm 29 years old, have been in and out of colleges and tech schools my whole life and recently discovered that despite having a 130+ IQ I have a "massive and crippling" visual processing learning disability. I know I have the potential to do something great/interesting/satisfying with my life, so how do I get there?

My previous failures in life acutely explained by the results of my evaluation and following interview I find myself lost and struggling with regards to career and life path. While my therapist assures me there is an ocean of help within the academic community now that my disability has been officially documented I find myself struggling to see the value of going back to school, especially given the current job climate (what does a BA REALLY get you?). That being said, how else to prove oneself worthy of a job given a history of academic failings and no real job history to speak of? Having no strong interests or passions in my life, how do I decide where to go next?

If you follow the link and scroll down to "A closer look at 'twice-exceptional' Learners" that pretty much describes me and my life to a T.

Other possibly relevant info:

I am currently on meds for ADD but given this new information I'm not sure I should stay on them.
I also have dysthymia, but at this point in my life, isn't that expected given my situation?
I am married and the homemaker in the relationship. We don't currently face any financial hardship because of my lack of employment but its obviously a huge barrier to what we want in life and the main source of frustration and anxiety in my life.
posted by deadwater to Education (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A BA gets you in the door.

Also, learning is fun! Once you get coaching and strategies for your LD, you may find that you get fired up about something. Go back to school and take classes that sound interesting, or seem fun. Dip your toes in!

What if you could work with kids in Occupational Therapy to overcome similar issues? Or Special Education?

Could you be a nurse, physical therapist, or some other health care professional? Those are decent careers and can give you great flexibility, with part time or flexible hours. Great pay too.

You have to get past the depression to really FEEL what things are fun and interesting to you, and that will give you insight as to what kinds of work you might like to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:25 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

My kid sister has a similar learning disability situation*, and after lots of bouncing around, found her way towards audiology and working with kids with disabilities. It suits her temperament and her interests. Which is not to say that's what you should do, only that there's things you can do.

Your therapist is right about there being help, by the way...however, it may require actually being registered, and possibly more testing. My sister found over a number of years what sorts of tools and techniques were helpful for her in school. It may take you a while to do the same.

This is kinda second hand advice, because it's through my sister over the last 20 years, but I want you to be able to believe in yourself and be able to do what you feel moved to do. Good luck.

* Some sort of visual processing issue, I know that for sure; in 4th grade they discovered that she couldn't read, and was only wearing glasses because she'd mis-identified the letters in the chart!
posted by epersonae at 4:34 PM on September 23, 2014

Having a "high IQ" is basically like saying you have "the best hair" and is meaningless in every sense, so a good first step would be to not identify yourself with it too much.

For the most part, colleges and universities are built around reading, analysis, and rote memorization. What I would do is find something to do with your hands. A craft, an art, or a trade. Given your situation, I submit you would get more satisfaction out of creating something tangible, than I decreasing the visible white space on a computer screen, which is 90% of work these days.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:47 PM on September 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Mitigate the disability, return to school with a plan, succeed more in life.
posted by Angleton at 5:32 PM on September 23, 2014

Response by poster: re: turbid

I mention my IQ because it was

A: News to me
B: Part of my evaluation and I assumed it was relevant

anywho, just replying to nip the "stop identifying with your IQ" line of replies in the bud, its about the only thing friends and family have come back at me with when reaching out for help and obviously it has had little to do with where my life has gone.
posted by deadwater at 5:37 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find myself struggling to see the value of going back to school, especially given the current job climate (what does a BA REALLY get you?). That being said, how else to prove oneself worthy of a job given a history of academic failings and no real job history to speak of?

A BA is useful for two things:

1. It qualifies you for a broad range of middle-class entry-level jobs. If you get a technical/engineering degree, it might be enough to get you into a mid-range job, even.

2. It allows you to go on to grad school and establish an expertise *even in a poor job market.* That allows you to switch careers much more easily, to break into new fields much more easily, and also allows you to keep progressing even if you don't have a job right now.

OK really, three things:

3. Now that you know where your deficits really are, you can come up with plans to compensate for them. And not in the ad hoc kind of way that you came up with as a kid, but in a guided, thought-out way. That means you've got a chance for much greater success in school now than you did before. How would you feel if you went to school and got onto the Dean's list? How would that affect your self-image? Judging by your reaction to the IQ test results, it would do a lot to increase your confidence and change you self-image quite a bit. That's important!

I disagree that you have to just cast the IQ test results aside. IQ test results are not necessarily meaningful for everybody, but when you've feared and maybe even been told that you're stupid or lazy for your whole life, getting a (fairly reliable and widely known!) test result back that says that you're actually *smart* but have a learning disability is understandably going to be a big deal. I agree that you shouldn't bring up your IQ results explicitly with anyone, because for some reason it's considered gauche to do that, but I don't think that you have to "forget" that you were just reassured that you actually have a great capacity to learn, and that what's been holding you back isn't that you're stupid or lazy or any other value judgement about your character or mental capacity, it's that you have a visual processing disorder.

Having no strong interests or passions in my life, how do I decide where to go next?

Have you gotten your gen eds out of the way? If not, that's the place I'd start (at the community college, because public schools are going to be more accommodating, because that's a pretty cheap/low-risk way to go, and because if things go well, you'll want to transfer to a four-year school eventually and community college systems usually have transfer agreements with four-year universities in-state). And yes, I would aim for a BA.

It depends on what credits you already have under your belt, but you probably don't have to declare yet, so I wouldn't worry too much about "finding a passion" or anything like that right away. Just take a couple classes that appeal and seem like they'd fit together well, and try out the new techniques you'll be learning to compensate for your LD. Imo, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to school, or to big life changes in general, so try not to force yourself into making Major Life Decisions before you've even had a chance to adjust your work style to compensate for your LD or before you've even had a chance to settle back into being a student.
posted by rue72 at 5:46 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and yes, wherever you go to school, get into contact with the disability office. They're the department that's likely to be able to guide you through what steps you have to take w/r/t documentation and accommodations.
posted by rue72 at 5:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I decreasing

"in decreasing", I meant.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:50 PM on September 23, 2014

What should you do? Well, what do you want to do? The libraries are full of stories of peoplwho overcame disabilities. Start with your interests.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:03 PM on September 23, 2014

I also have dysthymia, but at this point in my life, isn't that expected given my situation? Dysthymia may not be surprising in your situation, it is certainly not automatic. In any case, dysthymia can be insidious and very hard to shake without help. If you are feeling hopeful and energized in response to this diagnosis then I would won't worry about it. But if you reaction to all this advice is that everything seems too hard and probably won't work then I would consider seeking out help for the dysthymia. (That said, you don't have to wait to fix the mood disorder before you do anything else but you will need to be gentle with yourself if you find it harder than seems reasonable to get anything done. )

I would also suggest the book I Could Do Anything if Only I Knew What It Was but Barbara Sher. It is full of practical, positive, supportive advice with specific exercises to help you figure out what you might want to do. I really liked the book even though it didn't directly lead me to a new career.
posted by metahawk at 7:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dig deep into what your specific learning disabilities are, and what you are GOOD at.

You've probably spent a large part of your life failing at things when you've tried to do it the same way as other people. It's time to stop trying to do things the same way as other people, and figure out what works for YOU.

Without any details as to your specific Visual processing learning disability, I can't offer specific tips, but - if it involves reading, can you instead use text to speech readers?
And, with audio, if you're listening for information only, feel free to play it at 1.5x speed or more, if that gets you through the information faster.

Learn what doesn't work for you, and in a way - give up on trying to do it that way! Do it in the way that you've learned is best for you. For myself, I no longer try to estimate time for travel distances without checking a website, or predict my availability without checking a calendar - thinking I can do those things, gets me into trouble, accepting that I need to be aware of these, lets me act as a functional adult.

Think of alternative ways to face those challenges, and start making accomodations for your own life. From there, figure out what you prefer to do.

Depression can lead on from repeated failures in life, it definitely has for me, but keep on treating it with a two pronged approach - treat dysthemia, AND change your life.

If you are thinking about going back to Uni - dig out the details of the last class you had, and plan out how you would treat it differently, knowing what you know now. How would you allocate your time, how would you study?
You may feel more confident about making a choice once you have a realistic idea of how things will be different this time. If you can think of major changes about how you would react, then, there's no point doing the same thing the same way, and expecting different results.

There is something very freeing, when you stop trying to live according to your expectations of what you SHOULD be able to do, and start living in ways that you can actually manage.
A lot of it is pride. I shouldn't HAVE to need reminders, and alarms, and friends to check in, and a spare wallet, etc, etc, etc - but I do. And growing up is accepting that, and using the tools that you need, to assist and compensate for any problems you have.
posted by Elysum at 10:11 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm a special ed teacher and suggest you read about VPD before you freak out, because I've got tons of kids with the same thing and I think you're wildly overreacting.

Basically, visual processing disorders mean that a person struggles with seeing similarities and differences in patterns, colors, shapes and objects, or finding specific information when given a wall of text.

Basically, people with this issue aren't great at reading maps.

That's about it. If you have trouble reading, then get large print books and use a ruler to open up one line at a time. Or listen to mp3s.

A VPD is truly not a big deal at all and it shouldn't interfere in your life plans in any way, seriously, unless you wanted a career as a cartographer or possibly an architect.
posted by kinetic at 2:45 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Gifted" adult with a visual processing disorder, here. As a highly verbal person, I never realized VPD was a thing until I hired an cognitive educational psychologist to do a battery of tests a few years ago. Learning this about myself was a revelation and gave me some insight into why various tasks and tests have been difficult for me all my life. I believe kinetic's response above is both correct and incorrect, in that having a visual processing disorder has not kept me from going to a good college, succeeding professionally, etc. However, it did affect my self esteem, and being able to put a name on the deficit has been very helpful for me. It might sound stupid, but I felt bad about everyday things like not being able to efficiently fit packages the trunk of a car or read a map, or not being able to understand a calendar as quickly as my colleagues.

The educational psychologist had a number of suggestions for improving this skill area, and it definitely can be improved. There are exercises you can do at home, including drawing exercises you could do with a small whiteboard. There are special glasses that can help. I wound up realizing I needed regular ol' computer reading glasses, which have helped tremendously. He wanted me to do cognitive feedback therapy, which is expensive and time consuming but as I understand it, can be quite effective. For me, just being aware that I lag behind in this area has been very helpful. I just take extra time to do the tasks that are difficult for me, and since then, it has been very little problem at all.
posted by Lieber Frau at 3:14 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might be helpful to take some sort of test like CPI 260 or the Strong Interest Inventory, which could help you identify careers you would enjoy or be good at. They've been of help to me in identifying possible avenues of study for a mid-life career change.
posted by k8oglyph at 7:45 AM on September 24, 2014

I disagree with the suggestion that VPD only affects you if it is in reading maps and so on. My child's educational psychologist said that she often hears this from teachers, even special ed teachers, but that it can really affect a person's ability to read, look at pictures, watch something being demonstrated, read a Powerpoint or overhead in class, etc. However, there are lots of strategies you can use to help overcome your LD. I have worked with many people in senior roles and in university (including A students) who have LDs, including gifted with LDs. The key is to have the right supports and accommodations and to keep practicing to strengthen your skills.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:40 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was reacting to the overstatement of a VPD as "massive and crippling." It shouldn't be crippling.

There are a few strategies we use with students that you can try that can help train your brain to focus on one thing at a time. Like I noted, practice reading texts one line at a time.

Auditory reinforcement also helps. Say you're in the grocery store and you need to visually discriminate where the peanut butter is (which is something a person with VPD would find difficult). You talk yourself through the process: "I'm looking at the bottom shelf from left to right and it's not there; now let me go up to the next shelf and look left to right, etc." until you find it. The process of building neural connections gets stronger with verbal reinforcement.

Word search puzzles can help. Start at one corner, and talk yourself through as you look for the first letter in the word, then circle around the found letter and search for the second letter, etc. Talk yourself through the process.

We also have students play a lot of Tetris. Tetris helps a lot.

There are a lot of things you can do to work with this. Please don't feel like it's going to cripple you.
posted by kinetic at 4:30 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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