Adult diagnosis of a learning disability and where to go from here
May 15, 2008 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Adult diagnosis of a learning disability and where to go from here

I have always sensed that something wasn't right with my brain. I'm really smart and have excellent verbal skills but always found myself to be a slow learner. This has been very frustrating for both me and for my supervisors. Consequently, I've been an “underachiever” in life and have developed bad anxiety.

Fast forward a few years... neuropsychological testing revealed a significant (but narrow) learning disability. It's not quite ADD but has some overlap, as I have a short attention span as well as difficulty with organization and information presented verbally. I also have an “inefficient” learning style, which was described as poor cognitive strategies for grouping information in order to learn more effectively. According to the testing, I often miss the “big picture.”

As an adult with already poor self esteem due to these problems, my question is, where to go from here? Although it's a relief to have an explanation for my difficulties and to find out that my IQ is indeed very high (despite my underachievement), since I’m no longer a student I don’t know how to find support services or learn what learning/organizational strategies would be helpful. It's also hard to know who to share this information with (e.g. employers, friends) and when.

I would like to learn how to best compensate my weaknesses because I find that they present a significant barrier to my career advancement and satisfaction, as well as my feelings about myself. (They also affect me socially since I do miss the big picture sometimes; this usually leaves me feeling a bit "out of sync” with others.)

I’d be really interested to hear from others who had a similar experience of dealing with a later-life diagnosis of LD and how you coped. I worry that I may never be able to achieve the career performance that I desire, and this makes me really upset because I am well educated and a very hard worker and have very high goals for myself.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, you sound so much like me, but I never thought to wonder if I might have something like ADD.

You have a concise grasp of the situation, and you express yourself beautifully. I definitely understand and identify with the pain you're going through professionally and socially, and I don't discount or dismiss it.

I'm not sure how you would compensate for your weaknesses in any specific way, though there might be books on it for people with ADD (I realize you didn't say you definitely have that). And heaven knows there are lots of resources for Asperger folks (I lean that way), if you thought that might be part of the picture.

Mainly I want to say I sympathize, because I endure the same sense of disconnect in my daily life. The pain of feeeling different and apart--but in such a vague way that you can't pin it down--is real, and it doesn't necessarily go away.

Now that I've cheered you up, I just want to throw something on the table: maybe you don't need to change. I can tell just from what you posted here that you're a concise, thoughtful, expressive and moving writer. If you were to pursue writing as a career, for instance, the quirks and vagaries of cognition and social disconnection that you describe might be subsumed in what you're doing, so that they're entirely unimportant. It's also possible they might even become a part of what you create.

It takes guts to be an artist, and it's not everyone's calling. But if I were you, I'd consider it. And you'll find if you read the biographies of artists, intellectuals, scientists and other high achievers, that most of them had social and cognitive quirks (if not outright disabilities). Don't feel that what you're suffering from is necessarily an obstacle (I know it's easier said than done). I wouldn't want to see someone with your talent try to squeeze yourself into a mold that doesn't suit you.

God, I hope you don't think that sounds like something your mother would say. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "Be yourself!" But I just want to float the idea that maybe there's nothing significantly wrong with you. Just try on a different attitude about it, just for a single day. Something like: If other people don't get me, to hell with them.

Looking forward seeing the responses of other Mefites.
posted by frosty_hut at 1:16 PM on May 15, 2008

Forgive this for being a little bit third-hand, but a while back I was an administrative assistant type at an online graduate school and I happened to end up having some substantive discussions with the disabilities coordinator. I don't know how common this would be but she was a really committed professional and very knowledgeable about the needs of learning disabled students and ways they could be supported. She was a real believer that these kinds of challenges could be overcome for committed learners.

It occurs to me that a lot of people with training and experience in this kind of thing are probably in academia: if you were to do some exploratory calling into academic programs geared towards adult learners you might well be able work your way around to talking to someone whose job it is (at least in part) to know what options are for someone in your position. Obviously you don't have to have the ultimate intent of actually pursuing education, although who knows. At least know that professionals with knowledge about dealing with these things are out there.
posted by nanojath at 1:23 PM on May 15, 2008

ADD - is simply like wearing 2 different colored socks - at all time. You can flaunt your fashion sense, you can set a trend or you can roll your trouser hems all the way to cover them up in shame. Having 2 differently colored socks yeah makes you special - and yeah also may hinder your ability to be accepted in some high brow circles that don't accept the eccentrically uniqueness that you'd bring to the table. But oh well!

Undeniably, it's a challenge to be different, quirky and scattered with your thoughts. It's mightily annoying to be on edge by random phone calls, noises, smells and general stimuli magnified to the nth degree. It's also irritating to constantly be reminded of your *differently colored socks* - all the time by so many people - consistently - to the point of wanting to scream. But therein probably lies the key to being at peace with being quirky and unpredictable. You learn to filter what doesn't serve your best higher interest. You learn to listen to your inner self more, rely on your inner compass more and less on the opinions of others. You become a star unlike the others in your brilliance. You're light years away but your light can be seen by all. So - are your socks ready and mismatched? Cool Now shine!
posted by watercarrier at 1:49 PM on May 15, 2008

Can you ask the people who did the testing for referral to a learnings disability consultant. If not, check out local specialists and ask how much experience they have with adults. (There is more demand for working with children but some will also have expertise with adult issues.) Obviousl, you want them to be familiar with your particular diagnosis.

the more you know about your strengths and weaknesses the better you will get a shifting situations to play to your strengths. For example, I am a strong reader and like to learn by seeing it on paper. I have a truly awful sense of direction so when we first moved to a new town, I bought a street map and figured out all my routes on the map where I could see them and logically figure out which way to go. This also made it much easier to remember. Now I have a navigation system in my car and my lousy sense of direction rarely causes me problems.

You said that you are not good at taking in material presented verbally. So, try to get your co-workers and especially supervisors to send you instruction via email. They may rather do it verbally, but insist that they will get a better response if they send it in an email and then you will follow up with questions.

What about using some of the mind map type software to help you think about bigger problems? Seeing it on paper or on a screen may work much better than just talking it over inside your head.

On the best things for ADD is make lists - break things down into very specific, actionable steps, write them down and check them off. You may still get distracted but you will be much quicker to get back on track.
posted by metahawk at 2:15 PM on May 15, 2008

Disclaimer: I work for the nonprofit that runs this site. I'm on the tech end, so I'm not qualified to answer your questions myself, but I think the following sections could be useful to you.

Resources for Adults with LD (Articles, FAQs, book recommendations, links, etc.)
Published Articles about Adults with LD
Forums for Adults with LD or ADHD

There are many articles about finding support services, organizational strategies, and about when to disclose to employers, etc. I couldn't immediately find anything about later-life diagnosis, but if there isn't anything, I'm sure you could get some support in the forums. The forums are probably a really good place to get answers from people going through similar situations.

I'd ask for my sake, though, that you please be gentle with the forums. They are in dire need of an upgrade to make them more usable and stable; we're aware of the need for improvement and we're working on it. But they're very popular! I think you could get some really good advice from there.
posted by sa3z at 3:19 PM on May 15, 2008

I also discovered I had some narrow-but-significant LDs near the end of university. Part of the way I discovered them, and something which has helped be hugely, has been a casual but consistant research into cognitive psychology. It has helped me to understand the problem and to make up my own coping mechanisms and figure out why I do certain odd things all the time, at which point I can decide whether or not I need to correct them.

@watercarrier: sometimes you benefit from being different, and sometimes it just isn't worth it. I agree that you shouldn't feel you have to change, but sometimes you want to, or yes, even need to in order to attain some other goal. The more you know, the more informed a decision you can make.
posted by sarahkeebs at 9:13 AM on May 16, 2008

I agree that developing some strategies could go a long way toward making you productive in whatever professional area you're in. I recommend meeting with a cognitive strategy/time management tutor who could read your assessment and develop a plan with you for tutoring. Some suggestions on how you might find one:
- I used to teach at a school for adolescents with learning disabilities where a lot of the teachers would tutor adults/children after school.
- The academic resource center at a local university might refer you to services they offer or to a list of tutors. If there's a grad program in special/adult education or developmental psych, there may be grad students looking to tutor for extra money. (I do this now that I'm in grad school.)
- A learning disability/neuropsych department at a large hospital may make referrals to tutors/clinicians.
If you happen to be in the Boston area, I'd be happy to offer specific suggestions.
posted by supramarginal at 2:21 PM on May 16, 2008

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