When adults suspect they have a learning disability, or that someone they care about does, they need information. They often have questions such as: What can I do? Whom can I call? How can I obtain information? Where are available services?
Assessing the Problem
Those adults who suspect they may have a learning disability can begin to find assistance by having an assessment conducted by qualified professionals. Qualified professionals are individuals trained to conduct assessments. Often the professionals have been certified to select, administer, and interpret a variety of neurological, psychological, educational, and vocational assessment instruments.
Different assessment procedures may be appropriate in various settings such as community colleges, adult basic education programs, and through vocational rehabilitation agencies. It is important for the adult not only to be actively involved in the assessment process, but also to have confidence in the professional with whom he or she is working.
An assessment refers to the gathering of relevant information that can be used to help an adult make decisions, and provides a means for assisting an adult to live more fully. An adult is assessed because of problems in employment, education, and/or life situations. An assessment involves more than just taking tests. An assessment includes an evaluation, a diagnosis, and recommendations.
The first stage of an evaluation is usually a screening. Screening tools use abbreviated, informal methods to determine if an individual is at risk for a learning disability. Examples of informal methods include, but are not limited to: an interview; reviews of medical, school, or employment histories; written answers to a few questions; or a brief test. It is important to understand, however, that being screened for a learning disability is different from undergoing a thorough evaluation. When conducting a thorough evaluation, qualified professionals may first refer to the results of the screening in order to plan which tests to administer. Such tests may include, but are not limited to, those that provide information on intelligence, aptitude, achievement, and vocational interests. During the evaluation stage of the assessment process, all relevant information about an individual should be gathered.
A diagnosis is a statement of the specific type of learning disability that an individual may have, based on an interpretation of the information gathered during the evaluation. A diagnosis serves a useful purpose if it explains an individual's particular strengths and weaknesses, as well as determines eligibility for resources or support services that have not been otherwise available. Through a careful examination and analysis of all the information gathered during the evaluation, qualified professionals use the diagnostic stage of the assessment process to explain the information gathered and to offer recommendations.
Recommendations should provide direction in employment, education, and daily living. Specific recommendations may be made regarding the instructional strategies which an individual will find most successful, as well as other ways to compensate for and/or overcome some of the effects of the disability. Based on specific strengths and areas for development identified during the evaluation and diagnostic stages of the assessment process, recommendations should also suggest possible accommodations that an individual can use to be more successful and feel less frustrated in everyday life.
Adults should be assessed according to their age, experience, and career objectives. This is the only way appropriate, helpful, and conclusive information can be provided to adults. As a result of an assessment, adults will have new information that can help them plan how to obtain the assistance they need. Regardless of their diagnosis, individuals will know more about themselves, have a greater understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and feel better about themselves.
Locating a Qualified Professional
In addition to the resources listed here, there are agencies in most areas that can refer inquirers to diagnosticians or professionals qualified to conduct assessments appropriate for adults. Check your telephone directory for the following:
- Learning Disabilities Association of America, often listed with the name of the city or county first
- adult education in the public school system
- adult literacy programs or literacy councils
- community mental health agencies
- counseling or study skills center at a local college or university
- educational therapists or learning specialists in private practice
- guidance counselors in high schools
- International Dyslexia Association
- private schools or institutions specializing in learning disabilities
- special education departments and/or disability support service offices in colleges or universities
- state Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
- University-affiliated hospitals
Questions to Ask Qualified Professionals
- Have you tested many adults with learning disabilities?
- How long will the assessment take?
- What will the assessment cover?
- Will there be a written and an oral report of the assessment?
- Will our discussion give me more information regarding why I am having trouble with my job or job training, school, or daily life?
- Will you also give me ideas on how to improve my skills and how to compensate for my disability?
- Will the report make recommendations about where to go for immediate help?
- What is the cost? What does the cost cover?
- What are possibilities and costs for additional consultation?
- Can insurance cover the costs? Are there other funding sources? Can a payment plan be worked out?
A Learning Disabilities Checklist
A checklist is a guide. It is a list of characteristics. It is difficult to provide a checklist of typical characteristics of adults with learning disabilities because their most common characteristics are their unique differences. In addition, most adults exhibit or have exhibited some of these characteristics. In other words, saying yes to anyone item on this checklist does not mean you are a person with a learning disability. Even if a number of the following items sound familiar to you, you are not necessarily an individual with a learning disability. However, if you say that's me for most of the items, and if you experience these difficulties to such a degree that they cause problems in employment, education, and/or daily living, it might be useful for you to obtain an assessment by qualified professionals experienced in working with adults with learning disabilities.
There are many worthwhile checklists available from a number of organizations. The following checklist was adapted from lists of learning disabilities' characteristics developed by the following organizations: Learning Disabilities Association of America, For Employers... A Look at Learning Disabilities, ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, Examples of Learning Disability Characteristics; The International Dyslexia Association's Annals of Dyslexia; and the Council for Learning Disabilities, Infosheet.
While individuals with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence, they do not excel in employment, education, and/or life situations at the same level as their peers. Identified characteristics are as follows:
- May perform similar tasks differently from day to day.
- May read well but not write well, or write well but not read well.
- May be able to learn information presented in one way, but not in another.
- May have a short attention span, be impulsive, and/or be easily distracted.
- May have difficulty telling or understanding jokes.
- May misinterpret language, have poor comprehension of what is said.
- May have difficulty with social skills, may misinterpret social cues.
- May find it difficult to memorize information.
- May have difficulty following a schedule, being on time, or meeting deadlines.
- May get lost easily, either driving and/or in large buildings.
- May have trouble reading maps.
- May often misread or miscopy.
- May confuse similar letters or numbers, reverse them, or confuse their order.
- May have difficulty reading the newspaper, following small print, and/or following columns.
- May be able to explain things orally, but not in writing.
- May have difficulty writing ideas on paper.
- May reverse or omit letters, words, or phrases when writing.
- May have difficulty completing job applications correctly.
- May have persistent problems with sentence structure, writing mechanics, and organizing written work.
- May experience continuous problems with spelling the same word differently in one document.
- May have trouble dialing phone numbers and reading addresses.
- May have difficulty with math, math language, and math concepts.
- May reverse numbers in checkbook and have difficulty balancing a checkbook.
- May confuse right and left, up and down.
- May have difficulty following directions, especially multiple directions.
- May be poorly coordinated.
- May be unable to tell you what has just been said.
- May hear sounds, words, or sentences imperfectly or incorrectly.
As mentioned previously, an adult with learning disabilities may exhibit some of these characteristics, but not necessarily all of them. If an individual exhibits several or many of these characteristics to such a degree that they cause problems in work, school, or everyday life, he or she might benefit from an assessment by a qualified professional.
This article was adapted from information developed by a consortium of agencies devoted to serving adults with learning disabilities. For additional information, go to http://lincs.ed.gov/.