by Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.
The daily demands and forces that affect adults, though different
from those affecting children, are nonetheless significant. From
the perspective of learning disabilities we all agree that children
with learning disabilities grow up to be adults with learning disabilities.
The consequences of their learning disability, however, change.
The arena shifts from school to work and community. The implications
become more significant. The child with learning disabilities may
rely on family and school for support. The adult with learning disabilities,
however, often struggles to find a support system. Therefore adults
with learning disabilities may be at increased risk to develop emotional
problems and specific psychiatric disorders as a consequence of
their learning disability in the adult years.
Professionals need to recognize the logical consequence of increased
feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, lower self-esteem and lack
of assertive skills that arise as the result of living day in and
day out with a handicapping disability, particularly one that for
many adults with learning disabilities, was either inadequately
identified or not identified, and was even less likely to have been
treated. I urge my fellow mental health clinicians, counselors and
advocates to do the following:
- Recognize and accept that a child with a learning disability
grows up to become an adult with a learning disability.
- Listen carefully to what our clients and patients say.
- Obtain careful childhood histories, as those individuals with
learning disabilities and psychiatric problems in childhood likely
continue to have both problems in adulthood.
- Do not assume that all individuals with histories of learning
disabilities will experience emotional problems but recognize
that all will be affected to some extent.
- Reasonably assume that most individuals with learning disabilities
have had a much more difficult life course emotionally and are
more likely to experience feelings of low self-esteem.
- Adults with learning disabilities can and do experience more
life and vocational problems than others. For some, these problems
are invasive and intrusive. For others, they are fairly subtle.
- Many individuals with learning disabilities use other strengths
to compensate for their disabilities and develop a variety of
coping strategies, allowing them to function well in every day
- Listen carefully when taking a history. An undiagnosed learning
disability may, in some individuals, represent a significant variable
to explain the course of reported emotional problems.
With increased community acceptance and recognition that learning
disabilities represent a life time phenomenon, medical, mental health
and educational professionals are going to find themselves supporting
and treating more and more of these individuals. As adult learning
disabilities become popular, these individuals are also excellent
targets for the marketing of all kinds of fads, mythical treatments,
and unproven remedies.
Knowledgeable professionals can offer their patients and clients
a powerful sense of hope by being available and providing accurate
information, understanding, and support. Although much of the science
in adult learning disabilities remains in the future, common sense
and clinical judgment can offer great help today.
This article appeared in the July-August 1998 issue of LDA
Newsbriefs, the newsletter of the Learning Disabilities Association.
Newsbriefs is published six times a year and is a benefit of LDA