Most people thinking of learning disorders and testing as something that happens in childhood. While it is true that most learning issues are identified during that time, it is not uncommon for a diagnosis to be missed. This is particularly true for highly intelligent individuals and/or those who have learned creative ways of working around their learning differences. A lot of times, people don’t realize that the way their brain works is different than others and may be more in line with an actual learning disorder. Another common situation is the belief that one “grows out of” their learning differences by the time they reach adulthood. Again, while they may have developed strategies to minimize the impact of their learning differences or had some type of intervention, learning disorders do not simply disappear over time.
Adults with learning differences show many of the same characteristics as their younger counterparts. Difficulties can occur with reading, writing, spelling, math, organization, attention, and other aspects of executive functioning. These issues may be subtle in presentation but lead to a great deal of interference in one’s functioning, particularly at work. Learning differences can also impact social relationships and one’s life at home. In the absence of mental health issues, unexplained problems at work and in life may be due to undiagnosed learning differences. It is very common for adults with suspected learning issues to feel as though they have not “lived up to my potential.” This inevitably contributes to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, as well as feelings of helplessness about the ability to improve the situation on their own.
With suspected learning disorders, it is important to get a formal evaluation to confirm the diagnosis. This process involves testing and interviews to learn more about one’s history and current abilities. Unfortunately, due to the nature of these issues, a simple visit to one’s doctor is not sufficient for diagnosis. Once diagnosed with formal documentation, an adult with learning differences can apply for accommodations at work or implement new strategies to help them overcome their challenges. This process can also be validating in understanding that one is not “stupid” or “incompetent,” but simply has a difference in the way their brain processes information.