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What Are the Signs of a Learning Disability in Adults?

Nick Mann
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A learning disability is typically defined as a difficulty or inability to take in and process information in ways that most people do naturally. As a result, learning disabilities can lead to a variety of problems with functioning in everyday life. While this problem is often associated with children, many adults struggle with learning disabilities as well. Some of the most common signs of a learning disability in adults include an inability to concentrate, poor memory, difficulty reading and/or writing and difficulty in relationships.

An inability to concentrate and difficulty retaining information is a very common sign of a learning disability in adults. Individuals with this problem often find it hard to focus on the material they are reading or listening to. As a result, they are usually unable to absorb as much information as a person without a learning disability. Since concentrating and digesting information are vital to learning, this inability often leads to other problems that can affect multiple areas in a person's life.

Poor memory is another symptom that typically results from an individual's inability to concentrate. When important information isn't effectively digested by the brain, it can affect a person's overall memory. In turn, what most people consider basic knowledge might seem extremely difficult to recall for a person with a learning disability. Simple tasks like recalling driving directions or setting an alarm clock can be problematic for some adults with these conditions. As one might imagine, memory issues can make navigating through life quite difficult.

Another sign of a learning disability in adults is experiencing trouble with basic reading and writing skills. While most adults will have some difficulty in spelling large or complex words, a person with a learning disability will have problems with basic words. On top of this, he or she will typically have issues with reading books and retaining the information. As a result, it's hard for some adults with a learning disability to construct a solid vocabulary and understand sentence meaning. In turn, this often makes it difficult to communicate with others.

Additionally, individuals with learning disabilities sometimes find it difficult to form and maintain relationships with other people. Since a learning disability in adults makes it difficult to function normally, it often has an isolating effect on people. These problems often begin during childhood and worsen during the transition into adulthood. In many cases, individuals with a learning disability find it hard to read social cues and communicate effectively. As a result, they may have some issues with socialization.

How To Diagnose a Learning Disability in Adults

If you're noticing signs of a learning disability in yourself or a loved one, it's important to understand that a true diagnosis can only come from a licensed professional. For most people, the first person to see is their primary care physician. A physical exam and routine blood work can help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, especially if they have only recently developed or become worse. Some general physicians have training that allows them to diagnose learning disabilities. If not, they can make recommendations or write a referral for an appointment with someone who can help you in this area.

Most likely, you'll need to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, educational therapist, or neuropsychologist to get a true diagnosis for any type of learning disability. There are many other organizations, such as The National Learning Disabilities Association of America or local rehabilitation centers that can also help. You'll discuss your symptoms and overall history with a specialist and schedule testing that helps determine exactly what type of learning struggles you may have.

The type of assessments you'll need will vary based on your symptoms and history. You can likely expect a computer-based test that calculates your responses to a variety of different types of questions. Others may involve written or verbal responses to questions or prompts. If an auditory or visual processing issue is suspected, you may be referred for visual and hearing tests by a physician as well.

Overcoming Learning Disabilities as an Adult

Living with a learning disability at any age can make most of life's everyday activities challenging. For adults, the ability to start a simple task or schedule your weekly calendar is next to impossible when a learning issue is in play. Fortunately, there are many ways to address this type of problem and significantly improve symptoms.

For many people, educational therapy is a successful method for treating learning disabilities. A licensed and trained expert can guide you through a series of specific tasks that are designed to stimulate certain areas of the brain to improve cognitive function. With time, repetition, and a gradual increase in the level of difficulty, you'll likely see a vast improvement in symptoms. With enough training, you'll be able to keep it up on your own, but it's important to stick with these types of exercises for life. Biofeedback, which trains your brain through a series of videos and computer programs has shown to be very beneficial for a variety of issues, including learning disabilities. In some situations, medication can also help.

Common Learning Disabilities in Adults

According to the Learning Disabilities Resources Foundation, the top five learning disabilities for people of all ages are:

  1. Dyslexia: reversing letters when reading or writing; this can lead to trouble with reading comprehension and speed, as well as writing issues
  2. ADHD: trouble focusing and staying on task, often made worse by an inability to regulate moods and actions
  3. Dyscalculia: a math-related learning disability that makes it difficult to understand number sense and the most basic of math rules and calculations
  4. Dysgraphia: the inability to write properly and efficiently
  5. Dyspraxia: motor skill problems, often a result of poor hand-eye coordination

These conditions all require a diagnosis and a treatment plan to help improve symptoms.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nick Mann
By Nick Mann , Former Writer
Nicholas Mann, a professional freelance writer with over a decade of experience, helps clients achieve their goals by creating compelling content that builds authority, boosts exposure, and drives leads and sales. With a relevant degree, he crafts engaging content across a wide range of topics. His ability to understand and communicate complex ideas effectively makes him a valuable contributor to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon1006729 — On May 10, 2022

I've always had issues with certain subjects and other issues since I was at school (I'm 63 now). I am very good with people, my listening skills are excellent (at a counseling type level) and have had items printed and write very well.

As for general knowledge, history or geography, I cannot give or take in directions if there are more than about four points. I know nothing about maths and find anything to do with numbers very difficult. I have issues trying to explain anything that's not really simple. I was asked what I'd learned during my counseling course and I couldn't answer! Yet I seem to just do it. I often feel stupid, but I don't think I am.

I had trauma at 13 when I lost my mum to suicide and my dad at 15 to a sudden heart attack. I often wonder if this had anything to do with it all. I never had any counseling as a child, and I didn't learn the basics at senior school. It's a bit late to get a diagnosis, but I do often wonder these things. I feel sad I haven't felt able to reach my potential.

By Ana1234 — On Jun 02, 2014

It's important to note that sometimes learning difficulties are the result of medication or other lifestyle influences. I have been on anti-depressants for about a year now and I've realized that my concentration has gone completely downhill.

I'm much happier and it is a fair enough trade-off to me, but it took me a while to even recognize that was why I was having difficulty with my writing and even with sleeping.

By KoiwiGal — On Jun 01, 2014

@pastanaga - There is some worth to what you're saying, but on the other hand there are definitely people who have measurable difficulty with particular tasks. I don't think it's a good idea to try and chalk it all up to individual differences, because sometimes you've just got to try and figure out how to work with something. Defining it is the first step. Dyslexia, for example, is a learning disability that can be extremely frustrating until it is identified.

Accepting that you just happen to not be good at reading or writing doesn't address the core problem.

By pastanaga — On May 31, 2014

I don't think it's particularly helpful to think of this as a disability. Everyone learns differently. Everyone is capable of learning in some way. You've just got to figure out which is the best way for you to learn.

It isn't always as simple as that some people learn best when they are reading, and some learn best when they are listening. I've found I learn much more quickly when I'm engaging in discussion. I learned more French in a couple of months spent with a host family than I did in five years of high school lessons. And it was because my host father sat down with me every night with a dictionary and we talked.

I've found the same thing works in a book club. I learned so much more in a relaxed environment where I'm expected to talk, rather than a lecture or in a book.

Nick Mann

Nick Mann

Former Writer

Nicholas Mann, a professional freelance writer with over a decade of experience, helps clients achieve their goals by...
Learn more
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