Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Types of Learning Disabilities That Occur in Adults

Types of Learning Disabilities That Occur in Adults

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Learning disabilities often make seemingly regular activities like reading an email or staying focused in a conversation challenging. Fortunately, innovative programmemes like the day habilitation without walls program by OPWDD offer support and materials to help you thrive.

While LDs are more commonly observed in children, the reality is that almost 15% of the U.S. population has some form of LD. That is to say that one in seven people find it challenging to understand nonverbal cues or tell the time.

So, let’s discuss the different types of learning disabilities in adults and how they can manage their struggles. We will also discuss the telltale signs and share some technology to help thrive in the real world. 

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a neurological condition that impacts a person’s information-processing ability. It also impacts the ability to focus, coordinate movement, or do mathematical calculations. They occur in young children but often go overlooked until they get to school. Although some can have multiple overlapping LDs, the rest have just one of the disabilities.

The main signs of learning disabilities in adults that you should know about

With children, it’s easier to identify the signs of learning disabilities. However, it becomes subtle as they become adults. Here are some of the common signs to look out for:

  • Memory issues. These memory challenges are not limited to missing bits of information. They also include forgetting the position of things and particular occurrences. However, if the memory loss challenges last for a long time and become more regular, seek medical attention. It could be a sign of something more serious.
  • Struggles with reading and writing. When kids struggle to read and write at that young age, it could eventually continue until adulthood. Here you would notice an adult take extra time to read a sentence, type a message, or even spell a word. These are all signs of undiagnosed dyslexia.
  • Struggles with social skills. There are adults who have poor or no socialising skills. These people would see that they do not understand human emotions or connections. So communication with friends and family will suffer. In fact, they’d want to find ways out of appointments so they procrastinate or postpone and stay disconnected.
  • Lack of focus. This is one of the subtle learning disabilities in young adults. Here, adults struggle with extended focus which could be ADHD. Adults could go undiagnosed for years because they’d attribute it to “having a lot on their plate/mind.” The short attention span makes them struggle with finishing one task at a go or following a conversation.
  • Maths problems. Struggles with math problems don’t mean one is not smart, it could be dyscalculia. Dyscalculia causes struggles with math learning, especially with adding or counting numbers or following a series of numbers or telling the time.
  • Struggles with critical thinking and problem-solving. If an adult finds it difficult to solve problems or think critically, that could point to a learning disability. They would often struggle with following directions and get disoriented in complex processes. These may be indications of an LD that should be carefully managed.

7 Types of learning disabilities in adults

Although learning disabilities are commonly noticed during childhood, millions of adults with learning disability still exist. Let’s see the seven most common types of learning disabilities in adults:

1. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a language-processing disorder affecting about 780 million people. It is among the 3 major categories in the list of learning disabilities in adults – dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

It is often difficult to diagnose in adults because they often develop coping mechanisms or other strengths to cover the condition. However, you may notice that they struggle with identifying each sound in a word, causing lifelong struggles with language skills and reading comprehension.

2. Dysgraphia

This affects an individual’s ability to transfer thoughts into written words or drawings. You can see the signs of dysgraphia manifest as poor handwriting, but that’s not all. The transfer also impacts spelling, memory, critical thinking, and grammar. Also, adults with dysgraphia may not space letters properly.

3. Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is often referred to as “maths dyslexia”. It’s like dyslexia but for basic maths problems. Adults with dyscalculia experience difficulty with numbers and math reasoning. Problems involving counting money, time telling, or even remembering math facts and formulas would be a challenge.

4. Auditory processing disorder

Adults with APD issues with decoding and processing sounds. They would struggle with mentally categorizing sounds or understanding the flow of sounds. So, they may misinterpret the sound of a speaker with the sound of a background conversation. The brain of an auditory processing disorder patient confuses the sounds the era collects.

5. Language processing disorder

This is a subcategory of the auditory processing disorder. This learning disability occurs when someone struggles with understanding spoken language. So, it’s a challenge to assign a meaning to a group of sounds that make words or sentences. Thus affecting the ability to receive or express themselves in a language.

6. Nonverbal learning disabilities

The nonverbal learning disability in adults does not refer to an individual’s inability to speak. These patients rather have a hard time understanding nonverbal cues, especially in social circles. They struggle with picking up facial expressions and changes in body language. Additionally, they may not understand a change in tone of voice. For example, sarcasm and every other form of communication that doesn’t involve the use of clear and direct words may not be understood.

7. Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

Adults with a visual perceptual/visual motor deficit display poor hand-eye synchronisation. So, it’s a challenge for the eyes to follow the hand at the same time. This makes it difficult to keep track while reading or navigating their surroundings. They also struggle with fine motor activities that require the use of pencils, crayons, glue, and scissors. There may be some confusion with identifying letters that look similar like “b” and “d.” 

How can we overcome learning disabilities in adults? 

Children with learning disabilities have the support of family and special schools as they learn to read, write, and calculate. But as an adult, that crutch may no longer be available to you. Yet you will be required to deliver on your professional and personal obligations.

So, as an adult with a learning disability, you explore these tips to manage the struggles so they don’t interfere with your overall performance.

Here are some strategies to help adults live and thrive with a learning disability. 

Pay attention to yourself

First of all, have a seasoned psychologist assess you for a learning disability. This will show the right diagnosis of your learning disability so you can get tailored support.

An assessment like that will also provide the proper documentation you can share with the right bodies, like your insurance company and employer.

Gather reliable resources to learn more about your diagnosis. Then develop a schedule to manage your challenges with the knowledge you have garnered.

Also, do not hesitate to speak up for yourself and to ask for help when you need it.

Make your surroundings Supportive 

Speak to your friends, family, and employer about your learning disability. Let them also know the challenges it may pose and how they can help and communicate.

Ask for their understanding and patience with the extra help you may require. You can also share ways for them to provide an inclusive and supportive environment for you. For example, your employer can grant you access to a special tool or piece of software to help you thrive in the workplace.

Explore the use of technology

The new age offers several tools to help individuals with learning disabilities. You can even customise these tools to your desired level. Some of these tools include:

  • Text-to-speech or speech-to-text (for dyslexia)
  • Talking calculators (for dyscalculia)
  • Grammar software, like Grammarly (for dyslexia)
  • Computers, laptops, or tablets to type (for dysgraphia)
  • Computer-assisted instruction that offers feedback and practice (for NVLD)
  • Graphic organisers (for visual perceptual/visual motor deficit)
  • Word prediction software (for APD)
  • Calculators and maths software (for dyscalculia)

Make achievable goals for your development 

Consider your learning disability and set achievable goals for yourself. Make the goals clear and specific. Break down long-term goals into smaller bits so you don’t get overwhelmed. You can also seek the services of an LD professional in your goal-setting.

For example, you could say you want to improve your reading ability. Start small. Get any of the helpful tech tools or online resources. Dedicate maybe one hour each day to studying and practicing. Over time, you will notice a significant improvement in your reading. It would also improve your confidence and self-esteem 

Get helpful resources 

While you may not have the support of a special school as an adult with LD, you can get helpful resources to help you thrive. See some of these available resources here:

  • Learning Disabilities Association of America
  • The Center for Accessible Technology
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • LD Resources Foundation Action

In addition, get resources from local libraries and learning disability programs and organizations


Understanding the signs and types of learning disability in adults will help in your learning journey or in supporting someone you care about. 

Get assessed by a learning disability professional and gather resources to propel your growth. You can also contact us at Gateway Counseling Center. We offer a safe and supportive environment where adults with learning disabilities can thrive.

Our professionals are dedicated to ensuring that you or your loved ones get the highest quality care.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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