The Biggest Secret About Learning Disabilities?

We don’t outgrow dyslexia, ADHD, dysphonia, speech or visual impairments. They’re not shirts or jackets, they’re genes.

Funny how most people are just getting the memo about this: Adults have learning differences. That’s right — the 1 in 5 children diagnosed with learning differences — dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, sensory processing and language disorders and more — grow up to be the people sitting next to you on the bus, at the conference table, in the doctor’s office, at the ballpark and in the parking lot at your child’s school. In fact, many of those adults discovered they were living with a learning disorder when their child was diagnosed with one. Learning disorders and many mental health issues are inherited.

Being a slow reader or a clunky-sentence writer, an over-talker or a mental math fumbler may sound like a small issue. Who doesn’t have trouble with language, public speaking or math at some point? Right, but the problem is that diagnosed learning differences—the kind that are a pervasive, vexing part of 1 in 5 adult’s lives — are no small thing. And they are not something most adults feel comfortable discussing at work.

We’ve all worked in jobs where we are cool with saying: “Don’t ask me. I’m not the math wizard here.” But I don’t know anyone who would feel comfortable telling the boss on the day of a big presentation: “Sorry, sir, we didn’t include that slide because I couldn’t do the math and I didn’t know who to ask for help.”

You’re a grown up. You have a job to do. And if possible, you’d like to keep that job so you can feed your two children and pay rent. This is where it gets tricky. For the 1 in 5 adults with learning disabilities, what’s the answer? Fess up or fumble along?

I don’t have the answer. But I do have a kid entering college and at some point, the work force, and I’d like him to be able to more than manage his learning challenges. I want him to succeed.

What would you tell an 18 year old about revealing his learning disability to a boss or co-workers? If you’re the boss, what have you done to make these 1 in 5 people feel supported at work? Think about it the next time you ‘onboard’ someone or if you are a parent, the next time you ask for accomodations for your child at school. Someday they’ll be sitting at a big-boy or girl desk and there will be no extra time for reading comprehension or a special keyboard. Or will there? You decide. You make the difference.

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