Make Your Learning Disability Work for You

Some of the most successful people have learning disabilities because of their determination to persevere. If you or your child has a learning disability there are ways to manage it and turn it into an advantage. The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that approximately 4-6% of school-age children have a learning disability. Since a learning disability is not something you grow out of, a significant segment of the learning disabled population are working adults. In a recent interview, Dr. Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., Director of Professional Services at NCLD, gave valuable insights for learning disabled workers who want to improve their potential in the workplace.

First, if you have a learning disability, Dr. Horowitz suggests that you be prepared to disclose the nature of your disability. While the NCLD is optimistic about greater awareness, there remains a pervasive public misconception about what LD is and what it is not. Many people have heard of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and dyslexia, but that doesn’t mean they understand how it might impact an individual on the job. Some employers may assume that a learning disability is a mild form of mild mental retardation and that it’s not really a disorder. Your educated responses can help dispel those myths.

If you do decide to disclose, the NCLD recommends that you be prepared to discuss the following:

  • Your specific learning disability
  • How your LD affects your performance
  • The accommodations or modifications you need to be successful on the job
  • Examples of successes you have had in the past when you have used these accommodations

You don’t want to use your LD as an excuse to do sloppy work or to fail. Instead you want to become a self-advocate with the goal of increasing productivity and revenue for the company or organization you work for.

Second, be explicit about asking for specific types of accomodations or modifications that will enable you to compete and succeed in the workplace. For example, if you find it difficult to follow a series of verbal instructions, request that instructions be put in writing, perhaps via email. Or barter tasks with a co-worker based on your mutual strengths. If you are inefficient at tabulating numbers, but you’re a great people person, ask your colleague if you can make some of their customer calls in exchange for completing your monthly budget report. Here are other tips that can help you reach your potential on the job:

  • If you are looking for employment, you may want to target your search at companies
    and organizations that are progressive in their policies toward workers with LD.
  • Identify any potential areas of risk or opportunity within your work environment
  • Plan how to accomplish your goals, which will include accessing the key people and
    other supports you will need
  • Evaluate your progress and solicit feedback not only from your supervisors but from
    co-workers you trust
  • Revise your strategies as you move forward and set new, attainable goals for yourself.

Dr. Horowitz says one of the most important things for people with a LD to know is this: “LD is something you have; not something that you are. It is not a prescription for failure but rather a unique lens through which the world of work, academic learning, and social relationships can be viewed, understood, engaged, and celebrated.” For more information, including a vast array of resources for workers with LD, visit

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