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Learning Disabilities and Adults: 20 Tips for Thriving in the Workplace



There are numerous programs and accommodations for those with learning disabilities from kindergarten all the way through graduate school, but when students enter the real world, suddenly those helpful accommodations disappear. That can make transitioning between college and the working world even harder, with many unsure of how to cope with reading, writing, and math difficulties on the job. Adults with learning disabilities should know that they’re not alone. There are thousands of others working with learning disabilities all over the U.S., many of whom have found ways to excel at their jobs. If you’re looking for a little guidance in your own career, we’ve pulled together a list of tips to help you thrive in the workplace. We cover a lot of ground here, but if you haven’t yet, check out the articles and resources available on the National Center for Learning Disabilities site for further help and guidance.

  1. Decide if you want to disclose your disability.

    For some, the choice of whether or not to disclose a learning disability is a tricky one. One one hand, telling your boss can help you get accommodations that can make your job easier. On the other, it can change employer perceptions of you, which while unfair and possibly illegal, may be difficult to change. It’s up to you to decide if you want others to know about any learning disability you have, but make sure to carefully consider your decision before acting on it so you know it’s the right one for you and the setting within which you’ll be working.

  2. Seek out jobs that play to your strengths.

    While you shouldn’t let your learning disability hold you back from following your passions, there are certain jobs that may be very difficult for you to do. Make things easier on yourself by seeking out jobs in your field that cater to your strengths. It’s a smart move for anyone (not just those with LDs), and can ensure you enjoy your job and have fewer everyday struggles at the office.

  3. Ask for accommodations if you need them.

    If you truly need accommodations on the job, do not hesitate to ask for them. Anything that helps you to do your job better also helps your employer, so it is in his or her interest to ensure you are getting the support you need.

  4. Self-accommodate.

    Many with learning disabilities have learned valuable ways to work with their disabilities throughout their education and may not need outside accommodations to get by. In fact, before you ask for outside help, consider the methods you can use to help accommodate your own needs. For example, you may ask for quiet time to read or to record meetings so you can take notes later.

  5. Challenge yourself.

    While catering to your strengths is great, it’s also smart to challenge yourself to improve in areas where you may be limited by your learning disability. Certain things may just be part of your job, even if you don’t excel at them, so learning how to deal with them and even be better at them can be an immensely valuable experience that will help you at this job and any others you have down the road.

  6. Create coping strategies.

    Unless you’re incredibly lucky, there will be elements of your job that you will find difficult due to your learning disability. It can be very useful to come up with coping strategies that help you to manage and work through the more challenging aspects of your job. With a strategy in place, you’ll be able to approach things that are difficult for you without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.

  7. Have goals.

    It’s important for every employee to have goals, but especially so for those with learning disabilities. Figure out where you want to be within the company and at which tasks you want to excel. Focus on those things and work on improving in areas where you feel you struggle. It’s a smart, managed way to get ahead.

  8. Determine and showcase your marketable skills.

    You may not be a speed reader or a math whiz, but you undoubtedly have some great skills that are worth showing off. Figure out where your greatest strengths lie and emphasize what you can offer to your company by capitalizing on them.

  9. Know what’s expected of your position.

    Before you can figure out how to manage your disability in the workplace, know what’s expected of you. Get a list of job expectations from your boss to ensure that you’re meeting or exceeding them. If you’re not, it will give you an opportunity to come up with strategies to improve.

  10. Know how you’ll be evaluated.

    You should also learn what criteria will be used to evaluate your performance. These criteria will play a central role in determining raises, promotions, and even layoffs. Knowing how you will be evaluated will give you a better idea of what areas you should focus the greatest energy on improving and where you should ask for accommodation if needed.

  11. Build relationships with coworkers.

    While you are not required to disclose your learning disability with coworkers, having a good rapport with them can often make it easier to excel in your job. It’s important to establish yourself as a hard-working, capable employee, not only with your boss but also with your coworkers. Make an effort to reach out to your coworkers, they can often help support you and offer help when you need it.

  12. Collaborate with coworkers.

    It’s also smart to get in good with coworkers because they can help you find workarounds for your learning disability. They may be able to help you complete tasks you have a hard time with in exchange for you taking over some of their tasks that they dislike. This kind of give and take will make you both more productive and can even improve the bottom line.

  13. Adapt.

    Over the years you have inevitably learned skills that have helped you to work around or work with your learning disability. Come up with creative ways to apply them to your current position.

  14. Don’t use your disability as an excuse.

    Your learning disability might make doing certain aspects of your job more difficult, but it should never be used an excuse for not doing things the right way. If you struggle, ask for help or accommodations, don’t just expect others to pick up the slack on a project or assignment because something is hard for you. If it’s your job, do it right.

  15. Know your limits.

    If you have a disability that makes reading or concentration hard for you, don’t agree to take on projects or extra work that require loads of this kind of skill. While a challenge is great, overworking and overwhelming yourself will harm your performance in the long run. Always be honest with yourself about what you really can get done and do well.

  16. Find a mentor.

    Navigating the working world with a learning disability can be tough, so it can be helpful to have a mentor who has been there and can offer advice. He or she can share strategies for coping and can offer you guidance on getting ahead in your field.

  17. Don’t beat yourself up.

    Just because you struggle with certain activities is not a reason to get down on yourself or to tell yourself you’re not good at what you do. Never say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to someone else. Developing a positive attitude is a much more productive approach to managing any kind of disability and to getting ahead.

  18. Use resources at hand.

    If there are resources available to you that could help you improve in your work or make it easier to work with your disability, use them. There is no shame in taking advantage of help or services that are offered to you as an employee.

  19. Manage your time.

    For many with learning disabilities, certain tasks can take a long time to complete. If you know that you’ll need extra time to read over a document or pull together a spreadsheet, schedule your day to allow for extra time on those tasks. Good time management skills will make it much easier to stay on top of things at work without feeling stressed out by any difficulties your disability may cause.

  20. Know your rights.

    Like those with any kind of disability, those with learning disabilities are protected in a variety of ways under the law. If you feel that you’re being discriminated against, know your rights. There are things that employers and coworkers can and can’t do and say. Never let anyone make you feel inferior, excluded, or discriminated against because of your disability.

December 17th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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