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Getting a job, getting a life: The workplace and young people with LD

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By Paul Gerber, Ph.D.

Second, in order to adjust to the workplace, a person with learning disabilities must develop a firm understanding of his profile of strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, beyond the basic psychological processes such as memory, processing, and organization. Moreover, the young person needs to know how to emphasize and celebrate his strengths, and deal with weaknesses using compensatory strategies, and tried-and-true accommodations such as calculators, spell checkers, and the like. With a self-inventory of strengths and weaknesses, the young person with LD should have the wherewithal to figure out how his learning disability will affect performance of job tasks and social interactions in the work environment. Most important, a young person must constantly work on a full understanding of his learning disability, as each task, interaction, and workday yields new information. In effect, understanding one's disability is an ongoing, ever-changing process.

Third, in order to deal effectively with his disability beyond the school years, a young person needs to have a healthy degree of acceptance of having an LD. He must accept it as a part of everyday life, which can emerge at any time, and which has to be dealt with in an efficient manner — for example, an inability to remember details, or difficulty with setting task priorities. Therefore, in order to compete, accomplish tasks, and succeed in employment and life, a young adult must accentuate his strengths and bypass or accommodate his weaknesses. Adults with learning disabilities say over and over again in interviews that once they accepted their learning disability and its challenges, they were freed up to take on the many demands of the workplace.

Adaptation in employment settings

The other challenge of successful transition is being adaptive to employment settings. It is important for a person with LD to be vigilant about orchestrating an environment where he can succeed — by either adapting himself to the work situation, making the work situation adaptive to him, or both. Individuals with LD need to be able to think creatively in order to alter work situations so they can perform more effectively and efficiently. For example, an alteration might be finding a quiet place to work, using computer software to help manage a task, or asking a colleague for assistance.

With self-knowledge about his learning disability, and a creative approach to adapting to the workplace, the young person can address the challenge of finding the best fit between himself and the work. Best fit means working in a job role that:

  • one is interested in;
  • allows use of one's strengths (with possibilities for reasonable accommodations for task challenges);
  • provides a supportive supervisor and coworkers; and
  • offers a work climate that is truly accepting of diversity.

Together, the ingredients listed above comprise a learning disabilities-friendly employment setting. In this kind of work environment, a person with LD can feel comfortable, be effective, and advance.

Comments from readers

"Given the syntax of the remark made on 03/01/2011 I would have to say someone was purposely trying to be cruel. Learning disabilities does not equal low wages or low quality of life. "
"To the comment made on 3/1/11 You have plenty to look out for the future. Just because the opinion of one school/job coach is brought to you, that doesn't mean that you have no future. Look hopeful and you will find much!"
"You're deluding yourself. I'm a special education student, and it has been confirmed that I have no future. Come to think of it, I'd be lucky to work the fry machine at McDonald's, in this day and age."
"I am getting ready to open my own small business, retail consignment clothing, and I am starting a program for teens with LD's and offering them a training/mentoring program to get the jump started with their career possiblities. I am so excited and have wonderful feedback from parents of the teens I currently am choosing to use."