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Declaration of independence: Developing life skills for teens with LD

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By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

How learning and attention difficulties impact life skills

Even young adults with LD and/or AD/HD who have supportive parents experience challenges in daily living, often directly related to the specific characteristics of their disability. Their challenges continue to ebb and flow throughout their adult years. Consider these examples:

  • The young woman who spells poorly will have difficulty filling out forms at her doctor's office.
  • The young man who has trouble reading will find it challenging to decipher the washing machine directions at the local laundromat.
  • The fellow who is disorganized is likely to lose his keys over and over again.
  • The woman who is distracted may start to clean the living room and fail to finish when she picks up a magazine from the floor and stops to read an article that catches her eye.

The role parents play in fostering independence in their children

If challenges in daily living are predictable and persistent as youth with LD and AD/HD move out of their family homes into the community, why don't schools include more life skills goals in students' transition planning? Middle and high school students with LD and AD/HD would clearly benefit from direct instruction in such practical daily living skills as housekeeping and money management. However, in these days of high-stakes testing, schools tend to be reluctant to commit valuable teaching time to these less academic — though certainly not less essential — areas.

What are the specific challenges teens with LD and AD/HD face as they move into life beyond the care of their parents, particularly in terms of meal preparation, money management, housekeeping, self-care, leisure planning, and getting around (transportation)? And what can parents do to help them prepare for this major transition? The next articles in this series will focus on essential life skills needed for successful transition to an independent life and will suggest strategies parents can use during their children's middle and high school years to ease them toward that goal.


  • Roffman, A. Meeting the Challenge of LD in Adulthood. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing.
  • Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness. San Francisco: W. H Freeman. Wagner, M. (1992).
  • Analytic overview: NLTS design and longitudinal analysis approach. What happens next? Trends in postschool outcomes of youth with disabilities: the second comprehensive report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.