Learning Difficulties in Adults

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A learning difficulty (also referred to as a learning disability) can be described as an issue with the brain's ability to process information. Individuals who have a learning difficulty may not learn in the same way or as quickly as their peers, and they might find certain aspects of learning, such as the development of basic skills, to be challenging.

Because learning difficulties cannot be cured, their effects may impact an individual's performance throughout life: academically, in the workplace, and in relationships and daily life. Intervention and support, which may be supplemented by counseling or other mental health care services, can help an individual with a learning difficulty to achieve success.

These disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following:

  • Oral language (e.g. listening, speaking, understanding)
  • Reading (e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word recognition, comprehension)
  • Written language (e.g. spelling and written expression)
  • Mathematics (e.g. computation, problem solving)

They may also involve difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, social interaction and perspective taking. These are some learning difficulties adults may struggle with:

  • Dyslexia: A condition that can affect reading fluency and comprehension, writing, spelling, speech, and recall. Dyslexia might occur along with other related conditions and is also known as a language-based learning disability.
  • Dysgraphia: An individual with dysgraphia might find it difficult to write legibly, space words consistently, spell, compose, think and write at the same time, or plan spatially (on paper). Specifically, this condition affects handwriting and other fine motor skills.
  • Dyscalculia: This condition may have an effect on one's ability to develop math skills, understand numbers, and learn math-based facts. It can be difficult for individuals with dyscalculia to comprehend math symbols, organize or memorize numbers, tell time, and count.
  • Auditory processing disorder (central auditory processing disorder): Individuals with this condition may have difficulty recognizing the differences between sounds, understanding the order of sounds, recognizing where sounds have come from, or separating sounds from background noise.
  • Language processing disorder: This condition, a type of APD, makes it difficult for individuals to give meaning to sound groups in order to form words and sentences. It relates to the processing of both expressive and receptive language.
  • Nonverbal learning difficulties: These typically make it difficult for individuals to interpret facial expressions and body language. Visual-spatial, motor, and social skills may all be affected.
  • Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit: Those with dysgraphia or a nonverbal learning difficulty might also have a visual perceptual/visual motor deficit, which can impact the way a person understands visual information, the ability to draw and copy, hand/eye coordination, and the ability to follow along in text or on paper.

Learning disabilities are lifelong. The way in which they are expressed may vary over an individual’s lifetime, depending on the interaction between the demands of the environment and the individual’s strengths and needs. Learning disabilities are suggested by unexpected academic under-achievement or achievement which is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support.

It is not clear what causes learning difficulties, but researchers believe genetic influences, brain development, and environmental effects may all be likely to have some impact on their development.

While learning difficulties often appear in families, researchers are uncertain whether this is due to genetic causes or if this recurrence appears because children typically learn from and model their parents. Brain development before and after birth might also have an impact on the development of learning difficulties, and children who were born prematurely, had a low birth weight, or who sustained a head injury may be more likely to have a learning difficulty. Environmental effects such as toxins and poor nutrition in early childhood are also considered to be potential factors in the development of a learning difficulty.

Learning disabilities may co-exist with various conditions including attentional, behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory impairments or other medical conditions

For success, individuals with learning disabilities require early identification and timely specialized assessments and interventions involving home, school, community and workplace settings. The interventions need to be appropriate for each individual's learning disability subtype.