If you have a learning disability, school can be a tremendous source of stress. A learning disability, not to be confused with a learning problem, which can involve visual, motor, hearing handicaps, intellectual disability, or emotional disturbance, but is instead a neurological processing problem, which can interfere with skills such as math, writing, or reading. Not only is it harder to keep your grades up, but it can be socially awkward when other people notice your struggles. Pressure from friends and family piles on — especially when your grades don’t reflect the effort you put in.
If you’re in the work world, done with school for now, you hope you’re done wrangling with a learning disability. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Learning disabilities are life-long conditions that continue to affect you, even after you’ve completed your schooling.
How Learning Disabilities Cause Stress
Many people don’t realize the extent to which a learning disability can affect daily living throughout one’s life, including job performance. In addition, learning disabilities aren’t obvious from the outside, so many suffer in silence. It’s hard to explain to others how learn differently and the accommodations you may require. Such misconceptions about learning disabilities also make them more stressful.
When you struggle academically, confidence suffers. In addition, society puts so much pressure on people to get college degrees and our society has sadly failed to encourage the development of other skills and paths. When you spend hours every day in school doing things that aren’t geared toward your strength, self-esteem takes a beating. You may struggle. You may have poor self-conception and view yourself as less motivated or less intelligent because of a learning disability.
People with learning disabilities are sometimes placed in different classes based on their learning needs, however, this separates them from the “popular” or “smart” crowd. Right or wrong, most of us long to be accepted by these groups, whether joining these groups is in our best interest or not.
In addition, some of the information processing challenges that accompany learning disabilities make processing social cues harder. It may be difficult to understand others or express your thoughts clearly.
Fear of failure
The chronic worry about whether you can graduate, get a good job, support yourself happily, and find a suitable social group takes a toll. We all worry about our future, but a learning disability adds complexity to planning for the future. Combined with low self-esteem, this fear of failure can feel overwhelming.
Other associated problems
Learning disabilities often have co-occurring conditions that further complicate your situation. ADHD, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression tend to occur more frequently in individuals with learning disabilities, so this population may face additional stress associated with managing multiple needs.
How to Cope with Learning Disability Stress
There are many types of learning disabilities including ADHD (difficulty paying attention and staying on task), dyslexia (inability to comprehend text), dyscalculia (inability to order numbers), Dysgraphia (difficulty with the physical act of writing), and processing deficits (trouble making sense of sensory data). Here are a few strategies for coping with a learning disability:
- Understand yourself. If possible, get a good current evaluation to know your diagnosis, strengths, and needs. If you’ve already had one done, make sure you understand the results and any recommendations made. The evaluator should be able to give you an explanation. In some cases, the evaluator can also make specific recommendations to address your learning problems.
- Know your rights. If you have a diagnosed learning disability, you may qualify for accommodations or specialized instruction, even in a college or work setting. Organizations such as Understood.org and the National Center for Learning Disabilities are just a couple of places you can learn more about your rights and how to ask for accommodations. In addition, your state’s Department of Education should have information and resources explaining federal laws and local procedures.
- Get the help you need. Ask for a meeting with your educators or employers to discuss your needs. In an educational setting, regular feedback or check-ins are important for staying on track. College settings typically have an office of disability services to help students navigate the services that can help. Employers may also be required to provide accommodations to ensure an equitable work environment.
- Assess and treat other problems. Because having a learning disability raises your risk for other mental health conditions, consider talking with a mental health professional. You may benefit from a screening to make sure there’s nothing else going on. This is especially important if you’re experiencing stress because of the learning disability. Outside support can be essential for good stress management.
Learning disabilities are most prominent in childhood, where the long school day piles on the challenges. People forget, however, that learning disabilities affect adults as well. Since learning disabilities tend to be a “silent disability,” not readily apparent outside of performance situations, it’s easy for individuals with learning disabilities to be overlooked.
Nevertheless, we can’t underestimate the mark learning disabilities leave throughout the lifespan. They contribute to stress and other mental health issues, as well as contribute to underachievement in school or work situations. Self-advocacy is essential for making the most of your potential, but know that these issues can be overcome.