Learning Disabilities in the Workplace
Understanding one's learning disability (LD) and the impact it has on academic learning, social and emotional well-being and,eventually, performance in the workplace is an ongoing and evolving process. Making successful transitions from school to the workplace can be particularly challenging for students with LD. With the responsibility for disclosing a disability and managing one's own system of services and supports shifting away from high school personnel and onto the individual’s shoulders, this time can be fraught with unexpected and overwhelming challenges. Keys to successful transition, however, are well known, and adults with LD can (and do) enjoy success in the workplace, welcoming new challenges and creatively adapting to different environments and responsibilities.
Join our expert, Paul J. Gerber, Ph.D., noted expert in post-school issues for adults with learning disabilities, particularly in the area of employment, as he answers questions for parents and adults on important topics such as:
- The importance of self-knowledge and self-advocacy;
- Weighing the 'potential gain' and 'acceptable losses' of self- disclosure;
- Anticipating and answering employer questions about LD, and
- Determining 'reasonable accommodations.'
Read more about Paul J. Gerber, Ph.D.
In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act only makes sure that there is no discrimination when seeking a job - if the person is qualified. That means s/he has the requisite skills to do the job.
In essence, the principle is that the ADA is an equal opportunity provision with no guarantees other than a "level playing field" in competing for a job.
There are businesses in each community, however, who believe in diversity and are disability friendly. They usually are willing to provide support to workers with disabilities to foster success.
How do I educate my employer and their IT staff that there is terrific technology out there that we could roll out to support one of my very hard working and innovative LD employees?
The answer is to identify it, perhaps show how it works, and explain how it will benefit the employee with LD.
It will be best to know cost and show how there is a cost- benefit to work for the best purposes of all involved.
Reasonable accommodation means it is reasonable in cost for the businees as well.
Also, check with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)to see if they know of anyone using the assisitive technology you are considering and any follow-up they might have done to understand the process of integrating it into the work place.
JAN has a 888 toll free number and a very good web site.
A good fit is finding those employers who have had success or envison that success is possible. Stay away from those who are indifferent about the issues of disability.
Usually employers are willing to hire if they sense the pesron with LD is qualified and understands their challenges and is able to explain and advocate when necessary. Employers simply do not have the expertise and need help in thinking and instituting accommodations in the workplace.
In larger business organizations where there is a human resource division and expertise, there can be support from a person who helps with issues of disability and that can make a big difference.
Is the position that of a teacher or a teacher aide?
Is there an issue with a degree or certification?
Where (geographically) are you located and what opportunities are available in your area?
Does the unwillingness you are reporting happen at the time of the job interview or after getting the job and then being let go?
Not knowing how best to answer your question, let me leave you with one concrete suggestion -
Try to work as a substitute teacher or substitute-aide, prove yourself in the classroom and school community, and perhaps get a contract as a long-term substitute teacher. You can then see if permanent employment is possible or desirable.
In a positive sense, the employer knows there will be support. That is a plus as long as the coach "does not get in the way" and potentially turn the situation into an adversarial one.
However, there can be a question about the degree of support needed. Also to what degree can your daughter do her job in the absence of her job coach?
There is no way to be sure what message the job coach sends at the job interview. In competitive employment employers want workers who can be flexible, be good decision-makers, have good interpersonal and communication skills. If they think the job candidate is at-risk for those skills then they move more conservatively and tend to go slow on hiring.
A phone call prior to the interview might be able to discern if bringing a coach to the interview is a plus or a minus. Some adults with LD interview alone and bring up the issue of a job coach during the interview.
Ultimately, it is difficult to answer with a great deal of specificity. The key elements for this case are the culture of work, the job requirements, your daughter's skills, and the degree of needed support.
Wondering if when leaving your teaching positions you got feedback as to what the main issue(s)was. A lot of times that feedback is important in order not to repeat the same behavior(S) mistakes over and over again.
It is common knowledge in the field of LD that the feedback all to often if too general such as "it is not working out" or "you really do not fit here". At that point it is best to ask for clarification so you can build on constructive criticism.
We know there are teachers with LD who are teaching general education and special education K-12 students. The most important piece of their success is finding a good fit - a school where there is a solid work culture, understanding colleagues, and support when needed. That is not to replace, however, a strong work ethic and all that entails from the teacher who has a LD.
Please remember that without self-disclosure the protections of the ADA cannot happen. That can make the difference between success and failure because of the support and accommodations that should come with the ADA.
At the same time he or she can try to see how it goes without disclosure and without the ADA kinds of help and support. If that is the case, then I would suggest some sort of job coaching support external to the job site. There must be an opportunity to discuss fully and plan for issues that come up in the employment setting.
As for the anxiety and self-doubt, there is no doubt that disclosure risks the possibility of stigma and ostracism. So disclosure has risks as well.
Since your child (18 years old) is new to the work force and probably will have a series of jobs (like all of us), then she or he can start without disclosure and see how it goes. If there is a set back, the next job can give you the option of disclosure.
Please remember that work is not like school. A job that is fitting to motivation, interest, and skills can mitigate deficits and improve self-esteem. So be mindful that some first jobs are better than others when one has a LD. Fit has everything to do with moving in the direction of strengths and staying away from weanesses.
First, the severity of her LD and her strengths and weaknesses. These elements will help you frame your thinking and have a long-term strategy.
Second, it remains to be seen if your daughter will go straight to work from her high school program. If so then a focused and realistic curriculum and IEP is necessary.
Third, if she decides a 2 year community college is a good option then entering with a plan is key.(Please know community colleges have special needs student services that can really make a difference.)
So some questions need to be answered for your daughter's case.
Is reading an issue? or writing? or math?
If so, what accommmodations can help her learn in school and make her effective and efficient in the workplace?
What are the demands of employment of 2 year community colleges in terms of academic skills, time management, and daily living skills.
I say find out her vocational interest but do not get stuck on one thing - think of it as a vocational interest area.
See where her passion is in terms of interest and motivation. Try to provide guidance for realistic thought.
How do her skills match up to what she wishes to qualify for in a job. Can accommodations make the difference?
There are numerous stories in the field of LD where finding one's niche makes as all the difference in the world.
A lot of times in post secondary school students with LD find instruction more relevant and more specific to their goals and that makes a big difference. If she can do an internship or volunteer in her job area of interest that also would be very helpful.
As for planning a career as an independent owner at the age of 10, you might be a little too hastey. I would go slower in terms of planning her career at this point. As time goes on you might see natural interests and talents that could lead to a different career than the one you are planning. In the field it is common to hear that a princple of 'coming of age' is to express interests, etc. under the heading of self-determination. Please keep self-determination in mind as time goes on.
Some individauls self-disclose during the interview. It could be risky simply becuase the ADA will "kick in", but that ensures an equal chance to being hired. there are no guarantees beyond that.
Self-disclosure is best when one shows that s/he is qualified, confident, and knows how to work with their LD. That is, they know how to think about their LD, what reasonable accommodations are needed, and perhaps what assistive technology will make them more efective and efficient. This leaves the employer with the notion that hiring is not a risk for the business.
On the other hand, many persons with LD go through the interview process and say nothing about ther LD. They hope that they will not run into problems and for the first time in a long time, simply are not looked upon as having an LD. In that case the invisibility of LD is very much on their side.
When things go wrong and the first performance review is not positive then one can say that LD is an issue. At that point the ADA should fit. But the question of being proactive and saying that one has an LD versus not saying it is the difference between a self-advocacy posture and the possibility of an adversarial relationship which can be more complicated in some respects.
Some health insurance policies have a provison to cover testing but that is the exception.
Beyond that you can ask if any of the testers can work out a fee on a sliding scale. Some of them do that.
Most important, please make sure that you get what you pay for. Some testers know school-age LD but do not have the expertise of working with adults with LD.
Last realize that a diagnosis of LD in adulthood helps with disclosing an LD in an employment or post secondary setting.
It is also true that finding out one is LD in adulthood answers a lot of current and past questions and allows the LD to be factored into adult life routines.
As for a certificate of graduation, that is not a high school diploma. Therefore you need to find out if community colleges will allow provisional admission with a certificate of graduation. Not sure about 4 year colleges and universities.
Also, when entering the military a high school diploma might be the standard. Please check into that. Moreover, other occupations might want a high school diploma without exception.
But all is not lost. At the same time leaving school with a certificate of gradaution does not exclude the possibility of continuing in an adlut education program to get a GED. They have expertise in working with LD students, and the GED can be taken with accommodations.
the process. However, they will not test to validate a prospective student's LD. Many colleges and universities post this kind of information on their websites.
An inexpensive diagnosis is difficult to find. As I mentioned in another response, do not hesitate to look into coverage via health insurance policies, and ask for the possibility of a "sliding scale' fee, etc.
With the choice not to disclose comes added responsibility for satisfactory employment performance. When there is a break down in performance usually an explanation is sought.
It is best that students leave your program knowing their strengths and weaknesses in real terms, have an idea how to compensate for any deficits and think about creating their own accommdations. Moreover, they should have the social skills to be able to ask questions request needed assistance.
Moreover, informal supports can go far if they become a team player (accepted by work group), and show that their contribution has value for the purposes of the work group.
We know through research that persons with LD can ask for help by disclosing specific difficulties (fr example, "I need more time because I read slowly", "I need a quiet place to concentrate on this task") without saying "I have LD" or "ADD". It makes more sense to others to explain challenges in operational terms rather than just using the labels. Saying "I have LD" allows co-workers to ascribe their own thoughts and feelings about what LD is, which could result in problems if those impressions are not acurate.
Also you might want to contact your state governor's office. I believe all states have a governor's committee for persons with disabilities. If they cannot help you directly, then they might be able to refer you to others.
Please consider contacting faith-based social service agencies for help - Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, social services. Sometimes they have the resources to help.
You can also try to contact your local state university - rehabilitation counseling department to see if they can refer you to a local expert or service.
Last, if you can be accepted into the case load of vocational rehabilitation services in your state qualifying as a person with LD or ADD, they should be able to give you guidance as well as other services.
If all these do not work, try to find a job with a business that is very civic-minded and disability-friendly. Often they provide support and exhibit a lot of patience in working with employees with disabilities.
As for impact on job performance it is important to match job requirements to your profile of strengths and challenges. Look for an employer who is sensitive to persons with disabilities as well as one that can provide either formal or informal workplace supports.
Please know there are lots of examples of persons with LD doing a great job in the workplace, experieincing job advancement and assuming leadership roles. At the same time there are examples of those who struggle with work and the workplacwe culture.
In a more foraml sense speech pathologists who are trained in the area of pragmatics can be most helpful - whether in school or hired privately.
As for medication and such, this is an interesting and important consideration. You surely don't need or want your employer to have unrestricted access to your medical history, but if there are medical issues that would impact your job performance and perhaps even place yourself and others at risk (such as working with dangerous machinery) there might be some legal implications about your withholding this information. It would be best to speak to an attorney who is familiar with these issues if you have any doubts or concerns about disclosing this type of information.
However, personal requests of co-workers such as " i need a little more time to read this report" and "let me write that down so i remember everything" is a way to deal with deisability w/o formally disclosing it.
Misdiagnosis is one issue, but perhaps the more important issue is what an individual can and cannot do functionally in the workplace. We know that success in the workplace involves being able to negotiate social situations, whether the person has LD, Asperger's Syndrome or other types of disorders.
I would say that the focus should be the skills that one brings to the workplace and not the actual diagnosis - particularly if the ADA is being invoked to ensure that services and supports are being provided.
That concludes our LD Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our expert, Dr. Paul J. Gerber for his time today.
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