My brother-in-law’s learning disability

My brother-in-law Arnie had a learning disability called Dyslexia. He struggled with making sense of written words. He had to read some sentences over and over, trying to  understand what they meant. Consequently he gave up even thinking about going to college. Instead he opted to learn a skill in which he could use his hands. He learned shoemaking and repair. Later in life he sold new shoes and belts in addition to repairing shoes. He prospered in spite of his disability. His father, a clergyman, liked to joke that both he and Arnie were in the “soul (sole)-saving business.”

There are many types of learning disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.  It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace. Here is a list of common learning disabilities.

  • Auditory Processing Disorder – Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, individuals with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.


  • Dyscalculia  – Individuals with this type of Learning Disability may have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.


  • Dysgraphia  – A person with this specific learning disability may have problems including illegible handwriting, inconsistent spacing, poor spatial planning on paper, poor spelling, and difficulty composing writing as well as thinking and writing at the same time.


  • Dyslexia  – The severity of this specific learning disability can differ in each individual but can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech and can exist along with other related disorders. Dyslexia is sometimes referred to as a Language-Based Learning Disability.


  • Dyspraxia  – A disorder that is characterized by difficulty in muscle control, which causes problems with movement and coordination, language and speech, and can affect learning. Although not a learning disability, Dyspraxia often exists along with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia or ADHD.


  • Language Processing Disorder  – A specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), affects attaching meaning to sound groups that form words, sentences and stories. While an APD affects the interpretation of all sounds coming into the brain (e.g., processing sound in noisy backgrounds or the sequence of sounds or where they come from), a Language Processing Disorder (LPD) relates only to the processing of language. LPD can affect expressive language (what you say) and/or receptive language (how you understand what others say).


  • Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities  – Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVD or NVLD), is a disorder which is usually characterized by a significant discrepancy between higher verbal skills and weaker motor, visual-spatial and social skills.


  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit  – A characteristic seen in people with learning disabilities such as Dysgraphia or Non-verbal LD, it can result in missing subtle differences in shapes or printed letters, losing place frequently, struggles with cutting, holding pencil too tightly, or poor eye/hand coordination.


  • Memory  – affects storing and/or retrieving information out. Three types of memory are important to learning, “working memory”, “short term memory” and “long term memory.” All three types of memory are used in the processing of both verbal and non-verbal information.


  • ADHD – A disorder that includes difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.


  • Executive Functioning  – An inefficiency in the cognitive management systems of the brain that affects a variety of neuropsychological processes such as planning, organization, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Although not a learning disability, different patterns of weakness in executive functioning are almost always seen in the learning profiles of individuals who have specific learning disabilities or ADHD.

The Learning Disabilities Association

Ihe above list of  disabilities was taken from the website of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA).  There you will find a more detailed description of the them. Above all you will learn that if you have a disability or have a child with one, you are not alone. .  . .

The Learning Disabilities Association of America is here to help! Since 1963, LDA has provided support to people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals, with cutting edge information on learning disabilities, practical solutions, and a comprehensive network of resources. These services make LDA the leading resource for information on learning disabilities.

David Bowker of Purdue U

Forbes magazine recently featured a story about David Bowker, an individual who has become successful in spite of his learning disabilities.

David Bowker serves as director of the office of future engineers at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. He is in charge of recruiting activities for more than 8,000 students who attend the prestigious College of Engineering. It’s an unlikely place to find a man who admits he has no affinity for Excel spreadsheets, loathes typing long reports and has never worked in a research lab.

In second grade, Bowker was diagnosed with a learning disability labeled “Not Otherwise Specified” (NOS), which translates generally into making reading, writing and typing in particular a challenge. Try explaining that in a brainstorming session when a colleague asks you to quickly type up the notes or write on a whiteboard—legibly. It used to cause him to panic. Over the years, Bowker says that feeling has dissipated. Talking openly about what it is like to work with an invisible learning disability has empowered him. He’s spoken to hundreds of people on campus and at conferences, such as the Learning Disabilities Association annual awards banquet. Even the shortest explanation of how he works differently—and successfully—can be a huge revelation to people who know little about disabilities and may see them only as weaknesses.

Bowker credits having a learning disability with giving him a valuable combination of strengths: an ability to connect with diverse people, be genuine, use his strong verbal skills and bounce back from mis-steps or failures. If all of that sounds highly optimistic, that’s the point. He is part of a movement of people who have made their weaknesses their greatest strengths and are sharing their stories on social media, with their peers and at universities. They are thousands strong, and part of a new era of rethinking thinking on how disabilities and invisible differences will be viewed, explained and managed in the workplace of the future.

To succeed with learning disabilities consider the following advice: 

  1. Accept your weakness, your disability, as a strength. This is part of who you are and it isn’t going to change. Welcome it.
  2. However, do not dwell on your disability. Instead build on it and your other strengths.
  3. Always focus on positives. This takes the idea of your disability as a stigma out of the conversation.
  4. Develop and grow your strengths—no matter what they are. That will help you feel markedly happier and less depressed in a matter of months,
  5. Building character and identifying your virtues leads to fulfillment, feeling engaged and finding meaning, This is confirmed by several studies.

So how does this work—in real life, not just in studies? People who ultimately focus on their strengths and accept their weaknesses, find success on the job and  become disability smart—and are willing to talk about it. They connect with people, know themselves, advocate for change and promote adaptability as possible anywhere and at  any time in life.  But they go even further. They offer intimate details of how they came out of their shells to reach their goals and serve others. This is important advice even for those of us who do not have one of the disabilities listed above.