Signs of learning and thinking differences in adults

At a glance

  • Learning and thinking differences are lifelong issues.

  • Learning and thinking differences can run in families.

  • With the right support, adults with learning and thinking differences can manage their symptoms and find success.

Some people think learning and thinking differences only affect children. But adults can have them too. That’s because learning and thinking differences are lifelong issues.

Maybe there are certain tasks and situations you’ve struggled with since childhood. Things like staying focused and organized, writing down information or changing routines may be hard for you. You may even see your own child coping with the same difficulties and wonder if it’s related to what you’re experiencing.

Learning and thinking differences aren’t something you outgrow. And some conditions run in families, like . For instance, you might not be as hyperactive as your child with ADHD, but you may show other signs, like frequently losing track of things.

If you suspect you may have a learning or thinking difference, your health care provider can refer you to a professional who evaluates adults.

Keep in mind that having learning and thinking differences doesn’t mean a person isn’t intelligent. The key is to recognize the signs and seek out supports that can help.

Trouble with reading and writing

Struggling with reading and writing can be a sign of learning differences like . As a child, maybe it took you a very long time to complete reading assignments. (Explore other signs of dyslexia in kids.)

Now as an adult, you may notice you avoid reading and writing whenever possible. Or you might hesitate to return an email because you’re worried you’ll misspell too many words.

Read 6 surprising ways dyslexia can affect adults.

Find out how dyslexia is diagnosed in adults. There are many resources that can help you find specialists in your area. That includes local chapters of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), an Understood founding partner.

You can also learn about tools like assistive technology (AT) for reading and writing. AT is very common today, and many tools, like text-to-speech, are built into mobile devices.

Trouble with math

Lots of people aren’t good at math. But maybe you’ve noticed that figuring out tips and balancing your checkbook have always seemed extra hard for you. Cooking might even be tricky if you struggle with quantities and measurements.

These can be signs of , a common learning difference that impacts the ability to do math. Many experts say dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia, even though dyslexia is diagnosed more often. If you’d like to be evaluated for dyscalculia, explore these resources for low-cost private evaluations, and learn about types of tests for dyscalculia.

There are many tools that can help people with dyscalculia cope with everyday challenges. That includes basic tools like calculators. Learn about math software and other assistive technology for math. And explore more ways dyscalculia can affect adults.

Trouble with focus and organization

Do you struggle to focus when you’re working on something or following a conversation? Maybe you “tune out” or have trouble sitting still for long periods of time. Or maybe you’re generally forgetful and absent-minded, and often run late.

These can be common signs of ADHD (also known as ADD). It’s common for people not to be diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood. ADHD also tends to run in families. So if you have a child or other family member with ADHD, there’s a greater chance you could have it, too.

Find out how ADHD is diagnosed in adulthood, including where to find specialists.

There are many well-researched ways to treat ADHD. You can also learn about alternatives like exercise and mindfulness meditation.

Simple tricks can help reduce signs of ADHD, too. You can minimize distractions around you, like having your desk face a wall instead of the window. Use earphones if there’s outside noise that distracts you. You could also try using fidgets.

If you struggle with organization, technology like apps can be a big help. You could also try color-coding and breaking projects down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Read more about everyday challenges for adults who struggle with organization, and how to help.

You may also want to read about the connection between ADHD and emotions.

Difficulty with social interaction

Maybe you’ve noticed you’re not comfortable in social settings, and it’s not because you’re shy. You might find it hard to keep up with a conversation. Or maybe you tend to miss social cues and find yourself interrupting often.

There are many possible reasons for struggling with social skills, including (NVLD). (See how NVLD plays out in everyday life for one young adult.)

If you’re struggling with social skills, there are lots of ways to improve. Learn basics about social rules. And try specific strategies. For instance, if you know there’s a school event for parents or something for work, prepare for it. Make a list of general topics you’re comfortable talking about and questions to ask.

Search online for local resources that can help. You can look for social skills groups for adults in your area. You may also find local professionals, like speech therapists, who can help you get better at social interactions.

Most importantly, remember that having a learning or thinking difference doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. Learning and thinking differences are very common, and finding support is a key to finding success. 

Read about famous people with learning and thinking differences. See lists of entrepreneurs, musicians, political figures, and game-changers in history. And consider connecting with other adults with learning and thinking differences on the Wunder app.

Key takeaways

  • Learning and thinking differences are common in adults.

  • If you’re concerned you have a learning or thinking difference, consider connecting with a specialist.

  • There are many simple tricks to help work around everyday challenges that can come with these issues.


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