Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Being Diagnosed with a Learning Disability as an Adult is NORMAL

Last week, I went to dinner with a group of old high school friends I hadn't seen in awhile. There I learned that my friend--we'll call her Lulu--had just come from being assessed for ADHD and learning disabilities. Lulu is 27, and has always been an excellent student. About a month ago, after completing an intense medical program at Columbia University, she had taken the MCATs in hopes of getting in to medical school and had, in her words, "bombed" the test.

Most of our friends who have known Lulu were shocked and surprised when they heard about the possibility of her being diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD. They were even more shocked when Lulu explained that the psychologist had already determined that at the very least she definitely has ADHD. How could someone who has always done so well in school and come across as incredibly intelligent, have a learning disability?

Being a specialist in this area, I wasn't quite as surprised. Like a lot of older students and working adults I have come across throughout my career, even with very caring and observational parents, learning disabilities and ADHD often get overlooked throughout childhood and even throughout adulthood. Just last year I worked with a woman I diagnosed as ADHD at the age of 58, and she had never before been told that it was even a possibility.

Here's the thing. People with learning disabilities and/or ADHD aren't stupid! In fact, the reason the diagnosis can get overlooked for so long is a testament to how smart a lot of them are. They find ways of coping with their weaknesses, often working harder than the rest of us to keep up, but fooling everyone in the process---parents, teachers, and friends.

In Lulu's case, she had coped so well and is so intelligent that she made almost perfect grades throughout high school, SAT's, college, AND her med program, and only discovered that she might have an attention problem or other learning disability when her standard coping skills stopped working when she attempted the MCAT.

It is wonderful how much people focus on childhood interventions. My 5-year-old nephew has been going to PT and OT and every other T since he was two, and it has been tremendous for him. Still, the need for older adolescent and adult interventions is never going to change. And to parents who may be feeling guilty for not "seeing" the problem earlier, I hope this helps to explain that it's no ones' fault. The reason you didn't see your child's disability is because your child is so adaptable. Learning disabilities and ADHD don't form later in life or come out of thin air, it's simply that a person's environment changes to the point that they are no longer able to creatively adapt and cope on their own.

People like my friend Lulu are one of the main reasons I feel so passionately about coaching. Coaching allows individuals to work with professionals and come up with creative ways of reinventing coping skills so that they will work as challenges become more and more difficult. It is fitting the system to the person and not the other way around. People like Lulu CAN reach their dreams, they may just need a little help along the way.


Carrie said...

Dr. Levrini,
This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing this. I mean it!

Petit fleur said...

I think in girls it is common for the ADHD to be masked by the fact that many times they do not have the hyperactive behavioral component, and are usually quietly inattentive, then just work extra hard studying at home.

That was my experience, and have run across many other women along the way who describe some similar scenario.

Interesting stuff! Great blog. I'm really enjoying it and getting lots of important info.