A Guide for Teens with Learning Disabilities

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a challenging time. Teens and young adults must make complex decisions about education, work, finances, and personal relationships. For the 2.4 million youth diagnosed with learning disabilities, this phase of life poses even greater challenges.

Teens with learning disabilities often do not do as well as their peers in traditional classrooms and in work and social settings. Adding to these challenges, these youth often experience social isolation and lowered self-expectations. Statistics show that individuals with learning disabilities (LD) have the highest school dropout incidence, face higher rates of unemployment, and are overrepresented in government-supported programs, such as vocational rehabilitation and corrections. For instance, students with LD are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system and account for 38.6 percent of students with disabilities in these settings.

The implications of LD vary depending on the environment or setting, the supports provided, and the developmental stage of the individual. Some individuals with LD may do well in elementary school, only to struggle in secondary or postsecondary schools, the workplace, or in interpersonal relationships. While today there is a greater understanding of LD than in the past, in practical terms, significant issues remain as individuals with LD:

  • are often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or diagnosed late in childhood, in adolescence, or even in adulthood;
  • are often wrongly perceived as being lazy, dumb, anti-social, or purposely immature;
  • may be treated as though they have other cognitive disabilities such as developmental disabilities, autism, or traumatic brain injury;
  • often hide their disability; and
  • may have other co-occurring conditions that interfere with school, work, and social interactions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, emotional and mental health disorders, or physical disabilities.

When provided with support, teenagers with LD are capable of being successful like their peers without disabilities in any environment—academic, work, and social. That is where you come in. Youth service professionals play a critical role in providing guidance and representation for youth to ensure they are able to reach their potential in school and in the workplace. This means that youth service professionals wear many hats, including advocate, teacher, coach, mentor, and expert source.

A major component during this critical transition time for youth is preparing for life beyond school: the working world. For youth with LD, career readiness can be a daunting and discouraging thought. Many of the accommodations and learning methods youth find in a school environment will be different or nonexistent in a work environment. As a youth service professional, you play a major role in helping these youth take control of their own learning, develop compensatory strategies, which can help them to utilize their own strengths to navigate decisions about accommodations and disclosure, and discover the self-determination and leadership skills needed to meet the demands of the world of work confidently and effectively.