Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

Archive for the ‘“L” is for Learning Disability’ Category

I mentioned that I have a “bit” of ADD.  I have compensated successfully all my life.  It’s not something I struggle with a great deal, and on occasion I ask for help, but it’s no big deal.  I have seen the big deal, however, in clients and friends, and I see how debilitating it can be.

For those of us with just a “touch” of an LD, the symptoms are easier to manage.  My biggest struggles are in meetings (bored easily), keeping focused on one task at a time, and in knowing where to start when I have a massive pile (sometimes literally) of tasks.

In meetings, I get bored, pretty much all the time.  I learned several years ago that if I get bored, I become a problem child.  I fidget.  I talk to others.  I think disparaging thoughts about the person speaking.  Eventually I find it intolerable and can’t wait for it to be over, even rushing out early if at all possible, breathing a sigh of relief.  It’s true that some speakers or meetings are more interesting than others, but I experience this general pattern no matter what meeting I’m in.

In recent years, I discovered that multi-tasking during a meeting is a valuable compensation tool for me.  I try not to be obvious about it, nor to multi-task in any way that might be offensive to others.  I don’t text (okay, maybe a time or two…sorry…) and I don’t chew gum.  I don’t talk to others around me.  Instead, I doodle.  I take notes if it interests me at all.  I love to carry graph paper with me and draw designs on it.

Surprisingly, this help me focus on what is being said.  This may not be surprising to those of you who have ADD.  Focus is the issue, and multi-tasking can be helpful for some.  It is for me.  If I need to be listening to something, doodling is the way to go.

For some folks, doing something with their hands is the form of multi-tasking that works for them.  I had one client who could braid friendship bracelets during an EMDR session and was able to process and focus much better than if she simply sat, holding the tappers.  If she wasn’t multi-tasking, nothing happened in the session.

Obviously, some individuals have more severe forms of LD than this, but some of the same principles hold.  Medication can be used to help, but it’s not the magic bullet that solves the problem.  Plus, medication is prone to abuse (Ritalin and Adderall are basically Speed).

Behavioral compensation is essential for ADD or ADHD, in addition to medication therapy.  Finding ways to cope and to manage the disorder is an imperfect but necessary part of living with LD.


Learning disabilities (LD) come in a great many flavors.  I have a good friend who has a mathematics disorder.  I have a bit of ADD.  For individuals with more than one form of a learning disability, and perhaps more severe than the “bit” I have, the LD(s) can have a tremendous impact on one’s life.

My good friend with the mathematics disability has been impacted by more than just having trouble calculating a tip at a restaurant, although that was a problem for a long time.  The mathematics issue is also a “spatial” issue, difficulty perceiving spatial relationships, seeing things in the mind’s eye as 3D, navigating space itself (clumsiness).  For this woman, this undiagnosed LD led her through years of belief that she was stupid.  Schools missed the problem.  Parents missed the problem.  Only when she decided to take classes as a 50-year old that required more math and spatial processing, and when someone finally said to her, “you should get tested for LD,” did she discover something she’s had all her life that has kept her from believing in herself – LD.

I observed this woman go through a painful grieving process, letting go of the hope of being able to study the subjects she was drawn to, but had not pursued until age 50.  Her aspirations were gone in a moment, taken from hope about achieving her goals to absolute certainty that she could not.

Fortunately, she has the resilience to allow herself to grieve, and to continue to be curious about what she might be able to study and pursue as a new career field.  While she does not yet know the answers, she is managing to stay in the question and navigate her feelings without despairing or collapsing.