Managing LDs & ADHD in Adults

For adults living with diagnosed or suspected Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD, these challenges affect life at school, work, home, or in social settings.

What Can You Do?

  • Understand your brain’s differences
  • Implement strategies to manage your brain’s differences and capitalize on your strengths
  • Find Help when you need it
adult ADHD Calgary

Until recently, scientists thought that when children reached adulthood most of them would outgrow their ADHD symptoms. Now it is recognized that for a large percentage of people, ADHD will be a lifelong condition – and if left undiagnosed or untreated, ADHD in adults may impact many aspects of their lives. Although challenges exist for people living with ADHD, there is much to be hopeful about.

Although it is not possible to self-diagnose conditions like ADHD, you may be wondering if in fact you do have ADHD. This section will help you to understand the common ways that ADHD presents and link you to some resources to help you to follow-up. 

  • In a large survey, 75% of adults with ADHD were not diagnosed as children (Kessler R et al, 2006).
 

This may be largely due to the common myth that ADHD presents mainly in boys as loud, distracted, impulsive, overly active, and disruptive behaviours.

If you are a girl or a quiet boy, you likely did not show these types of more noticeable behaviours. Instead, you may have:
  • been the quiet daydreamer (inattentive)
  • fidgeted a lot or constantly in smaller ways (chewing hair, bouncing your leg, tapping, shifting in your chair, playing with jewelry, etc.)
  • worked much harder to get passing grades
  • avoided tasks by chatting with classmates
  • made impulsive social decisions which impacted your friendships
  • engaged in impulsive/risky sexual behaviour as a teen
  • had difficulty controlling your spending
  • been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. instead
 
If the above behaviours seem to describe you since you were  a child, and these difficulties persist for you as an adult, then it may be time to get an assessment to see if you have ADHD. 

Living with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD may affect your mental health, lower your self-esteem, interfere with relationships and employment, and may negatively impact your overall quality of life.

ADHD Symptoms as an ADULT may include more-than-average difficulties regulating any combination of the following:

Focus: 

  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Difficulty listening
  • Overly focused for long periods of time
  • Difficulty completing a tedious  or uninteresting task or assignment
  • Being easily bored or distracted
  • Needing a lot of stimulation and novelty
 
 

Time:

  • Being forgetful
  • Poor sense of time passing
  • Unable to properly estimate how long something will take to do
  • Missing deadlines or appointments
  • Often running late or rushing
 

Organization:

  • Having disorganized or messy spaces
  • Difficulties with day-to-day responsibilities
  • Losing things
  • Not remembering where things are
  • Difficulty planning ahead
  • Inconsistent performance at work
 

Emotions:

  • Very sensitive to other people’s reactions or comments
  • Easily have hurt feelings
  • Often feeling overwhelmed
  • Seem to feel things more intensely than others
  • Relationship problems
 

Impulsivity:

  • Constant activity or restlessness
  • Making impulsive decisions which are later regretted
  • Impatient; difficulty waiting for your turn
  • Impulse spending
  • Tending to say or do things without thinking
  • Interrupting other people’s activities or conversations; blurting out inappropriately

These are a few resources to get you started in your quest to see if you may have ADHD. A proper assessment will need to be done by a physician or psychologist. If you have completed an ADHD Symptom Checklist, bring it with you when you see a physician or psychologist.

An assessment for ADHD can be conducted by a physician, psychologist or registered clinical social worker.

Because ADHD is considered a medical (neurobiological) condition, it can be partially treated with medication so it can be beneficial to involve a family doctor, psychiatrist, or neurologist.

If you start the process with your family doctor, ask questions to see how knowledgeable the doctor is about ADHD in adults or if a referral to another physician, psychiatrist or neurologist with expertise in ADHD is warranted. Family physicians typically have less expertise in diagnosing and treating ADHD than pediatricians do.

Physicians will likely start with a complete physical and a thorough medical history, family history, and a psychiatric history to determine if other conditions, such as a thyroid problem, anxiety, or depression, exist or might explain your symptoms. It can help to complete one of the Adult ADHD symptom checklists (see above) to bring with you to your first appointment with your doctor. They may also provide you with checklists and rating scales in the diagnosis process.

Cost: No cost in Canada. Assessments and treatment by a medical professional are covered by provincial health care plans in Canada.

Note that wait lists to see adult specialists can be quite long, although many family doctors will conduct these assessments.

Psychologists who specialize in ADHD can diagnose ADHD, although they cannot conduct the physical/health assessment component, nor can they prescribe ADHD medication.

Benefits of a psychologist completing a psycho-educational assessment are:

  • A full psycho-educational assessment can determine if other conditions such as a learning disability exist, which is quite common. The assessment report will give you a picture of your full learning profile, including your challenges and also your natural strengths and aptitudes.
  • Psychologists can help you to learn strategies to manage your ADHD.
  • Psycho-educational assessments are particularly helpful for adults who plan to or are attending university and need their profile information, particularly when it comes to seeking out accommodations.
  • Some adults may benefit by having a psycho-educational assessment done for workplace accommodations.
  • Psychologists may also uncover and provide treatment for related challenges, such as anxiety and depression.
 

Costs: Unless you can access a psychologist through the health system, psychology services are not covered through provincial health care plans in Canada. Most private extended health care plans will cover psychological services. Some agencies offer sliding scale rates for psychological services if you qualify.

Characteristics of ADHD Can Change Through Life’s Stages

ADHD symptoms and their severity are not set in stone, but rather, can shift throughout an individual’s life. Each phase of our development holds different experiences and demands. Oftentimes, it is when these demands increase that the symptoms of ADHD become more apparent. For most, it’s the demands of the classroom that raise the red flags. For others, it’s the demands of a workplace, a marriage, parenting, etc.

Challenges seen during the childhood years continue to have an impact throughout various aspects of life, such as following through on responsibilities, maintaining supportive relationships, and work performance. It is important to note that ADHD diagnosis in adults requires only 5 symptoms (instead of 6 for individuals under the age of 18) to be present in order to meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD diagnosis in adults.

The characteristics of ADHD change throughout development: 

  • Hyperactive/impulsive symptoms are more visible in very young children and tend to “mellow out” over time. However, significant hyperactivity and impulsivity are still observed in some adults with ADHD, and particularly in those with substance abuse and antisocial behaviour.
 
  • Inattentive symptoms become more apparent in adolescence and continue into adulthood.
 

When left untreated, unsupported, and misunderstood, the impact of ADHD evolves over the child’s development. Ideally, children are diagnosed early in their school-aged years in order to increase their chances of success over their lifetime. Research into this area indicates that untreated ADHD can lead to lower outcomes in all areas of their life: academics and employment, antisocial behaviours, higher risks of injury when driving, addictive behaviours, and lower self-esteem.

Preschool​

Preschool

• Behavioural disturbances

School-age​

School-age

• Behavioural disturbances
• Academic impairment
• Poor social interaction
• Co-morbid conditions

Adolescence

• Academic impairment
• Poor social interaction
• Lower self-esteem
• Smoking/alcohol/drugs
• Antisocial behaviour
• Co-morbid conditions

Adolescence​
College-age​

College-age

• Academic failure
• Not coping with daily tasks
• Occupational difficulties
• Low self-esteem
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Injury/accidents

A chart depicting the various life stages of ADHD from Preschool, to School-Age, to Adolescent, to College-Age.

You may have heard at one time that most children outgrow ADHD when they are adults. However, it is now known that most children with ADHD develop into adults with ADHD. Although symptoms may present differently or change with age, they rarely go away all together.

The good news is that you likely have a better understanding of ADHD by now, you are recognizing how those symptoms are impacting you as an adult, and hopefully you have a game plan in place to manage those behaviours. Make sure you stick with it!

If you are a young man with ADHD, it is very important to get a handle on those ADHD symptoms that can so easily derail you, particularly at this stage of your life. As you might suspect by now, some teenage guys and young men are at a higher risk for all kinds of behaviours that negatively impact their world. When you add an impulsive ADHD brain to the equation, the risk factors increase – a lot! And unfortunately, the ADHD brain takes longer to mature, two to three years longer than your peers without an ADHD brain.

Youth and young adults (young men especially) with ADHD are at a higher risk for:

  • Not completing high school or post-secondary school
  • Struggling to hold onto jobs
  • Driving issues, such as speeding and car accidents
  • Substance abuse and other addictions
  • Getting into trouble with the law
  • Being involved in an unplanned pregnancy

 
Fortunately, with treatment & strategies in place, you can minimize your risks for life to go sideways, and you can enjoy these years.

When young women with ADHD are expected to be more independent, either at post-secondary or in work environments, if they do not have supports and strategies in place, then they are likely to feel overwhelmed. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD during adulthood than men; first because they were not diagnosed as children, and second because at this stage they might be struggling with the impact of ADHD symptoms, feel the effects of ADHD on their lives, and seek out support.

Young women with ADHD are at higher risk than peers for:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Struggling to keep up with academic demands at post-secondary
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Unplanned pregnancy

Most individuals with ADHD have weak Executive Functioning skills. This means they might have trouble with staying organized, time management, completing tasks, multi-tasking, and more.

Women, and mothers in particular, are often expected to be the planners and organizers of the family and to keep the household running smoothly. These expectations may be layered on top of work commitments. Juggling family/home and work can be challenging for everyone, and is particularly difficult for women with ADHD. Sometimes it is not until one of their own children is diagnosed with ADHD that mothers start to question if they may have ADHD as well. Fortunately, there is now a real shift in understanding ADHD in adulthood, so the diagnosis, treatment and supports are more readily available.

For many who are juggling life, work, and possibly families it can be difficult to keep all the balls in the air without dropping a few. This may be especially true for those with ADHD, where deficits in executive function skills impact many aspects of their world.

At times it can be hard to stay on top of:

  • Finances (“Woa, this visa bill is way bigger than I expected!)
  • Being on time for work or appointments (“Shoot, late again!”)
  • Meeting deadlines (Was that due today?”)
  • Car payments & insurance (Sorry officer, I didn’t realize my insurance had expired.”)
  • Home maintenance (“When are you going to fix that leaking faucet?”)
  • ETC!

 
Staying on top of it all can be overwhelming for a person with ADHD. Of course, you want to develop strategies to minimize these challenges.

But don’t beat yourself up! Recognizing that ADHD is a brain-based condition resulting in delayed brain maturation instead of a lack of intelligence, laziness, lack of motivation, etc. can help you to accept that you are nor flawed and to be gentle with yourself. It can also open so many doors to receiving supports and accommodations you need to deal with your ADHD symptoms and increase your success at home, at school, and at work!

Navigating the Life Stages of ADHD: Key Concerns and Strategies for Diagnosing and Treating Adults with ADHD. (podcast & video). By ADDitude.

“Navigating the Life Stages of ADHD: Key Concerns and Strategies for Diagnosing and Treating Adults with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #323]

Resource – ADHD Women’s Palooza: An extraordinary week of insight and answers exclusively for ADHD women, presented by more than 30 experts every year via audio and video presentations. You can get the replays of the presentations.

ADHD in Girls and Women; How to Recognize the Signs & Symptoms. By psyccom.net

How ADHD Affects Women. Later Diagnosis, Risk-Taking, etc. By webmd.com

Juggling Work and Life with Adult ADHD; ADHD Support Talk Radio Podcast

Juggling Work and Life with Adult ADHD

ADHD Parent Palooza: In a yearly video conference, top experts share their wisdom on ADHD and Parenting. (Some parents of children with ADHD may also have ADHD, so learning strategies to tackle ADHD can help the whole family!)

ADHD Treatment & Strategies

We’ve laid out a picture of some ‘worst-case scenarios’ above – but this is only more likely to happen if you don’t have a diagnosis and treatment in place. The good news about ADHD is that with a diagnosis, treatment, strategies, and supports in place, ADHD can be managed and managed well. And remember to focus on your strengths!

Medication may be considered as part of a treatment plan, in combination with counselling and implementing strategies. You will want to work closely with your physician to find the medication that works best for you

Research indicates that untreated ADHD is associated with poor academic outcomes, unemployment, financial difficulties, poor social outcomes, increased relationship difficulties and increased mental health issues.

Experts in the field of ADHD agree that medications are the most well-established and widely used treatment for ADHD. Research indicates that individuals with ADHD who are treated with appropriate medication have an increased ability to regulate themselves improving their life outcomes and a reduced risk for negative life outcomes (substance-use disorders, depression, criminality, serious traffic accidents, etc.).

The goal of medication treatment is to deal with the symptoms that are preventing you from reaching your potential. ADHD medications affect the amount of neurotransmitters or their related processes in the brain. 

ADHD medications may help you to:

  • Concentrate and focus
  • Make less impulsive decisions
  • Stop and think before acting and speaking
  • Get more work done
  • Increase the opportunity to build pro-social behaviours necessary for healthy relationships

In Dr. Russell Barkley’s book, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, he notes research has indicated that medication can improve ADHD in up to 80% of individuals or more. Dr. Barkley said: “We now know that ADHD medication can normalize the behavior of 50-65% of those with ADHD and result in substantial improvements, if not normalization, in ANOTHER 20-30% of people with the disorder.”


Given such high effectiveness results, it is often worth trying medication as part of a treatment plan.

No, pills don’t teach skills! Research has repeatedly demonstrated that a combination of medication and behavioral treatment of ADHD provides the highest chances of symptom improvement and general success. Medications can be one part of a treatment plan, in addition to skills training, diet and exercise, behaviour modification plans, counselling, etc.

There are different types of ADHD medications which target various aspects of your brain’s functioning. Unfortunately, there is no way to know ahead of time which type of medication will work best for you.  

Therefore, your doctor will suggest a medication trial to see if it will help improve symptoms and determine their impact on your world. A trial lets you see how a medication affects you so that you can make an informed decision about whether it is useful or not.

If one type of ADHD didn’t work for you or had unsustainable side effects, don’t give up! Sometimes you will need to trail a different type of ADHD medication until you find what works best for you.

If you are having a hard time coping with ADHD symptoms and/or if you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, then the first step may be to discuss your concerns with your doctor or access Mental Health Services in your region.

If your issues are significant, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or a specialized agency that requires a referral. 

Otherwise, you can access most mental health practitioners, such as a psychologist, directly without a referral.

Counselling sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist experienced in both ADHD and mental health challenges can provide support for ADHD and co-related challenges.

A specialist such as a psychologist may use an approach like cognitive behavioural therapy to help you to develop skills to regulate your thought patterns and behavior. Changing your thought patterns from negative to more constructive approaches for dealing with life’s challenges can in turn improve your mood and self-confidence and reduce anxiety. Changing your approach to how you do things can make your life easier and less stressful.

Strategies used consistently will help you to:

  • Feel better, both physically & mentally
  • Get things done more efficiently
  • Keep yourself on-task
  • Stay organized
  • Manage your time better
  • Maintain your motivation

Counselling can also help you to learn strategies to develop more positive relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.  

Since these people are likely a large part of your everyday life, it is important for them to also understand how ADHD affects you. Counselling can teach you to self-advocate and explain to others how ADHD impacts to your life. 

Start by establishing healthy daily habits as they often have outsized positive effects for individuals with ADHD.

  • Eat regularly
  • Eat well
  • Get a good nights sleep
  • Exercise daily 
 
You might also try mindfulness, meditation, and/or yoga to calm your mind and body. Did you know that meditation has been found to be very helpful for ADHD?  

Check out the book, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals. By Lidia Zylowska, MD. The book is accompanied by an audio program.
 

ACTION PLAN

We are fortunate to be living in a time where there is an explosion of information about ADHD, including strategies for adults to manage ADHD Executive Function challenges. But it can all be a bit overwhelming! How do you get started?

Take a step back, evaluate what your needs and goals are, and come up with an ACTION PLAN.

Using the S.M.A.R.T. Goals template below may be helpful.

Specific

What exactly do you want to achieve?

Good goals area clear and defined

Measurable

How will you know then you’ve achieved it?

You will need to be able to track daily progress

Achievable

How can the goal be accomplished?

List the specific tasks you will need to complete

Relevant

Why is this goal important to you?

Does this goal help add to your plans for the future?

Time-bound

When do you want to achieve this goal?

Set your target date so you can guide your work toward a successful completion

A SMART GOALS Chart explaining the requirements for a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goal.

Start the process off by doing a self-evaluation.

  • In what areas of life does ADHD impact you the most?
  • In what areas in your life are things working well for you?
  • What are your strengths, interests, and preferences?
  • What is a current aspect of your day to day life that you might want to improve upon? (executive function skills)
  • How are your current strategies, systems, and routines working?

Use the SMART Goals Framework. Make your goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely
  • Resources: The Resources section in the website lists ADHD resources. LEARN MORE at the end of this section has helpful articles about resources.
  • Sources of Support: You may want to work with a psychologist or ADHD coach to help you to identify measurable goals, develop specific skills and strategies to achieve your goal, get you started, and help you to stay on track. A friend or support group can help you to keep up your motivation.
  • Strategies: After you have done some research and lined up Sources of Support, choose strategies that will help you to achieve your goal.

Set your timeline and specifics for how you will achieve measurable objectives and GET STARTED!

  • Have a system in place to track your progress and keep yourself accountable.  Using a wall calendar or an app can be very helpful.
  • Include motivational rewards along the way. Keeping motivated is key for the ADHD brain!
  • If you are struggling to meet the objectives, take a step back and ask yourself why. What do you need to change?

The Facts on ADHD Medications

Treatment of adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal: Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Published 2008.

Understanding ADHD Medications. Article by Roy Boorady, MD, and child and adolescent psychiatrist. Published by Child Mind Institute

How CBT Dismantles ADHD Negativity: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Overview

How CBT Dismantles ADHD Negativity: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Overview

25 Great Mobile Apps for ADHD Minds. By ADDitude. 2020

25 Great Mobile Apps for ADHD Minds

Find Reputable Adult ADHD Resources & Sources of Support

ADHD is a widely researched neurological condition. That said, it is also a condition that can leave many with more questions than answers and, unfortunately, often a great deal of misinformation. Controversies that have sold as “breakthroughs” have been confusing and sometimes make it a challenge to find supports that actually work for adults with ADHD.

There is no shortage of information available when you type “ADHD treatment” into Google. Unfortunately, there is a massive amount of misinformation that pops up when you do this. It can be incredibly overwhelming to sort the good from the bad (and the ugly). We encourage you to be cautious and skeptical consumers of information as not everything you read is true (particularly on the internet).

Please take the time to do your research. Ensure that resources are reputable and backed by research. Look for consistent messages amongst these sources. Be open to different ideas, and when one treatment doesn’t work, be prepared to try another, because what works for one person may not work the same for another. Many individuals with ADHD suffer unnecessarily for years due to the massive amounts of misinformation being circulated about ADHD.

ADHD is a condition where the various regions of the ADHD brain differ in maturation, structure, chemistry, and connections when compared to non-ADHD brains. There is no “cure” for ADHD, but there are ways to help reduce the severity and impact of symptoms when you find the right management tools!

The RESOURCES section on our website provides reputable books and websites on ADHD.

Review our Screening Checklist to guide you in finding a service provider that is a good match for your needs.

Medical doctors can assess and diagnose ADHD, as it is a neurobiological condition that can be treated with medication. Doctors prescribe and oversee ADHD medication.  They

  • may be your first point of contact with the assessment and diagnosis process.
  • can work with you in treating the disorder with medications.
  • may refer you to other health specialists such as psychiatrists for medication management and treatment of other mental health or psychiatric disorders.
  • may refer you to psychologists, counsellors, ADHD coaches, support groups, and other resource specialists that support individuals with ADHD.
  • A psychiatrist has received specialized training in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. ADHD is considered a mental health disorder and often co-exists with other mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Be Aware: there may be a long wait time to see a psychiatrist in many Canadian provinces. If this is the case, consider other service providers for help.

Psychologists with a specialization in ADHD can be a great source of support for individuals with ADHD.
You do NOT need a referral to see a psychologist.

Psychologists provide:

  • Assessments: Psychologists can assess and diagnose ADHD. Although ADHD may be diagnosed separately, they may incorporate an ADHD assessment within a more thorough psycho-educational assessment to determine a full learning profile and potentially identify other challenges, such as a Learning Disability, communication disorder, anxiety, depression, etc.
 
  • Strategies to improve ADHD symptoms and behaviours based on your specific needs.
 
  • Counselling to help with related emotional, mental health, relationship, and social skills challenges. Psychologists can also provide psychosocial treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, and suggest behavioural strategies that may work for you.
 
  • Support as an individual through transitions in life, such as starting post-secondary education or transitioning from post-secondary to the workplace.
 

Gaining self-awareness of your ADHD symptoms uniquely impact your life and which treatments, strategies and accommodations may work for you to manage ADHD symptoms and any co-existing conditions or challenges – as well as how to capitalize on your strengths – will empower you to take control of your ADHD

When choosing a psychologist, ask questions to ensure they have expertise in assessing and treating ADHD and related mental health challenges in adults.

  • An ADHD coach is a life coach trained specifically to help adults and youth with ADHD to better manage their lives.
  • An ADHD Coach can help with goal setting, planning and organizational skills, time management, motivation, a healthier self-esteem, and relationships.
  • Coaching sessions can take place in person or by telephone or internet so coaches do not necessarily need to be located in your area.
  • Although currently not required in Canada, many ADHD coaches in Canada and other countries are now getting certified through well-known institutions, mainly in the U.S., that offer training and accreditation to become a certified ADHD coach. You may want to ask individual coaches for their training qualifications and request that they provide you with testimonials from past clients.
 

Shopping for a Coach: Read this ADDitude Magazine article to learn about ADHD training and certification, as well as what questions to ask when looking for a coach.

CADDAC: In their ‘Find Resources Near You‘ section, they provide information about ADHD coaches, listed by provinces in Canada.

Trying to manage your own ADHD, or living with a person who has ADHD, can at times make you feel like you are alone in dealing with the fallout of those symptoms. Yet ADHD is quite common. It helps to find a community of peers who are facing the same challenges as you are and who will share their ideas and successes with you.

Check to see if there are ADHD support groups in your area.

Online Support Groups:

The RESOURCES section on our website provides reputable websites and books on ADHD.

Learning Disabilities (LD) does not mean you cannot learn. It does mean that despite you having at least average or higher intelligence, you experience unexpected difficulties in some learning areas. LD is an umbrella term that includes difficulties with processing what you see, hear and feel; difficulties with memory for learning; and/or difficulties with executive functions which involve organization, planning, strategizing and time management.  

This means you could have difficulties with speaking, reading (including Dyslexia), writing (including Dysgraphia), math (including Dyscalculia), social interaction and relationships, and/or organization.  An individual’s difficulties are usually in one or two areas, but they could also experience challenges in all of them.

Managing LD as an Adult ​

Reflect on your life and identify how many of the following you have experienced:

  • a family history of Learning Disabilities – LDs often run in families;
  • difficulties in school with learning academic skills that other children seemed to learn much more easily;
  • any challenges with reading/writing especially;
  • challenges with memory;
  • challenges with processing information quickly;
  • repeating grades;
  • homeschooled due to learning issues;
  • did not complete high school or graduated with too few credits;
  • did not pass a placement test for college;
  • started but did not complete post-secondary education;
  • difficulty completing courses for professional development or upgrading at work; or
  • experiencing a great deal of anxiety in everyday life.

Learning Disabilities usually show up in childhood, especially once a child starts school and experiences difficulties learning academic and/or social skills.  However, the difficulties may not always be obvious to the adults in the child’s life, and even when they are, there are often other factors that interfere with or prevent a diagnosis. 

  • Myths exist about how children learn and develop; ie: “Don’t worry! They will catch on eventually.”  or “They just need to work harder.”
  • Family members may not know about Learning Disabilities.
  • Teachers may not be trained to recognize Learning Disabilities.
  • A child may work harder to keep up so learning difficulties are not as apparent.
  • Other behaviours may mask the learning difficulties.
  • Medical conditions may be prioritized over learning difficulties.
  • The use of classroom technology may mask learning difficulties.
  • Parents may be intimidated by the process of getting a diagnosis.
  • The cost of a psychologist for a diagnosis may be out of reach.
  • Parents fear having their child labeled as having a  Learning Disability.

Since Learning Disabilities are life-long, they impact all areas of your everyday life and can include work, adult learning, sports, relationships, and other activities.

Which of the following symptoms do you experience?

Regularly:

  • Challenges with memory
  • Challenges with processing information – what you see, hear or perceive (feel)
  • Difficulties reading, and/or comprehending what you read
  • Expressing your thoughts coherently in a written format
  • Difficulty filling out forms 
  • Difficulties managing personal finances
  • Difficulties cooking or baking because you struggle with quantities and measurements
  • Misinterpreting non-verbal cues – body language/tone of voice, etc. which impacts social relationships 
  • Experiencing low self-esteem, motivation, frustration
  • Difficulty with self-advocacy as you may be intimidated by your boss, instructors, professors, etc.

 

In learning environments such as in-person or online courses, seminars, or post-secondary education:

  • Difficulties keeping up with the rest of the class
  • Difficulties listening and writing at the same time
  • Taking longer to process information; comprehension of content is weak unless it is repeated often
  • Needing to reread texts to comprehend them
  • Abstract reasoning is more challenging
  • Difficulty breaking down assignments into manageable chunks
  • May be late meeting deadlines because tasks take you longer
  • A heavy reliance on assistive technology
  • A heavy reliance on others to re-explain concepts, keep you organized, etc.

 

At work:

  • Articulating thoughts – poor verbal skills (interviews); processing takes longer when answering questions; 
  • Needing more time to complete reports, manuals, etc.
  • Difficulties remembering content of meetings
  • Difficulties remembering/following steps/directions
  • Difficulties remembering what was read
  • Taking longer to process information ie: spreadsheets, reports, order forms, schedules, manuals, contracts, etc.
  • Difficulties learning new technology

 

At home:

  • Difficulties keeping yourself or your family organized
  • Reluctant to participate in extra-curricular & family activities
  • Lacking time-management for appointments, play dates, grocery shopping, bill payments, budgeting, etc.
  • Reluctant to help children with homework
  • Difficulty exploring and registering for activities
  • Difficulties maintaining long-term relationships because of inconsistent social skills, recognizing non-verbal cues, or emotional regulation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty maintaining structure and routines

Learning Disabilities are diagnosed by a registered psychologist who will use a combination of personal interviews and a variety of tests to determine your learning capabilities and challenges. An assessment is important in order to rule out other reasons why someone might struggle with their learning; that is, Learning Disabilities can often come with other conditions and/or look like other conditions (e.g., ADHD, anxiety). 

Am I An Adult With A Learning Disability?

It is important to find psychologists who specialize in diagnosing Learning Disabilities in adults.

Benefits of a psychologist completing a psycho-educational assessment are:

  • A full psycho-educational assessment can determine if other conditions such as a learning disability exist, which is quite common. The assessment report will give you a picture of your full learning profile, including your challenges and also your natural strengths and aptitudes.
  • Psychologists can help you to learn strategies to manage your Learning disability.
  • Psycho-educational assessments are particularly helpful for adults who plan to or are attending university and need their profile information, particularly when it comes to seeking out accommodations.
  • Some adults may benefit by having a psycho-educational assessment done for workplace accommodations.
  • Psychologists may also uncover and provide treatment for related challenges, such as anxiety and depression.
 

Costs: Unless you can access a psychologist through the health system, psychology services are not covered through provincial health care plans in Canada. Most private extended health care plans will cover psychological services. Some agencies offer sliding scale rates for psychological services if you qualify.

  • If you are a student at a post-secondary institution and are experiencing significant issues with your learning, visit the accessibility office. They can discuss your concerns and have the ability to refer you for a free assessment.

    If you had a Learning Disability diagnosis as a child, but are experiencing additional problems as an adult, you may be funded for a new assessment if there has been a significant change in the presentation  of your Learning Disability.  For example, you were previously identified as having a reading disability like Dyslexia, but are now finding that your ability to process information is making it difficult to keep up with assignments and exams.

  • The Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) has the ability to refer a worker for a learning assessment if they are struggling with retraining. Ask your case worker for a referral.
  • Employment agencies such as Prospect, which are themselves government funded, can request an assessment if your symptoms are interfering with your ability to be trained and get hired.

Foundational Learning, Upgrading or Post-Secondary School

Whether you are a young adult transitioning from high school directly to a post-secondary or a mature adult pursuing further education later in life, you need support! It can be daunting for everyone – but it is even more challenging if you also have to manage a Learning Disability or ADHD.

Considerable support is provided for learners at any education level and time of their lives through government-supported LD and ADHD  programs for adults and at most post-secondary schools in Alberta. They help people with a diagnosed disability of any kind, including a Learning Disability or ADHD.

ADHD education for adults

Below is information for you about adult learning and post-secondary institutions.

Foundational learning is for adults who have decided to start or re-start learning basic school-type skills and/or English skills. These LD and ADHD programs for adults are for learners who have never had the opportunity of any kind of formal schooling, had interrupted school experiences, or have only had a few years of school.

Foundational learning programs are focused on basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills.  You can use these skills to make everyday life easier, and to prepare for employment and academic upgrading programs.

Though these programs are not specifically designed for adults with learning disabilities or ADHD, many foundational learning instructors are able to recognize signs of learning challenges and can further refer clients to appropriate programs.

Calgary Learns lists all of the foundational learning programs available in Calgary.  They are a CALP organization (see next paragraph).

Community Adult Learning Programs (CALPS) 

The Community Adult Learning Program supports over 100 community-based learning organizations who provide informal learning opportunities focused on basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills. They are available in every region of Alberta. Their website has a map where you can find a CALP program near you. 

CALPs are community-based organizations funded by the Alberta government under Skills, Trades, and Professions ministry to provide, promote and increase access to foundational learning opportunities in areas such as: adult literacy, numeracy, English language learning, basic digital skills, and skills for learning.

Alberta Government: Going Back to School as an Adult

Check out this website to learn about how the Alberta Government can support your goal to upgrade or go back to school. If you are 19 years old or younger on Sept. 1, explore your options for finishing high school and academic upgrading here.

Calgary Board of Education; Adult Education

  • High School Upgrading: Students can upgrade or enhance their high school diplomas as they prepare to enter post-secondary institutions or the of world of work.
 
  • Continuing Education: Professional Development courses offered in: School-Based Training, Writing & Workplace skills, Computer training, Finance. Online courses available.
 
 

Bow Valley College

 
  • High School Upgrading: Complete the high school courses you need for college or university. Study at the campus or at home through our online option. Locations: downtown Calgary, Okotoks, and Airdrie.
 
 
 
  • Academic Upgrading: Columbia College has 3 levels of Academic Upgrading: Grades 1-6, Grades 7-9 and Grades 10-12.  While each level is unique, learners in Grades 1-9 are working towards reaching their employment goals and learners in Grades 10-12 are focused on meeting the entry requirements into a further education program.

Foothills Academy Community Services – Read/Write Program

Individualized, one-to-one instruction for struggling learners, drawing from evidence-based programs.

  • Clients: age 6 years and older through adult.
  • All of the instructors are university-educated professionals who receive training.
  • Sessions are offered after school, on Saturdays, school year or summer intensive program, and booster program
  • Financial assistance available to children of qualifying families.
 

CanLearn – Literacy Programs
CanLearn Society has a variety of literacy programs:

  • Children, parents and adults.
  • Adult programs are for both reading and math literacy.
  • CanLearn offers financial assistance to qualifying individuals including adults.

The Reading Foundation
Trained clinicians deliver instruction in specialized programs designed to strengthen the student’s fundamental learning skills when they experience difficulties in reading, comprehension, writing, and math. Sessions offered after school hours, part time during school hours, or through intensive program.

Kaizen Education Services
Academic coaches are experienced, certified Alberta teachers, supporting students with executive skill deficits. They focus on the process of learning and transferable skills that can be applied to any subject or course. They also provide assessments, study skills coaching, high school and post -secondary planning and coaching, and parent coaching.

Family Psychology Place
North and South locations
Licensed teachers offer one-on-one tutoring. They have experience working with learning disabilities and ADHD. They can support you with reading, writing, math, study skills, LD strategies, etc.

Dyslexia YYC
https://www.facebook.com/dyslexiacalgary
Creating awareness of dyslexia/learning disabilities in Calgary; sharing of information, research,and anything and everything related to dyslexia.

Decoding Dyslexia Alberta
https://www.facebook.com/decodingdyslexiaab
A grassroots organization driven by Alberta families and educators who recognize the need for conversations with our school districts and policy makers regarding dyslexia.

Colleges and universities have an accessibility department or office, which is usually a part of Academic Services or Student Services. This department is where you would meet with an Accessibility Advisor or Learning Strategist. They will help you to access accommodations and other academic support you might need.

Legislation for post-secondary institutions is different than for K to Gr. 12 school systems and so are their processes for disability accommodations.  While each post-secondary institution is bound by the same legislation, each will have their own policies and processes in place.

Alberta Human Rights Commission
Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Institutions PDF.

Canada Human Rights Commission

An Accessibility Advisors will:

  • explain your rights and responsibilities as a student with a disability
  • describe how accessibility services work at their particular post-secondary
  • support you in getting services throughout your studies
  • assist you with accommodations, ie: a test writing centre
  • work with you to develop effective learning/organizational strategies
  • explain how to advocate to your instructors or professors
 

An Accessibility Advisor will not:

  • liaise with your instructors/professors about your accommodation needs.  You must do this yourself.
  • send you reminders about accessing your accommodations

Most post-secondary institutions will require you to send in an application to Accessibility Services to get started.  The application will state what documentation is needed to get support services and accommodations. 

Generally, you will need one or a combination of the following:

  • Documentation from your family doctor or other physician outlining your diagnosis (ie: ADHD) or other health issues (ie: anxiety) that might affect your academics
  • Documentation from a medical specialist such as a psychiatrist or neurologist
  • A copy of a psycho-educational assessment from a psychologist that will support accommodations
Contact the Accessibility Services as soon as you apply to an institution, not just when you have been accepted, as you will want to discover what supports different institutions offer.

Ask your accessibility advisor if you qualify for funding. You may qualify for Grants for Students with a Permanent Disability.

Note – only students who have a permanent disability and have updated documentation will qualify. Alberta Student Aid explains, “A permanent disability is a functional limitation caused by a physical or mental impairment that restricts the ability of a person to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in studies at the post-secondary level or in the labour force. The disability is expected to remain for the person’s expected natural life.” Both Learning Disabilities and ADHD are considered permanent disabilities.

Did you have an Individual Program Plan (IPP/IEP)/Learner Support Plan (LSP) in high school? If so, your school should have supporting documentation that was used to create the IPP/IEP/LSP.

If the IPP is the only documentation you have access to, and it is recent (within 3 years), ask your accessibility advisor if you will need other documentation to get the accommodations you think will help you overcome the educational barriers you are facing.

Note:  the disability coding system used in K-Gr. 12 Alberta school systems to create IPPs does not apply in post-secondary institutions.  The IPP simply becomes a reference for past accommodations.  

In post-secondary institutions, accommodations are part of an accommodation memo or plan.

Any accommodation memo or plan an institution puts in place for a student is to assist in overcoming an educational barrier. Discuss your learning challenges with your Accessibility Advisor. Once you and your advisor have an understanding of what barriers you will face in your program, discuss what reasonable accommodations can be put in place. Only accommodations that are supported in the assessment or doctor’s letter can be granted.

Once you and your advisor have agreed to your accommodations, discuss what the protocols are to inform your instructors about your accommodation memo/plan.

If your accommodation memo/plan allows for additional time for test-taking, it is important to find out how to go about booking these exams and at what locations.

If you have used Assistive Technology in the past or would like to explore the possibilities of using it during your program, talk to your access advisor regarding learning more about what assistive technology is available, and whether assistive technology is one of your accommodations.

Most colleges and universities will have an assistive technology advisor on staff. They can tell you if funding and training is available for assistive technology.

Ask your accessibility advisor if they think it would be beneficial to meet with an academic strategist, learning strategist or learning coach. Many post-secondaries include learning strategists/coaches as part of their support services so discuss options to access funding to pay for learning support.

A learning coach helps students examine their approach to learning and can provide alternative strategies to learning course material. learning coaches can also provide students support in areas such as time management, improve test-taking skills, strategies to manage anxiety, note taking, etc.