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ED321156 1990-00-00 Teaching Adults 
with Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest 

No. 99. 

ERIC Development Team 
www . eric . ed . gov 

Table of Contents 

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Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest No. 99 2 













ER!C M Digests 

ERIC Identifier: ED321156 
Publication Date: 1990-00-00 
Author: Lowry, Cheryl Meredith 

Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH. 

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Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities. 
ERIC Digest No. 99. 


Adult educators concur that youngsters with learning disabilities (LD) do not simply 
outgrow them. They become adults with LD, and many of them participate in adult 
education programs. This ERIC DIGEST discusses the number of adult learners with 
LD, identifies relevant issues, describes intervention strategies, and suggests specific 
techniques that adult educators can use with their LD students. 


The number of adults with LD in adult education is not easy to estimate because 
extrapolating from the number of school children receiving LD services (4.84 percent in 
1987-88) may result in a fair estimate of learning disabled adults in the population but 
not of those in adult education. 

Adults with LD may comprise as many as 80 percent of the students in adult basic 
education programs (Ross 1987), but a smaller percentage of students in other adult 
education settings, such as corporate training programs and continuing education, are 
estimated to have LD (Ross-Gordon 1989). 

Teachers may observe the following characteristics in adult learners who have LD 
(HEATH Resource Center 1989): 

1. Pronounced difficulty with reading, writing, spelling, and number concepts, although 
other skills are average to superior 

2. Poorly formed handwriting that may be printing instead of script and that may have 
uneven spacing between words 

3. Difficulty in listening to a lecture and taking notes at the same time 

4. Severe difficulty in sticking to simple schedules, repeatedly forgetting things and 
losing things 

5. Confusion about up and down and right and left 

6. Excessive anxiety, anger, or depression because of frustration when coping with 
social situations 

7. Misinterpretation of the subtleties in language, tone of voice, or social situations 

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Nonetheless, Ross-Gordon (1989) points out that many adults with LD exhibit strengths 
that enable them to compensate for their disabilities and to perform successfully even 
without supportive services. 


Among the most serious issues concerning adults with LD are the lack of an 
agreed-upon definition of LD and the scarcity of competent assessment tools to identify 
adults who have them. 


Since the term learning disability was first used in 1963 (Ross 1987), most definitions of 
LD have been developed to describe children in academic contexts, rather than to 
describe adults in a variety of work and personal life settings. That is true even of the 
definition of learning disability most often cited, which was accepted for the Education of 
All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Ross-Gordon 1989). 

A definition that does stress the lifelong impact of LD and its potential effects on multiple 
aspects of a person's life was approved by the Association for Children and Adults with 
LD in 1986. It defines specific LD as a chronic condition of presumed neurological 
origin, which selectively interferes with the development, integration, and/or 
demonstration of verbal and nonverbal abilities. 

Specific LD, the definition says, exists as a distinct handicapping condition and varies in 
its manifestations and in degrees of severity. The definition states that the condition can 
affect self-esteem, education, vocation, socialization, and daily living activities ("ACLD 
Description" 1986). 

As that definition reflects, the theories of LD that have prevailed assume that individuals 
with LD have difficulty learning because of some difference in information processing 
(Ross-Gordon 1989). That difference is assumed to have a neurological basis. Recent 
brain research has substantiated the neuropsychological theory of LD, even though the 
neurological basis of individual LDs cannot be verified by current assessment 
procedures (ibid.). 


When thinking about the assessment of adults with LD, Ross-Gordon (1989) suggests, 
adult educators should be aware of the scarcity of diagnostic tools appropriate for 
adults, the importance of enlisting the adults' assistance in the assessment process, 
and the fact that assessment is useful only to the extent that it helps adults live more 

She recommends that testing be used only as part (and perhaps not the most important 
part) of a comprehensive assessment process. The assessment process is more 

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beneficial when the adult contributes information about personal goals and learning 
strengths and weaknesses. Not only is the information itself important, but shifting the 
process from testing to discovery and problem solving increases the adult's involvement 
and can decrease the negative aspects of testing (Ross-Gordon 1989). 

Using assessment instruments to find out whether an adult student has LD has limited 
value if the information gleaned cannot be acted upon by, for instance, arranging 
instruction to help the student learn or making him or her eligible for resources or 
services. That is, the advantages of having identified an LD student must be weighed 
against the negative effects of testing and labeling. Ross (1987) encourages adult 
educators to ask themselves how they can use more sophisticated educational practice 
to meet the needs of learners without assigning labels. 


Ross-Gordon (1989) categorizes intervention strategies for adults with LD according to 
their goals: 

1 . Basic skills remediation, the model often used in adult basic education 

2. Subject-area tutoring, such as preparation for the General Educational Development 

3. Compensatory modification that involves changing the environment or the conditions 
under which learning takes place or helping the adult develop alternative means of 
accomplishing a goal 

4. Cognitive or learning strategies training (learning to learn) 

5. Instruction in survival skills 

6. Vocational exploration and training 

Because no single approach has been demonstrated as ideal, designers of programs 
often combine two or more approaches (Ross 1987). Teachers can make the most of a 
student's own pattern of learning strengths and weaknesses by combining skill building, 
compensatory techniques, and learning strategies. 


As with intervention strategies, no single set of teaching techniques is likely to meet the 
needs of all adults with LD. The following techniques have been suggested 
(Clearinghouse on Adult Education and Literacy 1989; Ross 1987, 1988; Ross-Gordon 

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1 . Assess individuals' learning styles and teach to the stronger modality or style 

2. Use multisensory techniques when teaching groups 

3. Create opportunities for concrete and experiential learning as well as for abstract and 
reflective learning 

4. Make abstract concepts more concrete by having students handle materials, relating 
new information to everyday life, and demonstrating tasks 

5. Teach new concepts concretely because it is often easier for LD students to learn the 
theory after learning its practical applications 


1 . Talk to students about what techniques work best 

2. Use language experience approaches and materials from their home and work 

3. Build on students' strengths 

4. Give frequent, positive, and explicit feedback 

5. Help students recognize success 


1. Teach transferable strategies such as listening, paraphrasing, SQ3R (survey, 
question, read, recite, review), error monitoring, note-taking methods, sentence 
combining, and paragraph organizing 

2. Teach memory techniques such as chunking and mnemonics 

3. Discuss the situations in which the strategies will be useful and discuss which 
strategies will be useful across situations 


1 . Teach techniques such as tape recording and word processing, use 
computer-assisted instruction, and develop aids students can carry with them (such as 
a list of number words they will need to write checks) 

2. Encourage students to obtain note-takers, readers, tutors, and recorded texts 

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1. Help students identify organizational patterns 

2. Make clear transitions from one topic or task to another 

3. Use color coding whenever possible 

4. Break lessons into manageable parts 

5. Help students set realistic goals 

6. Make directions specific, concrete, and understandable 

7. Make changes in the schedule, assignments, or examinations orally and in writing 

8. As a check for accuracy, have the student repeat verbally what has been taught 


This ERIC Digest is based on the following publication: 

Ross-Gordon, Jovita M. "Adults with Learning Disabilities: an Overview for the Adult 
Educator." Information Series no. 337. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, 
Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for Employment, 
The Ohio State University, 1989. (ERIC No. ED 315 664). 


"ACLD Description: Specific Learning Disabilities." ACLD Newsbriefs, 
September-October 1986. 

Clearinghouse on Adult Education and Literacy. "Instructional Strategies for Adults with 
Learning Disabilities." Washington, DC: Division of Adult Education and Literacy, U.S. 
Department of Education, 1989. 

HEATH Resource Center. "Resources for Adults with Learning Disabilities. Washington, 
DC: American Council on Education, 1989. (ERIC No. ED 311 671). 

Ross, Jovita Martin. "Learning and Coping Strategies of Learning Disabled ABE 
Students." Adult Literacy and Basic Education 12, no. 2 (1988): 78-90. (ERIC No. EJ 
403 358). 

Ross, Jovita Martin. "Learning Disabled Adults: Who Are They and What Do We Do with 
Them?" Lifelong Learning 1 1 , no. 3 (1 987): 4-7, 1 1 . (ERIC No. EJ 361 993). 

Page 6 of 7 ED321 1 56 1 990-00-00 Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest No. 99. 

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This ERIC DIGEST was developed in 1990 by Cheryl Meredith Lowry with funding from 
the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education 
under Contract No. RI88062005. The opinions expressed in this report do not 
necessarily reflect the position or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. 
Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced. 

Title: Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest No. 99. 
Document Type: Information Analyses— ERIC Information Analysis Products (lAPs) 
(071); Information Analyses— ERIC Digests (Selected) in Full Text (073); 
Target Audience: Teachers, Practitioners 

Descriptors: Adult Basic Education, Adult Educators, Adult Students, Coping, 
Diagnostic Tests, Educational Diagnosis, Learning Disabilities, Psychoeducational 

Identifiers: ERIC Digests 

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