Life Development Institute (LDI) provides opportunities for teens and young adults who have learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and other similar learning and social differences to successfully transition into independent living.
Part of this process develops internally through daily interactions with students in order to empower their courageous self-expression, while another part proceeds from communal service through participation and education. As such, LDI’s President Veronica Crawford continues to offer her knowledge and wisdom to students, staff, family members, professionals, and members of the larger community. Sometimes, Veronica has the honor of speaking while other moments offer her the opportunity to share her insights through writing.
Veronica Crawford, MA, is a certified Senior Disability Analyst and has over 30 years’ experience in the LD field. Her background is in educational, workplace, and personal/social development, specializing in learning disabilities (LD) and co-existing disabilities. Veronica has taught as an adjunct professor for four years and worked five years in a Fortune 100 company as a Human Resources Training Manager ensuring compliance of ADA among other duties.
Veronica is currently the President of Life Development Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the author of Embracing the Monster: Overcoming the Challenges of Hidden Disabilities, 2002, Brookes Publishing. She was featured on NCLD, Our World Winter 2002, and LDonLine Summer 2002, First Person. She has actively served many roles on adult issues for National LDA since 1996. Veronica is a respected spokesperson on behalf of and for adults with LD across the nation.
The following is an article written by Veronica Crawford that highlights the emotional impact of learning disabilities and ADHD.
The Emotional Impact of LD and ADHD:
Social Implications for Adults According to Personal and Practitioner Expertise
by Veronica Crawford, MA
Sometimes, you just feel so alone, like no one understands, with nothing to do, week-end after week-end. So you sink your life into your work or into cleaning your house or getting your kids as obsessed with organization and cleanliness as you are! Then, there are the parties that your spouse gets invited to, but not you, and you have to find a way to cope. So out comes the alcohol to help you feel like a part of the group even though you are being ostracized because you “just don’t fit in.”
Many of the clients I work with have similar stories of trying to develop friendships — wanting a person to join them for a movie, or a burger, or even just a walk to the mall. Typically, when I present programs nationally, adults with LD and ADHD tell me these same types of stories with tears in their eyes. After hearing a presentation, they realize that they are not alone in their experiences. So many adults, thinking something was wrong with them because they had difficulty making friends, begin to realize that there is indeed something which can be done to improve their situation.
Still, there are others that I know, (myself included, as well as many of my colleagues who are adults with LD and/ or ADHD) who still go to social functions and often feel “jilted” or invisible at these events. For many, such social situations are often outside the direct walls of their personal comfort zones and usually are in some specific area of their life such as work, family, or professional association of some kind. Even in the company of people they trust, the group remains small, close and very intimate.
Having ADHD or LD as an adult is a complicated matter in many of the adult functional domains of life (independent living, employment, education, social, physical/mental health, community, recreation/leisure), and regardless of how one looks at it, the condition is a disability. All too often, however, we ignore the most obvious ways in which ADHD affects people’s lives such as personal, social and emotional impacts. The driving force behind all of this is the way in which adults with these conditions interact with others.
In all of these various areas, we have to interface with other people. So, if you have difficulties with personal interactions, how do you manage everyday life, let alone make friends and have fun? Instead, I have found many of the adults I have worked with over the last 30 years, either become absorbed into their work, or get into a hobby of some kind rather than build relationships outside of their particular area of “safety.”
As adults, we often take for granted that we tend to naturally fall into social groups. We do so with our co-workers, family, neighbors, church groups, special interest groups, clubs, or old high school and college friends. Whatever the source, it is interesting to see how many people make the assumption that having friends is “normal”, and if you don’t, you are “different.” And we all know that being “different” is not a good thing in the general context of what many believe. Being “unique” is good, but “different” implies strange.
I first became aware of my difficulties in social interactions when I entered adulthood. Although it was hard enough in adolescence, interacting socially as an adult was a lot different. I wasn’t lacking in the social graces — I was lacking in the ability to retrieve words and information on demand. I couldn’t remember peoples’ names. If asked what classes I was taking in school, I couldn’t remember the course names, or even the days of the week the classes were on. I was easily distracted by noises around me, sights of others walking by, and it looked as though I wasn’t interested in what others were saying to me. If that isn’t bad enough, I would often stutter over words, not remember the name of the president of our country, or be able to join a discussion on the history of our country (any aspect of it), making me appear as if I was not well-read and quite the idiot in my social circles.
It becomes worse as you age; you notice more differences between yourself and others without LD/ADHD. You are often judged in split seconds by others, sized up quickly, and the insecurity that has built up over the years compounds on itself.
Some of my clients have admitted that they have tried the old strategy of bluffing their way into social groups as an adult, (trying to tell stories) pretending to know more, having done more, creating an imaginary life that they themselves begin to believe. It is unfortunate that some find themselves wrapped up in living little lies so that they appear more interesting and appealing to their friends. Others state that they find comfort in drugs and/or alcohol; it is easier, they say, to face others when you are stoned or drunk. That way, they can blame the ignorance on the effects of the substance, not on their brain. Finally, there are those who just withdraw, choosing not to go out at all. After all, it is just too painful. Better to spend time alone than having to go out and deal with the ridicule, the looks, the snickers.
Whether actual or imagined, social isolation for these adults is a very real and concerning issue. Some of these adults lead extremely lonely and sadly isolated lives. Interestingly, the ones that struggle the most are often the most intellectually gifted and have LD/ ADHD. These should be the people who have the most to offer, and the people who are most trustworthy, honest empathic, giving, and kind.
They want to have friendships, but don’t know how to initiate, or make the attempt but are quickly misperceived due to disclosing too much personal information about themselves from the outset and scaring others off. Other times, they have been hurt so many times over the years that they begin to stay away and simply don’t do anything to become socially engaged.
The other group of adults with ADHD is those that have extreme impulsivity, constantly putting their foot in their mouth, and all too often sabotaging any chance of fitting in with the group. Impulsive individuals often do not grasp the effects of their actions, and therefore do not really learn from the experience until they have someone who helps them see the consequences.
Once, I was working with a student who really struggled with controlling his thoughts. He would always say what he thought, no matter what. He would become very excited in the social environment and words would simply spill out. This young man was a wonderful person. If people would only take the time to get to know him and look past the comments that would slip out, they would recognize the kindness, intelligence, and creativity embodied in this incredible person.
But we had a lot of work to do so that he could interact in society on a socially acceptable level. There were several things that were done to help him without removing the beauty or quality of his human nature.
We started to help him recognize the many times he experienced repeated difficulties with social rejection. This had to be done very carefully. Adults can be guided, so that they are in a leadership position, as opposed to being told what to do. If not done carefully, it can cause irreversible emotional harm. Secondly, he had to understand that medication may be an initial step to control the impulsivity and to consult with a psychiatrist that specialized in ADHD adults.
Once these initial steps are addressed, ongoing work to develop social skills in interpersonal situations should be the emphasis. This can be accomplished with a counselor who is trained in this particular area, a program offering these types of skills or some other type of specialist who has skills in working with adults who have LD/ADHD in dealing with these types of issues.
Social issues are also impacted by the lack of literacy skills, even if they have been remediated. What happens is that the emotional damage left over from childhood academic failures often follows these adults. There is much talk about the importance of improving reading skills — if people can just learn to read, write and do the math, everything will be fine. This is not the case although social and academic issues are related, solving one does not immediately solve the other.
As with the example described previously, impulsivity is the social problem. People can bring into adulthood memories from childhood such as the teasing, not being invited to parties, not being asked to be on the team, and being called on in class to answer a question only to be laughed at for getting it wrong.
After years of negative experiences, social opportunities otherwise learned to go unlearned. As social exposures are missed and fears are concurrently compounded, the now-adult may choose to avoid outside social experiences. Many times parents exacerbate the effects of this social withdrawal by overprotecting their child with unconditional praise and acceptance, not realizing that this attitude will result in maladaptive behavior in adulthood.
Adults who have experienced too much parental protection as children due to lack of friendships tend to have unrealistic expectations of other adults. These unrealistic expectations can lead to job failures, lack of social experiences, fear of community experiences, and when friendships do occur they tend to be one-sided, causing many difficulties which result in those rate pairings becoming failures as well.
In situations where emotional damage has been done, counseling is critical. The individual needs to have permission to grieve the loss of their childhood. They need to have exposure to others who have experienced this loss, and who have moved on to be successful, so they can see the potential positive outcome. Parents need to step back and allow the professionals to take over so that their adult child may be enabled to experience their own feelings. It will take time for the loss to be realized, and for the adult child to begin developing a life plan that they feel secure with putting in place.
This type of issue is one that has not often been addressed. Some researchers have looked into this area, but it has been ignored over the years for many reasons. Some of this is because educators believe that if we teach children to learn in school there will be no issues with low self-esteem in adulthood; hence the problem will be resolved. Others maintain the belief that once someone has reached adulthood they should take care of their own problems, and society is no longer responsible for their development. And lastly, many people simply do not believe that ADHD and LD are true disabling conditions, and instead hold to the belief that ADHD is a blessing, gift or a positive aspect. This ignores the destructive consequences these disabilities can cause in many areas of one’s life if not properly managed.
The population of adults with ADHD and LD is at risk for losing their rights as being regarded as individuals with disabilities. We as professionals and concerned individuals can no longer afford to say that having LD or ADHD is a gift — not without telling the story of how life was before we “found” our gifts. Anyone who really has this diagnosis knows that the struggles are extreme, and the painful uphill battle to learn how to cope takes plenty of courage and time.
One thing is for certain. Though the process does take courage and time, once through with the battle, almost all who have experienced it will say it was worth the perseveration it took. Being able to help them grow and get through difficult life and social trials is a mountain well worth climbing.
When you have seen where you have been, and where you can go when you realize how strong you are and what your purpose is in life you realize you have something no one else can control. Finally, you know that no matter what, you can survive. You finally know how to have friendships because once you know yourself, once you care about yourself, the friendships come. You can be reflective, and you can achieve a sense of balance because you know your limitations. Most importantly, you know your capabilities, and you are proud to be you.
To learn more about the positive impact that Veronica has had on many persons and to discover more about Life Development Institute, please visit www.discoverldi.com or call (623) 773-1545.