Monday, April 7, 2008

Living with a learning disabled adult...

There are tons of articles and books written about living with a learning disabled child. Tons. I know as three of my four children have learning disabilities. But then, those children grow up and must face life as an adult with learning disabilities. Disabilities don't just go away when you reach adulthood. That's when life begins to get interesting.

My father is seventy eight and still has a terrible time reading. He's a minister where reading (especially the Bible) is important. My mother does most of the reading --out loud to him so that he can catch the meaning of the passages. But he can quote pages and pages from the Bible. He can make almost anything--and I do mean anything.

My husband is sixty one. He can't find his way across the street unless he has detailed directions. If there are more than two turns between home and his destination he gets lost. He may ask me the same question thirty times. He may repeat the same story over and over because he forgot that he told me the first time. He can't spell. And when we married, he barely read second grade level despite graduating from High School. But he can take a computer apart and put it back together. Or wire a phone. Or replace the engine in a car.

My son is thirty eight. He can't spell cat. Never could. Never in his life has he passed a spelling test. His motor skills are such that his hand writing is barely legible. He gets lost if his "landmarks" change. Every time he comes to see us, he gets lost either coming or going. He makes toner for copiers for a big name company. He runs the evening shift and tests the toner quality and does quality control.

Adults with learning disabilities find life difficult because cultural expectations change when you reach adulthood. Some have a terrible time keeping a job because their attention span is zero. Some drive you crazy because they insist on sticking to their schedule even when its clear that today it won't work. Their reasoning skills are all whacked. Explaining why a particular plan won't work doesn't necessarily mean that they will understand three words in ten.

They jump into new interests with both feet, without knowing what's involved. And just as quickly, they may abandon that interest without a backward look even though they've invested hundreds of dollars in supplies. For them, once the interest is gone, it doesn't exist for them.

There is a certain amount of self-centeredness. Not selfishness. If you point out that so-and-so needs help carrying in the groceries, they will gladly help. But they don't see that need for themselves. So as a spouse or parent you can't ever assume that they will know that you need something. You always have to verbalize your need. They don't read facial expressions so they may not know that the individual they are with is upset or angry or happy.

Women in particular place value on all the romantic gestures... flowers, gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day. The house hunk has no idea when those days are, let alone what he might be expected to do about it. From the beginning I have known that if I wanted something for my birthday I would need to do one of two things--buy it myself, wrap it up and slap a tag on it--or give him a detailed list of instructions on where to buy it, etc. Gift cards are wonderful inventions. I just tell him how much and when to buy it.

Of course, what this all means is that when I want something, I just point out that my last however many occasions were overlooked...which is how I ended up with a Sony digital reader for Valentines Day. There are silver linings in the clouds.

A friend once asked me how I stand it. We all have imperfections and difficulties. I'm sure that there are days that I drive him nuts. I don't put the toilet paper on the roller. I hang the towels up backward. I leave my shoes where his shoes are supposed to go. Life is good.


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  1. How do you hang a towel up backwards? Print side down? Tag side up? I say buy solid colors and cut the tag off and you're good to go.

    Can't help you on the TP thing :)

  2. You are right as usual - everyone has something that may be considered a trial to another person - patience is the key and acceptance that no one is perfect...and I always hang things with the tags showing but then their only me to care and I don't

  3. Well said. For every weakness there is a strength, perhaps hidden but there nonetheless. You just need the patience to find it as you so obviously know.

  4. I'm glad Jenyfer asked cause I was curious too. Toilet roll solved. Scott made a toilet roll holder (dowl on a stand) and we stack 'em. Why? Cause Scott can't do the roll thing either. He also takes books in there and leaves them. When I clear them out, he leaves more. Solution? I put a huge whicker shelf in there for towels, toiletries, and yes, books lined nicely.

    My house hunk is learning disabled as well. He was born without a thyroid and he should be a vegitative creatin. He's not. In fact he's highly intellegent and responsive. BUT his memory for short term items sucks and he can't even remember to take a pill he needs every day of his life, to stay alive. Can't leave post its cause he forgets to notice them... just doesn't see them.

    We all make adjustments. But then I'm a control freak who has to remember not to control everything. I know I drive him nuts.

  5. Anny, you are a wonderful woman. I can imagine how difficult it is to keep being so patient. Your house hunk is lucky to have you.

  6. It took me two years to train mine to put the TP on the roll the 'right' way. And sometimes he still does it 'wrong'.

  7. My dad finds it incredibly amusing that he is barely able to read while his daughter is not only a writer but a reading/literature teacher as well. Yet my nephew who has Asbergers reads voraciously. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.