Adults Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties


Learning difficulties in adults

Adults can suffer from the same learning and attention difficulties they experienced in childhood. For many adults, a diagnosis or treatment for their learning difficulties was not available at school – they passed through the system undetected. As an adult you have to cope with responsibilities with the same processing problems that limited you in school.

ADHD was considered a childhood disease until the late 1980s. However, some 70% of kids with ADHD retain symptoms as adults. Some grow up and lose the H in ADHD and become adults with ADD. Such adults have difficulty focusing on a task or controlling their thoughts or behaviour. This can lead to addictions, relationship and career failures.¹

Clues in childhood

Those with learning problems may have suspected that something was wrong at school. They had to work harder than others to get the same information and took longer to finish assignments. Many found learning so frustrating that they left school early, even though others felt they were intelligent enough to succeed.² Learning difficulties do not disappear when one leaves school and that they can persist across a lifetime. Learning disabilities may affect adults in their education, vocation, self-esteem, social interactions, organisation skills, punctuality and even the ability to live independently.³ Obesity can also undermine learning and life performance. Diet and sedentary behaviour (TV, video games) do not appear to be the only causes. The critical factor may be a lack of sleep.4

At work

Adults with ADHD tend to be either “frustrated and struggling,” or “successful and struggling.” Adults with ADHD tend to be good entrepreneurs and poor employees because they find it difficult to take orders. Despite having “normal” hearing, some adults also have an auditory processing disorder, which undermines their comprehension of speech, particularly in noisy environments.

This makes it difficult to work effectively – you have to work much harder and longer to keep up with your peers. Sometimes when a child is diagnosed with the ADHD or a learning difficulty, a parent will recognize that they share many of the same symptoms. Then begins a journey to recognise the distractibility, impulsivity, restlessness that have given trouble for years. Others discover that the root causes of their depression or anxiety are a learning difficulty.


Many confuse learning and attention difficulties with low intelligence or laziness. However, such difficulties can affect those who are intelligent, capable or hardworking. Adults with learning issues face daily challenges because they never mastered reading, writing or maths.

While the causes of learning and attention deficits are complex, about 70% diagnosed with a learning difficulty and 50% labelled ADD have an auditory processing problem. Other causes include a difficult birth; early ear infections or a physical or emotional shock. Those with a learning difficulty are usually unable to listen effectively and their difficulties often undermine self-esteem and emotional maturity.


The most common reasons that adults seek listening programs with us are:

  • A learning difficulty;
  • Creative block;
  • Low energy;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Seeking to recover ‘lost’ performance after a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a head injury (car accident is most common cause);
  • Singing;
  • Speech issues including accent and, voice, public speaking,

While we usually start treating the children, it is quite common for tone of the parents to follow when they realise that they have the same learning issues as their children. We also see adults seeking to improve life performance.


Recent research suggests that the capacity for the two hemispheres of the brain to work co-operatively can decrease significantly as we age. This can undermine not only our ability to hear but more importantly the capacity to understand sounds when both ears (and both sides of the brain) are required to work together.5

Music therapy is used hospitals and nursing homes because it can help to maintain or restore physical, mental and social competence. In many care situations, the elderly can become deprived of meaningful sensory stimulation.

So the sensory and intellectual stimulation of music can help to maintain an elderly person’s quality of life. It can be used to lift mood, reduce depression and pain as well as promoting physical rehabilitation. It can promote a feeling of calm and the restoration of adequate sleep. It can be used lo lessen fear, as well as the muscle tension that often accompanies anxiety.6

How can listening therapy help adults

As in clients of any age, Listening therapy can help to improve auditory processing and life performance. As compared to programs for children, while adult programs tend to work slower because of diminished adult plasticity (adaptability), this is offset by the higher motivation of adults to complete their assigned programs.

P***y, a 64 year old sought help because she was losing her ability to vocalise characters in the stories she reads to children. Since story-telling is her profession, she was losing her ability to entertain her clientele and earn an income. After completing fifteen sessions of clinic therapy (DLS), she recovered her vocal range with the bonus that her energy levels were also restored.

Another female client contacted me for help because she wanted to stay in a choir that was to sing the magnificent choral piece in Beethoven 9th Symphony. At 74 years old, she was losing her hearing and her ability to sustain the notes required for this piece. While I could not offer any promise that I could help, she decided to try a Home program. After six months, R***e found that she could sustain her notes and she completed the concerts with much joy and a great sense of achievement.

Some 10-15% of our clients are adults. They are drawn from all walks of life and all social strata as illustrated from this sample of clients who have completed programs:

  • Car accident victim (30) with dyslexia started confronting the fears that were constraining his life.
  • Hairdresser (35) overcame her difficulty and fear of reading and learning;
  • Interior designer (40) regained her energy and creativity;
  • Engineer (43) stuck in a rut with an extended mid-life crisis, regained his impetus to live, work and socialise;
  • Tai Chi instructor (46) improved her English communication and her attention;
  • Businessman (49) raised his capacity to work harder and longer;
  • Brain Gym instructor (52) and war-child improved her mental acuity and ability to manage her business and cope witheveryday life;
  • Teacher’s aide (55) recovered her ability to speak and socialise after a mild traumatic brain injury;
  • Special Needs teacher (62) improved her ability to cope.
  • Amateur singer (74) who recovered her “lost” notes.
Start today! Take the Listening Scorecard.

  1. National Institute of Mental Health, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bethesda, 2006 (rev)
  4. Keith et al, Putative contributors to the secular increase in obesity: exploring the roads less travelled, Int Journal of Obesity (2006) 30, 1585–1594.
  5. Bellis, TJ. When the Brain can’t hear. Atria Books NY 2003, pp22-24.
  6. Leeds. J, The Power of Sound, Healing Arts Press, 2001, Appendix F.