Having a learning disability can be very challenging for individuals because they can face many difficulties throughout their childhood and several of these issues still affect them in adulthood. Some individuals are able to rise above these challenges and find success while others struggle to get out of bed every day because the challenges are too daunting. Have you ever wondered what makes these two types of people so different?

Over the years several studies have looked at common characteristics found in successful individuals with Learning Disabilities.  When looking at several of these studies, 6 traits repeatedly show up. They are self-awareness, proactivity, perseverance, goal setting, having an effective support system, and emotional stability.  Not every successful individual with a learning disability exhibits each one of these traits, but they have at least a few of them at different levels.  Let’s look at each one of these traits in a little more detail.

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Self-awareness and disability awareness are key skills for any individual with disabilities to have. Successful individuals acknowledge the fact that they have a learning disability, but they do not let the learning disability define who they are as a person.  They accept the fact that they have these difficulties and they are willing to receive and use the various supports they need to be successful despite these difficulties.  Successful individuals with learning disabilities have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.  They are able to recognize their strengths and use them to help overcome some of their limitations.


These individuals are proactive, they do not sit back and let the world pass them by, they actively seek the world around them.  Successful individuals with learning disabilities have what Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’ which is when an individual believes that they can develop their abilities through hard work and dedication. These individuals feel they have the power to control their own destinies and what they do will affect what they can do.  When they decide to do something, they follow through and face the consequences, regardless of whether they are good or bad.


Successful individuals with learning disabilities never give up! They are able to persevere no matter how hard it gets to reach their goals.  They understand that the difficult situations they faced were part of their learning experiences. They see any struggles as speed bumps along the way to reach their goals.  They embody the saying ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger!”

Goal Setting

Successful individuals with learning disabilities set goals for themselves.  The goals that they set are mainly realistic and attainable goals.  These goals help provide meaning and direction to their lives. They understand the importance of the step-by-step process that is needed to reach these goals.

The Presence & Use of an Effective Support System

A successful person is only as strong as their team regardless of whether they have a learning disability or not. Individuals with learning disabilities benefit when they have at least one great person in their lives to provide them with support, guidance, and encouragement along their way to success. Successful individuals are not afraid to ask for help when they need it, and they are willing to accept help when it is offered to them.  The team that supports these individuals, whether they be family, friends, educators, or professionals, have clear and realistic expectations for them.

Emotional Stability

Individuals with emotional stability have established effective coping mechanisms to deal with the pain, stress, and frustrations of living with a learning disability.  Successful individuals with learning disabilities are able to keep a positive, optimistic, and hopeful outlook on life, even when they are struggling with something.  It is essential for them to be able to develop and maintain strong relationships so they have people they can go to for support when they need it.

The good news is these are skills that children with learning disabilities can develop over time!  Stay tuned for a future post to see how you can help your loved ones develop these skills to help them succeed in life.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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