Learning Disabilities Within Engineering

Hi:

I'm currently a double major at University at Buffalo in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering (with a minor in Physics). I'm a woman (usually one of the very few in my class) and I have a learning disorder which, most of the time, makes studying and test taking very difficult without the use of special equipment. I get GREAT support from faculty, staff, and our wonderful disability department but, I often wonder if there are any working engineers (past or present) who have learning disorders (e.g. Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, Autism, etc)? What experiences did they have and how did they stay motivated to succeed?

This seems to be a bit of a taboo subject because everyone sees engineers as brainy and unyieldingly smart. An engineer who can't sit still long enough to read a paragraph seems to be earmarked for failure.

What kind of resources or advice can you offer?
Thanks in advance!
posted by Leana D., Buffalo, NY on March 30, 2012

Answer 1 by Ursula Gibson

Regrettably, I can offer little direct experience, but at Dartmouth I know several engineers who prevailed despite learning disabilities. The bottom line is, if you can learn the material, at your own pace, as long as you end up understanding it, you can succeed as an engineer. Regards, Ursula

Answer 2 by Jill S. Tietjen P.E.

Dear Leana: I so admire your tenacity and your motivation. Keep on keeping on. Have you heard of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic? I served as a reader for over 10 years - recording scientific, mathematics, and engineering textbooks. This might be helpful to you. Jill

Answer 3 by Eva Regnier

I don’t have direct experience with any of those learning disorders, and I’m not aware of any of my engineering colleagues having them, but I do have a friend with dyslexia who is a biologist. I asked her, since scientists and engineers face many of the same difficulties. This is what she had to say: “I have problems putting thoughts into writing. My spelling is horrendous and reading is very slow for me. While I have difficulties in those areas, I think it has made me more adept at other things. I feel like I have an aptitude for certain types of math and have an artistic eye, which my parents always attributed to the dyslexia. To be honest, I have not really thought about it much since I was in grade school. I feel like it has not hindered me. … I was tutored early on and given learning techniques that have become so integrated that I don't really remember what they are.” Your comment about “An engineer who can't sit still long enough to read a paragraph seems to be earmarked for failure” is pretty strong, and sounds like ADD rather than dyslexia. I think that if you can get through school, an engineering background will be valuable to you in many fields (e.g. law, management), but you might want to seek jobs that are matched with your strengths. These might include engineering jobs, but some engineering jobs require a lot of sitting and focusing. You’ll want to think about job requirements more carefully than the typical student during your job search. But the fact that you've made it this far in engineering despite the extra challenges indicates that you've got determination and the ability to seek out the resources you need, which will serve you well. Eva