How Learning Disabilities Contribute to Failure to Launch Syndrome

By: Michelle Obergfoll

African-american adult education student struggles with test anxiety as he takes an exam.

Failure to launch typically affects young adults between the ages of 19-28. For various reasons, such as an underlying learning disability; these individuals lack the tools to successfully transition from childhood to adulthood. This stagnation often has a negative impact on the individual and their family, who often bear the emotional and financial weight of supporting an adult child.

During adolescence and young adulthood, individuals experience a lot of angst, due to internal changes and the external pressures of impending adulthood. For young adults with learning disabilities the transition to adulthood can be particularly challenging.

Moreover, individuals with learning disabilities often struggle in H.S. and college and are less likely to graduate. When something does not come easy to an individual, they have a tendency to shy away from it. From experience working with participants at OPI, when asked what their favorite class is, they typically mention a class that comes easy to them. When an individual has learning disabilities, they may find difficulty in things others easily comprehend. As a result the individual may experience repeated failures in school, in turn they may internalize their failures; which become a part of their identity. The individual may then begin to generalize, “I am a failure at school, and therefore I am good at nothing.”

The insecurity about one’s abilities, will undoubtedly have a negative effect of the individual’s self-esteem. It begins to affect all aspects of their lives. Due to a fear of failure, the individual no longer has the confidence to try new activities, pursue a career; in addition, their interpersonal relationships may suffer. The individual may not be conscious of the fear that is now immobilizing their life. In young adulthood, this immobilization or stagnation of one’s life is often referred to as Failure to Launch.

One of the things we do at OPI is stop the internalization of failure or other generalizations and embrace each participants strengths.