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45 Years Old and Can't Spell
Q: I hope you can help me. I'm 45-years-old and I can't spell very well. I am embarrassed. How can I learn to spell better?
A: Research about adults with learning disabilities points out how difficulties in school and in the workplace (including spelling problems and reading problems) can have an extremely negative impact on performance and the way an adult feels about himself or herself. It's no surprise that you're embarrassed. Millions of adults hide their spelling difficulties by not getting into situations in which writing is required. This often means not applying for higher paying jobs, or sometimes not applying for a job at all. Employers understand this, and enlightened companies often offer spelling, writing, reading, and math instructional programs for employees. Poor spellers certainly can move ahead in the workplace, especially if they have the good fortune of having a job with a secretary who's a good speller. The spellcheck feature found on (or which can be added to) most wordprocessing software has been a great help to many poor spellers. Some programs tell you as soon as you have made an error by underlining the word as it is spelled; others give you options for other ways to spell the word if you ask it to check the entire document. While these programs aren't foolproof, they can help you produce writing that focuses on what you say and not how you (mis)spell it.
There are many organizations that focus on adult literacy. You can contact the adult education department of your local high school and get a listing of evening courses that they may offer. The spelling component may be taught as part of a course on writing. Many English as a second language programs also offer courses (or sections of courses) dealing with spelling improvement. These might be helpful to you, even if you speak English. Check with the instructor. The local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov) may have information about adult literacy courses. (You can get the number of a local EEOC office by calling the national office at 1-800-669-3362. The International Dyslexia Association (www.interdys.org; 1-800-222-3132) can give you information about getting tested for learning disabilities or finding a tutor who can help you with spelling. The National Literacy Hotline (www.nifl.gov; 1-800-228-8813) can give you information on literacy classes, GED testing services, and volunteer organizations which may offer tutoring services.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.