Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a permanent neurological disorder that affects the manner in which information is received, organized, remembered and then retrieved or expressed. It may exhibit factors in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in the understanding and use of the spoken or written language. These may show as disorders of listening, thinking, talking, reading, writing, spelling or arithmetic.

Each student with a learning disability will have a combination of abilities and deficiencies which, when examined together, will present an inconsistent learning profile. Characteristics of college students with learning disabilities vary; no student will have all of these problems.

Study Skills

Inability to change from one task to another; Inability to organize and budget time; Difficulty completing short and long-term assignments; Difficulty completing tests and in-class assignments without additional time; Poor note taking skills.

Interpersonal Skills

Impulsivity; Difficulty delaying resolution to a problem; Disorientation in time-misses class and appointments; Poor self-esteem.


Difficulty reading new words, particularly when sound/symbol relationships are inconsistent; Slow reading rate – takes longer to read a test and other in-class assignments; Poor comprehension and retention of material read; Difficulty interpreting charts, graphs, scientific symbols; Difficulty with complex syntax on objective tests.


Problems in organization and sequencing of ideas; Poor sentence structure; Incorrect grammar; Frequent and inconsistent spelling error; Difficulty taking notes; Poor letter formation, capitalization, spacing, and punctuation; Inadequate strategies for monitoring written work.

Oral Language

Difficulty concentrating in lectures, especially two or three hour lectures; Poor vocabulary, difficulty with word retrieval; Problems with grammar.


Difficulty with basic math operations; Difficulty with aligning problems, number reversals, confusion of symbols; Poor strategies for monitoring errors; Difficulty with reasoning; Difficulty reading and comprehending word problems; Difficulty with concepts of time and money.

Other difficulties may include:

  • poor attention span
  • poor short/long term memory
  • poor self-concept, social immaturity
  • hyperactivity/and hyperactivity
  • discrepancy in quality of oral and written work
  • inability to monitor one’s actions
  • difficulty in handling expressive and/or receptive language
  • nonparticipation, hostility, loneliness
  • impulsive behavior
  • poor physical coordination
  • speech and hearing disorders
  • lack of motivation, boredom
  • easily distracted
  • inability to process / retrieve information quickly
  • inability to maintain a train of thought

Academic adjustments / modifications for the specific learning disabilities can be as difficult to pinpoint as the disability itself. Some of the modifications are listed below:

  • Priority Registration.
  • Be flexible in working with students with learning disabilities but do not feel that you must lower your standards.
  • Let students know about work ahead of time and extend deadlines whenever possible.
  • Whenever possible, let students use mechanical devices (tape recorders, calculators, etc.) in class work.  Allow oral presentations of taped papers instead of written papers.
  • Provide time during office hours for individual follow-up of assignments, lectures and readings on a regular basis. Summarize the main points at the session’s end.
  • Notify students of changes in course outlines and tests, or class requirements not listed on syllabi
  • Consider alternative or supplementary assignments that may serve evaluation purposes, such as taped interviews, slide presentations, handmade models, etc.

Textbook and Printed Course Materials

  • Provide students with a course syllabus at the start of the semester (if not prior to), spell out grading, due dates, exams dates, and a schedule of reading assignments.
  • Make required book lists available prior to the first day of class to allow students to begin their reading early or to have texts put on tape.
  • The student who is learning disabled and who has difficulty reading can obtain recorded texts from agencies such as Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic or Disability Support Services at the University. Encourage the student to listen and to read along during classroom exercises.
  • Provide students with chapter outlines or study guides that cue them top key points.

Auditory Modifications

  • When dealing with abstract concepts, paraphrase in specific terms and illustrate them with concrete examples, personal experiences, hands-on models and visual structures as charts and graphs.
  • Read aloud material that is written on the chalkboard or that is given in handouts or transparencies.
  • Use chalkboard or overhead projectors to highlight key concepts or difficult terminology (new terms), and to outline lecture materials. Emphasize these points orally in lecture.
  • Allow the student to tape lectures and/or share lecture notes with another student.

Lecture and Writing Assignments

  • Begin lectures and discussions with a review from the last class and an overview or outline of the topics to be covered during that class. Provide opportunities or participation and questioning of material presented.  Repeat and summarize segments of each presentation and review its entirety.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that students who are LD may have difficulty completing oral readings in class, “pop” quizzes, and other in-class assignments which require reading and writing. Allow extended time for in-class assignments.
  • Provide computer assisted software to supplement course work.
  • Critique early draft of papers, offering suggestions, comments, encouragement.


  • It is essential for the student who is LD that the evaluation of his/her work be based on the acquisition of the knowledge you’ve taught, and not on his/her ability to read or write.
  • Allow students to take examinations in a separate, quiet room with a proctor. Students with learning disabilities are especially sensitive to distractions. Arrangements for testing services / accommodations are available in the disability support services office. When necessary, allow students to use a reader, scribe, computer, word processor, tape recorder or typewriter.
  • Permit the use of a dictionary, computer spell check, a proofreader or, in mathematics and science, a calculator. The student may understand the concept, but may make errors by misaligning numbers or confusing mathematical facts.

Consider alternative test designs/formats. Some students with LD may find essay formats difficult, and a student with perceptual impairment will always have trouble with matching tests. Remember it is knowledge of the material taught that is being evaluated, not the method of the evaluation. Also whenever feasible, offer alternative assignments to the student (oral report instead of written paper).