Learning Disabilities

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Students with specific learning disabilities have average or above-average intelligence but may have difficulties acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and understanding, resulting in a lack of achievement for age and ability level and a severe discrepancy between intellectual abilities and achievement.

According to the National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities, learning disabilities are a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. The specific causes of learning disabilities are not clearly understood; however, these disorders are presumably related to central nervous system dysfunction. The effects of a learning disability are manifested differently for each individual and can range from mild to severe. Learning disabilities may also be present with other disabilities such as mobility or sensory impairments. Often people with Attention Deficit Disorder also have learning disabilities. Specific types of learning disabilities include

  • Dysgraphia
    An individual with dysgraphia has a difficult time with the physical task of forming letters and words using a pen and paper and has difficulty producing legible handwriting.
  • Dyscalculia
    A person with Dyscalculia has difficulty understanding and using math concepts and symbols.
  • Dyslexia
    An individual with dyslexia may mix up letters within words and sentences while reading. He may have difficulty spelling words correctly while writing. Letter reversals are common. Some individuals with dyslexia have a difficult time with navigating and route-finding tasks because they are easily confused by directions and spatial information, such as left and right.
  • Dyspraxia
    A person with Dyspraxia may mix up words and sentences while talking. There is often a discrepancy between language comprehension and language production.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disorder
    Poor motor coordination, impaired visual-spatial organization, and/or a lack of social skills may characterize nonverbal learning disorders.

For a student with a learning disability, auditory, visual, or tactile information can become jumbled at any point during transmission, receipt, processing, and/or retransmission. For example, it may take longer for some students who have learning disabilities to process written information. Lengthy reading materials may therefore be difficult to complete in the average amount of time used by other students. This delay may be due to difficulty with discriminating numerals or letters because they appear jumbled or reversed.

Some students who have learning disabilities may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts in a one-to-one conversation but find it difficult to articulate the same ideas in a noisy classroom. Other students may experience difficulties with specific processes or subject areas such as calculating mathematics problems, reading, or understanding language. People with learning disabilities may have difficulty with spelling and subsequently with creating or editing text or otherwise communicating in writing. Difficulties with attention, organization, time management, and prioritizing tasks are also common.

Examples of typical accommodations for students who have learning disabilities working in or using a campus service office include

  • audiotaped materials
  • a quiet work location
  • visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations
  • concise directions
  • books on tape
  • providing instructions on audiotapes or in printed form
  • reinforcing directions verbally
  • breaking large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments
  • talking calculators
  • large display screens for calculators

Computers can be adapted to assist students with learning disabilities. A student with learning disabilities might find these accommodations useful:

  • computers equipped with speech output, which highlights and reads (via screen reading software and a speech synthesizer) text on the computer screen
  • word processing software that includes electronic spelling and grammar checkers, software with highlighting capabilities, and word prediction software
  • software to enlarge screen images

For further information about computer access, consult the publication and videotaped presentation Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities (http://www.washington.edu/doit/Video/wt_learn.html).

Check Your Understanding

Imagine that a student with Dyslexia who has difficulty reading is hired to work in a campus service office. What accommodations might be effective to help this student succeed in this job? Choose a response.

  1. A computer with a scanner
  2. Audiotaped meetings
  3. Books on tape
  4. Written materials provided in electronic format

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. A computer with a scanner
    A computer with a scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) and reading software can convert scanned text into speech output. This option may be effective for a student with a learning disability. The student would need to have access to the software and hardware, which may need to be arranged through disability support services or computer lab staff.
  2. Audiotaped meetings
    Audiotaped meetings could be helpful for someone who has difficulty taking notes. However, this accommodation would not help with reading requirements for the position.
  3. Books on tape
    Books on tape are an appropriate option for some students with reading disabilities. Campus disabled student services staff may help coordinate this service. Ample notice of reading material should be given in order for the student to make the request and receive the tapes in a timely manner.
  4. Written materials provided in electronic format
    If the student has access to a computer with speech output, the computer can read electronic materials to the student. A computer with optical character recognition software and a scanner can convert printed text to electronic text that can also be read aloud by the computer. The campus disabled student support staff or computer lab staff can assist with this accommodation.

For further information regarding this topic, consult The Conference Room Knowledge Base.

Specific Student Services

Accommodation needs of students with learning disabilities vary greatly by individual and by the student service office accessed. Specific activities that may pose challenges and suggested accommodations in each area can be found in the following areas of The Conference Room: