Kim and Biology: A Case Study on Accommodations for Learning Disabilities
My name is Kim. I am a nineteen-year-old senior majoring in biology and I'm determined to get my master's in genetics counseling. I want to be a genetics counselor in a large medical center.
Biology majors are required to complete three upper-division math courses and two statistics courses. I have a learning disability, Dyscalculia, which affects my ability to do some forms of mathematics. I documented my disability with the disability services office, and I spoke to my academic advisor regarding my concerns about completing the math and statistics courses. He advised me that these courses are critical because of the need to do and understand research and to understand information in biology courses involving math and because the Graduate Record Examinations (GREs) are required for graduate school applications in genetics counseling. These requirements and the implications of not doing well in math courses concerned me greatly, so I also spoke to the learning disabilities specialist in the disability services office.
The learning disabilities specialist closely reviewed my documentation, especially my strengths and limitations with math. After consulting with the biology department, she also advised that completing the math requirements would be critical for successful completion of the biology course sequence and for admission to graduate school. Course substitutions for the math and statistics courses did not seem helpful or appropriate in my case. The learning disabilities specialist suggested that we devise a practical plan for me to prepare to take the math and statistics courses. We then met with the math specialist in the campus learning skills center. After many meetings, we developed and followed this plan:
- I worked closely with my adviser and the math specialist to plan my course schedule for each semester in order to reduce my course load the semesters that I took math courses.
- I carefully identified math instructors whom I thought would be willing to spend more time meeting with me.
- The learning skills center recruited an advanced math tutor who worked with me in each course, went to some classes with me to better understand the instructor, and met with me at least twice per week.
- My parents helped to pay the tutor.
- Each semester that I took math courses, I enrolled part-time to increase my study time for the math classes; disability services also requested that the housing office grant a policy exception that allowed me to remain in the residence hall those semesters.
Often the math tutor went to my meetings with the math specialist and the course instructor. The math specialist taught me some learning strategies and helped to reduce my anxiety. She and the math instructors also suggested some math tutorial software. The disability services office and instructors provided testing accommodations (extended time) and note-taking services for these classes as disability accommodations. I completed the mathematics courses with average to above-average grades. These action steps resulted in success toward meeting my career goal.
This case study demonstrates the following:
- Seeking or advocating for course substitutions may not always be the most appropriate or best long-term solution for students with certain academic or career goals. Case-by-case planning is important.
- Active student participation and responsibility and disability management are key elements of a plan to meet academic and career goals.
- It may take several student services staff and faculty and other support staff (such as tutors) for students to secure the necessary assistance.
- Students with Dyscalculia can sometimes succeed in math-intensive fields, with adequate planning and motivation.
- Academic requirements are valid in many cases and may not need to be modified for a particular student with a disability.
- Short-term compromises (taking a reduced course load and hence extending the time until graduation; having to study harder for certain courses) often have beneficial long-term consequences.
- Parents can play a key role in helping their children succeed in college studies (e.g., funding special assistance).