Lesson 09: Learning Disabilities

Serving Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course


The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of the issues and strategies related specifically to working with students with LEARNING DISABILITIES.

Questions to reflect upon while reading the content

What challenges might students with LEARNING DISABILITIES face in your department or office? And what accommodations might they require?


Students with specific learning disabilities generally have average to above-average intelligence but may have DIFFICULTIES ACQUIRING and DEMONSTRATING knowledge and understanding.

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 and Attention-Deficit Disorder.

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 or writing may, therefore, be difficult to complete. This may be due to difficulty 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 ROOM. 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 spelling. Difficulties with ATTENTION, ORGANIZATION, TIME MANAGEMENT, and PRIORITIZING TASKS are also common.

Examples of TYPICAL ACCOMMODATIONS for students in a student services office who have learning disabilities include the following:

  • Quiet meeting location
  • Providing detailed instructions on audiotapes or in print or electronic formats
  • Reinforcing directions verbally
  • Breaking large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments

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


LEARNING DISABILITIES are documented disabilities that may affect reading, processing information, remembering, calculating, and spatial abilities.

When considering accommodations, remember that students with learning disabilities generally have average to above-average intelligence but may have difficulties acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and understanding. By working together, YOU, the STUDENT, and the DISABLED STUDENT SERVICES STAFF help create an environment to encourage success in the student's endeavors.


While reading the CONTENT, you considered ways in which YOUR SERVICE AREA might accommodate a student with a LEARNING DISABILITY. Send an email message to the group stating one accommodation you might make in your office for a student with a LEARNING DISABILITY.

Further Information

You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case studies, and access additional resources at The Conference Room, https://www.washington.edu/doit/distance-learning-course-serving-students-disabilities.

(c) 2004 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at 1-206-685-3648 or doit@u.washington.edu