Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurological-based conditions that interfere with the acquisition, storage, organization, and use of skills and knowledge. They are identified by deficits in academic functioning and in processing memory, auditory, visual, and linguistic information.

Functional Deficits

The diagnosis of a learning disability in an adult requires documentation of at least average intellectual functioning along with a deficit in one or more of the following areas:

  • auditory processing
  • visual processing
  • information processing speed
  • abstract and general reasoning
  • memory (long-term, short-term, visual, auditory)
  • spoken and written language skills
  • reading, decoding, and comprehension skills
  • mathematical calculation skills and word problems
  • visual spatial skills
  • fine and gross motor skills
  • executive functioning (problem solving and organization)

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Some Considerations

  • A learning disability is not a disorder that a student outgrows. It is a permanent disorder affecting how students with normal or above-average intelligence process incoming information, outgoing information, and/or categorization of information in memo.
  • Learning disabilities are often inconsistently manifested in a limited number of specific academic areas, such as math or foreign languages. There might have been problems in grade school, none in high school, and problems again in college. Instructional design and presentation, workload, test or evaluation format often determine the manifestations.
  • Learning disabilities should not be equated with intellectual disabilities or psychiatric disabilities, although learning disabilities can coexist with other conditions such as ADHD or a psychiatric disability.
  • Common accommodations for students with learning disabilities include alternative print formats, taped lectures, notetakers, alternative plans to complete assignments, course substitutions, time extensions for assignments and exams, priority registration, and consultations regarding study skills and strategies.

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Instructional Strategies

  • Invite students to self-identify on the first day of class by making a public statement such as: "Please contact me to request disability accommodations."
  • Include a disability access statement in the course syllabus such as: "To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES, you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603, or e-mail disability@illinois.edu."
  • Keep instructions as brief and uncomplicated as possible. Repeat exactly without paraphrasing.
  • Assist the student in finding effective notetakers from the class (see Note Taking Services).
  • Allow the student to tape record lectures.
  • Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams, and when assignments are due. Provide advance notice of any changes.
  • Present lecture information in both an auditory and a visual format (e.g., chalkboard, overheads, PowerPoint slides, handouts).
  • Use more than one way to demonstrate or explain information.
  • Have copies of the syllabus ready no less than six weeks prior to the beginning of the semester so textbooks can be transcribed to tape in as timely a manner as possible (see Text Conversion).
  • When teaching, state objectives, review previous lessons and summarize periodically.
  • Allow time for clarification of directions and essential information.
  • Provide study guides or review sheets for exams.
  • Provide assistance with proofreading written work.
  • Stress organization and ideas rather than mechanics when grading in-class writing assignments.
  • Allow the use of spell-check and grammar assistive devices when appropriate to the course.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.

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