Learning Disabilities

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					                    Learning Disabilities
          Information and Resources for Faculty
What is a Learning Disability?

Potential challenges, strengths, and strategies


What is a Learning Disability?
“Learning disabilities” is a general term that refers to a variety of significant deficits in
the capacity to process information – as, for example, problems understanding written
or spoken symbolic communication (words, numbers, signs) or expressing one’s own
ideas (in words, numbers, or signs). A student with a learning disability may experience
problems in one or more main areas, but not in others. For instance, many students
with dyslexia have difficulty decoding text, but not spoken words; an individual with
dysgraphia may not be able to write legibly by hand but may express herself in writing
on a computer more effectively.

The Santa Barbara City College disability services website displays categories and
types of learning disabilities in a helpful graphic organizer format.

Individuals with a learning disability have average to far-above-average intelligence.
Their processing difficulties have a neurological basis; they are not due to
developmental disorders, lack of effort, substandard elementary education, or any other
cultural or environmental factor (although any of these may also be operating).
Learning disabilities can also be found together with a disability of another type, whether
it be ADHD, mental illness, or a motor/perceptual disability.

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Potential challenges, strengths, and strategies
The impacts of learning disabilities differ from one individual student to the next, and it is
important to discuss these impacts with any student who self-identifies as having a
learning disability. By the time they enter college, many students with a learning
disability have already developed strategies that capitalize on their learning strengths
and minimize the effects of their disability. Faculty can remove barriers to the success
of such students by making sure they have options, whenever possible, that incorporate
their strengths.

For instance, a student who has a print-related disability may have excellent aural
comprehension; having the textbook available in recorded form will make the book
accessible for learning. Likewise, a student who struggles to encode thoughts into
writing may be skilled at using dictation software that renders speech as text. Activities
and assignments that allow for the use of that software remove the barrier represented
by the requirement to write.

The table below lists some of the issues that may affect whether a student with a
learning disability can fulfill his/her potential in your course. The second column offers a
variety of strategies that can help to remove barriers to learning and well-being for a
student with a learning disability.

Beside many of the strategies are the letters “UDL” highlighted in yellow. This indicates
that the strategy is consistent with Universal Design for Learning. The instructor
implements the strategy for the whole class, so that not only the student with a disability
benefits from it. This also assures that a student with a disability is not singled out or
identified as needing special provisions.

              Potential Issues                                 Strategies

In-class cognitive issues                      Strategies for cognitive support
It takes some students with a learning         Post a copy of your lecture notes (and/or
disability a longer time to organize their     PowerPoint or other presentation tool) on
thoughts or to grasp the meaning of            Blackboard prior to the class, so that any
spoken or written words. This can make it      student, including one with a learning
difficult to take accurate and complete        disability, may preview the topics and
notes during a lecture.                        structure of the lecture. UDL

                                               Before class, post a skeletal outline,
                                               graphic organizer, or other structure for
                                               students to fill in or expand on when taking
                                               notes. UDL

                                               Incorporate a system in which several
                                               students each day – on a voluntary or
                                               required basis – post their notes for that
                                               class on Blackboard (a wiki or discussion

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              Potential Issues                                 Strategies

                                               board works well for this). UDL

                                               Capture your class sessions or record your
                                               voice on a digital recorder and post it on
                                               Bb as a podcast. UDL

                                               Allow the student to record lectures and
                                               other important informational segments.

                                               Avoid lecturing for the full class session.
                                               Break the lecture into segments of 10-15
                                               minutes, punctuated by activities that
                                               require students to think about, organize,
                                               practice, or use what they are learning.
                                               Allow time for students to review their
                                               notes, fill in gaps, and ascertain what is
                                               unclear. UDL

                                               After posing a question, allow sufficient
                                               time for each student to formulate a
                                               response. Invite students to write
                                               down/type/record their thoughts during that
                                               time. UDL

                                               Use Think-Pair-Share activities to check
                                               understanding or elicit questions. Instruct
                                               students to

                                                  1. Think of their response to a
                                                     question or problem;

                                                  2. Pair up with a partner to discuss the
                                                     responses; and

                                                  3. Share their conclusions or ideas
                                                     with the larger group.

Learning disabilities affect different         Provide instructions for assignments and
capacities to process communication.           activities in both written and oral modes.
Some students with a learning disability       UDL
will find verbal instructions challenging to

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              Potential Issues                                  Strategies

follow, while others may be confused by        Use simple, clear, direct language in both
complex written instructions.                  cases. Break more complicated
                                               processes down into steps. UDL

                                               Use a flow chart or other graphic organizer
                                               to explain major or multi-phase
                                               assignments. UDL

Assessment challenges                          Assessment Strategies
Although they may know the material            For assignments in which proficient written
being tested very well, some students with     expression is not an element of the
a learning disability (e.g., dysgraphia,       learning objectives, offer all students
dysphasia, dyslexia) may not express their     options as to what form their final product
thoughts effectively in written narrative      will take: e.g., video, podcast, concept
form, as required on an essay test, for        map, etc. UDL
                                               If writing skill is a factor you want to
                                               assess, structure the test or assignment so
                                               as to permit students to use a computer
                                               (with or without assistive technology).

Students with a learning disability often do   A typical accommodation for many
not process words or numbers as quickly        learning disabilities is extra time for tests.
as their peers, so they might not finish       However, take-home tests offer an
tests or quizzes in the allotted time.         untimed format for everyone. UDL

                                               Alternative means of assessment are also
                                               worth considering. These can often
                                               feature flexibility of product and process,
                                               meeting the needs and preferences of
                                               students with and without disabilities. UDL

Organizational problems                        Strategies for organization
Time management may be a problem for a         Provide a calendar at the beginning of the
student with a learning disability.            semester, showing all dates for exams and
                                               important assignments, as well as interim
                                               dates for completing stages of a complex
                                               process (e.g., writing a paper or

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              Potential Issues                                Strategies

                                              completing a project). UDL

                                              Give your student with a learning disability
                                              specific deadlines instead of open-ended
                                              time frames.

Need for Assistive Technologies               Use of Assistive Technologies
Many students with a learning disability      Every document you distribute for use in
use one or more types of assistive            your class should have an electronic
technology. These often require use of a      version posted on Blackboard. This allows
computer.                                     students to download it and use assistive
                                              technologies to read it. UDL

                                              When creating assignments and activities,
                                              build in the potential for students to use
                                              computers and assistive technologies to
                                              complete the work. UDL

The online article “Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities”
offers additional universal design measures that are responsive to functional limitations
often associated with learning disabilities.

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DO-IT Faculty Room, “Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning
      Disabilities.” This article describes a range of learning disabilities,
      accommodations, and universally designed instructional and assessment
DO-IT Faculty Room, “Learning Disabilities.” Provides links to case studies, FAQs, and
      Resources related to learning disabilities.
“How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop – Understanding Learning
      Disabilities”: Film of a workshop conducted by Richard Lavoie, a learning
      disabilities expert. Participants experience a taste of the F.A.T. (frustration,
      anxiety, and tension) that students with a learning disability go through every day
      in the classroom, and learn simple strategies for alleviating it. Viewable in
      segments of several minutes each through Films on Demand.

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Learning Disability Association of America (LDA) resources for teachers.

        “Learning Disabilities: Signs, Symptoms, and Strategies”: LDA’s collection of
         pages about a variety of learning disabilities, including dysgraphia, central
         auditory processing disorder, and language disorders.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

        Podcast of interview with Dr. Sheldon Horowitz: “Learning Disabilities: Sorting
         Fact from Fiction.”

Santa Barbara City College, Office of Disabled Student Programs and Services.
      “Classroom Accommodations for Students with a Learning Disability.” Several
      pages listing accommodations and universal design measures that benefit
      students with a learning disability in areas such as math, reading assignments,
      writing, and testing.

Stage, F.K., et al. “Invisible Scholars: Students with Learning Disabilities,” J. of Higher
      Education 67.4 (1996): 426-45.

Swanson, H.L., et al. “Experimental intervention research on students with learning
     disabilities: a meta-analysis of treatment outcomes,” Review of Educational
     Research 68.3 (1998): 277-321.

University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability: Learning
      Disabilities Module. Each topic section contains brief explanatory text along with
      quality references.

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