Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD
Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities (ACLD)
defines a learning disability as "a chronic condition of presumed
neurological origin which selectively interferes with the development,
integration, and/or demonstration of verbal or nonverbal abilities."
The LNEC website explains that these are "lifelong conditions, which
affect learning in individuals with normal or above normal intelligence.
These disorders affect learning processes, but not necessarily the capacity
to learn." We all have learning strengths and weaknesses, but for
neurological reasons, students with learning disabilities may have difficulties
with learning processes such as listening, time management, reading, writing,
or mathematical reasoning.
If a student's
performance or lack of progress seems unusual or puzzles you, you may
wish to see if he/she exhibits a pattern of some of the characteristics
described below. Checking the student's performance against this list
will help you distinguish between a student who has poor or ineffective
study habits and one who is potentially able and who studies very hard,
but who happens to have learning disability or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD). Anyone may exhibit certain of these characteristics to
some extent and at some time: On occasion, we all read more slowly, feel
anxious when asked to perform orally, can't finish on time, or have problems
remembering terms. A student who has a learning disability, however, will
show an unexplained, consistent, and unusual pattern
of discrepancy between specific types of learning, and learn or perform
well in some situations and not in others (e.g., he/she may understand
diagrams but not an oral presentation or vice versa).
in Processing and Reproducing Information:
student may understand ideas when presented one way but not another or
may do much better at one type of assignment. For example, a student
may perform significantly better with short answer than with multiple-choice
exam questions or better with numerical than with verbal math problems.
student may not recognize familiar information when it is presented in
an unfamiliar form, such as when switching from words to a chart or
student may repeatedly ask questions that seem "stupid" or strange,
such as asking about an idea you just discussed, constantly asking you
to repeat information, or asking questions that indicate a major misunderstanding
of an assigned reading.
student may have special difficulty understanding directions. For
instance, the student may be able to recite information with no difficulty
but be unable to reproduce it on exams because she consistently misinterprets
the questions or does not seem able to understand what specific information
the questions are asking for. Similarly, the student may consistently
and puzzlingly misunderstand the point of written instructions, or he
may find it necessary to read every assignment two or three times to understand
its main points.
student may show a consistent but puzzling pattern of errors in completing
mathematical problems. He or she may always add numbers in the wrong
columns or consistently confuse symbols. Or, the student may understand
the ideas and work the problems correctly, but may produce final incorrect
answers by consistently transposing numbers or by treating all negative
numbers as positive numbers. Even when such errors are pointed out, the
student may seem unable to recognize that the answers are wrong in this
student may reverse ideas or consistently reverse words in explaining
them. For instance, the student may grasp the pattern of ideas but
consistently understand them backwards, or the student may consistently
write "not red" on an exam when he/she means or should write
student may understand the material, and may have no difficulty explaining
it in class or in conference, but may not be able to complete timed tests
and exams within the allotted time. This may indicate a slower rate
of reading or writing, memory problems, or difficulty sorting information.
student may read or write unusually slowly and may trace sentences with
his/her finger or draw a line under them when reading. (This may indicate
the student has eye focusing problems.)
student may become unusually anxious and perform unusually poorly when
asked to read aloud in class. (This may indicate that the student
has difficulty processing written information. Dyslexic students, for
instance, see letters as transposed.)
student can explain ideas orally and ask good questions in class but cannot
write these ideas coherently.
student may hand in papers that seem conceptually unusual or strange.
Examples include papers with good ideas but with unusually disjointed
arguments and illogical or strange conceptual connections.
student may hand in papers that seem stylistically unusual or strange
(as opposed to papers that simply are not very good). The student's style
may include the following:
- An extreme
number of spelling errors. The same words may be misspelled inconsistently,
words with initial vowels may be consistently misspelled, or the orientation
of letters consistently switched within words (b for d,
- An extreme
number of switched words. These kinds of errors may seem unusual for
the college level; the order of letters may be switched (such as on
- An unusual
lack of punctuation, or a large amount of strangely applied punctuation.
convoluted sentences with mismatched or unclear sentence structure.
wordy sentences where the student seems to write around a word or idea.
and mechanics that seem extremely careless, although the student insists
that he/she has worked very hard on the paper and has proofread it carefully.
immature or uncoordinated handwriting for the college level.
Lack of Progress:
his/her ability and effort, the student may show a puzzling lack of progress
or may start out well in the course but then seem to lose initial learning.
(This may indicate problems with short- or long-term memory or with sorting
OF STUDENTS WITH CERTAIN TYPES OF LEARNING DISABILITIES
chart is not complete. There are many specific types of learning disabilities,
and each type will produce particular kinds of learning difficulties.
Auditory or Visual
or inconsistent spelling.
or order of letters switched (no/on, b/d).
missing or atypical.
of words or vowels.
or words transposed.
contain extremely wordy or convoluted sections.
seem conceptually unusual.
connections are misused or missing.
difficulty in reading comprehension.
processing written instructions, charts, diagrams, slides
retaining what is read.
unusual and/or inappropriate inferences.
pattern of errors in computing mathematical problems.
understand or recognize information when presentation is switched
(e.g., visual to auditory or vice versa.)
asks for repetition or asks "stupid" questions.
lack of progress.
to build on ideas, forgets due dates, etc.
organizing written work.
complete in-class papers or exams in the time allowed.
ideas orally but not in written form.
as for dyslexia. (see column to left.)
the important ideas of the course, but cannot remember basic facts
notice a student in your class who might have a learning disability, you
can use the following techniques to refine your identification and distinguish
between students with disabilities and those who do not work hard enough
or have poor study or writing skills:
an in-class timed assignment. As the students work, check to see if
the student in question seems to have unusual trouble getting started.
Examine students' responses for these signs:
- large numbers
of spelling or punctuation errors or confusing sentences
lack of organization or strange conceptual connections
to address correctly the initial question
in finishing in the allotted time.
your course does not include writing, announce a brief in-class timed
test. Examine whether and how the student answers your questions,
if there are unusual and consistent patterns of mathematical or conceptual
errors, and whether he/she can finish the test in time.
to the student privately to find out how much he/she is studying.
A student with a learning disability may be working long hours and may
say that he/she works very hard without results. If the student is not
studying enough, point out the need to work harder, and make sure the
student knows how to study for your course.
the student to explain how he/she is studying. A student with special
difficulties may study hard but misapply study time because he/she misunderstands
your instructions; this misunderstanding may imply a problem with processing
certain types of information. If the student exhibits poor study skills,
recommend or require departmental small-group tutoring, available free
for most large introductory courses.
the student about his/her note-taking strategies, and, if you feel
the student will not resent it, ask to look at the notes. See whether
the notes differ markedly but consistently from class presentations.
or recommend that a student who exhibits problems in his/her writing attend
the Writing Center. Encourage the student to meet regularly with a
tutor he/she finds helpful.
eliminating other types of problems, you suspect the student may have
a learning disability or ADHD, refer him/her privately to the LNEC, located
in Elson Student Health Center (400 Brandon Avenue). The best approach
is to be supportive and non-directive. Do not say that you think the student
has a learning (or other) disability or imply that there is something
"wrong." Instead, tell them what the LNEC is, where it can be
found, and the academic services it offers. You might explain that the
LNEC offers time management/study strategy workshops every semester or
that someone there can help determine whether the student has appropriate
study habits, etc. If you feel concerned about how to broach this subject,
call the LNEC for help in referral. If the student resists the idea of
going to the LNEC, but you feel such a determination is crucial to his/her
future success, you can contact the student's dean.
refer a student to the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center, staff members
will consult with the student to determine whether a learning disability
exists, and, if so, what kind. All LNEC services are free to the student,
unless the student requires a full battery of diagnostic tests from outside
the center. If the student or his/her insurance carrier cannot or will
not pay for the outside testing fee, the LNEC staff can help find a resource
to cover them. After the LNEC has determined that the student has a specific
disability that requires accommodations, and if the student requests them,
the LNEC will send you a form outlining some basic accommodations. To
ensure confidentiality, the LNEC will not give you a specific diagnosis
of the student's disability. If you need further information about the
nature of the disability to determine specific accommodations, speak to
the student and, with his/her permission, with the LNEC.